Here are the female filmmakers to keep an eye on – from Mia Hansen-Løve to Whitney Horn
The BFI London Film Festival programme launched last week and, out of its 248 features, 53 are directed by women. It’s not exactly a takeover of the film industry, but if this year’s crop is anything to go by, one is definitely imminent. From an Iranian vampire spaghetti western to a London set drama about an immaculate conception, these are some of freshest and most direct voices in international contemporary cinema, and they are making their growing presence count. Here are 10 ladies (and their films) that you need to keep on your radar.
Josephine Decker is a writer, director, actress and editor. In between, she’s collaborated with Joe Swanberg and been ejected from MoMA in 2005 when she attempted to sit naked with Marina Abramovic during her "The Artist is Present" residency. Flexing her filmmaking muscle with two films in the programme, she’s coming to London with a wholly original and exciting new film grammar. Butter on the Latch is a free form ode to the complications of female friendship set at a Balkan music festival, and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely is a farm set psychosexual erotic thriller, which notably features one of the most intriguing post-coital scenes in recent memory – shot partly through the ambivalent perspective of a cow.
Ana Lily Amirpour started filmmaking as a precocious 12-year-old girl, observing the mélange of that pre-teen girl obsession – the slumber party – through the lens of slasher horror. A painter, a sculptor, comic book creator and the lead singer in a rock band, she loves Die Antwoord, Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Bee Gees and the films of Sergio Leone, David Lynch and Sophia Loren. Coming to London with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an “Iranian vampire spaghetti western”, Ana Lily Amirpour has said that she makes films “to make friends. It’s just me, lonely, trying to figure out how to be a human being.” With a debut this arresting, she’s gonna be fighting them off with a stick.
Debbie Tucker Green’s, fearless writing as a playwright for the Royal Court and Young Vic has earned her a reputation as a provocative dramatic poet. She moved to the screen in 2011 when she adapted her one-woman monologue on knife crime, Random, into one of the most unique one off channel 4 dramas in recent memory. In her feature debut Second Coming (featuring Idris Elba), she presents nine months in the life of a tight-knit family who seem to have been blessed with an immaculate conception. Reweaving the lyrical rhythms gifted to her through her heritage as a black British woman, Tucker Green references poets like Louise Bennett and Ntozake Shange by way of songwriters and performers like Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill and Akala; a mash up that translates into a startlingly authoritative new voice in British cinema.
Mia Hansen-Løve's career began as an actress. After a stint in drama school and as a film critic she turned to directing in 2001. In her first three films (Tout est pardonné, Father of My Children and Goodbye First Love) she’s given some serious time to reflecting on relationships, love and loss, all set to some fascinatingly eclectic soundtracks – from Lee Hazlewood and Doris Day to Chilean folk from Violeta Parra and British ‘antifolk’ from Johnny Flynn. In her latest, Eden, Hansen-Løve brings her obsessions together to give us a film about an aspiring house DJ in 90s Paris. Following the spread of the “French Touch” sound that spawned Daft Punk and Cassius, Hansen-Løve shows us the pleasures and pain of life, love (one love interest is played by Greta Gerwig) and loss on the dancefloor.
Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. More personal than her first film (Corpo Celeste), which explored a young woman’s development into adulthood, set against the darker elements of her Catholic faith, her second film sees Rohrwacher turns her lens to the Italian countryside of her youth where a young girl’s impending womanhood is offset against the clash of the old and the new in her chaotic beekeeping family. Visually stunning, with a standout performance from her lead Maria Alexandra Lungu (and a captivating appearance from Monica Belluci), this is a coming of age film done with real magic.
Céline Sciamma’s first two films (Water Lilies, 2007; Tomboy, 2011) gave us two striking portraits of young girls whose conformity to gender and sexual identity was fluid and changing. In her third film, she moves away from the bourgeois middle classes of France, and turns her eye on the lesser seen of French cinema– the female, young, black and poor of the underprivileged ‘banlieues’ of Paris. Awesome photography from her regular collaborator Chrystel Fournier (which bathes everything in an incredible blue light), combined with a killer soundtrack (from the opening juddering electro-goth of Light Asylum’s "Dark Allies" to a full length lip-sync to Rihanna's "Diamonds") left us thinking Sciamma might just have become our favourite French director.
Ronit Elkabetz is a well-known and well-respected Israeli actor who has been described as a "woman teeming with passion and erotica, who can even play the queen of Egypt." In Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem, she teams up with her brother Shlomi to direct the third in a trilogy of films exploring the patriarchal dynamics in one Israeli family. She proves a powerhouse both behind and in front of the camera, taking on the lead role with a breath-taking magnetism. Following a woman’s quest to obtain a divorce from her husband via the bureaucratic and chauvinistic Rabinniacal courts. The film plays out like the most compelling (and minimalist) piece of courtroom drama you’ll see this year and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.
Working with her co-director and collaborator Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn’s L for Leisure is almost completely indescribable. Set in 1992-93, this episodic comedy is a mash-up of 90s nostalgia and arthouse homage that is – according to Kalman and Horn – best understood as a collection of juxtaposing ‘vibes’. Following a group of young graduates (played by Mati Diop and Gabriel Abbrantes among others) hell-bent on vacationing in the most ‘mellow’ manner possible, the film is a free-form love letter to the pleasures of wandering intellectual musings (on race, alternate universes and the ‘bebop jazz basketball’ of Michael Jordan), while wasting time taking naps, smoking nutmeg and having denim fashion shows, all shot on actual 16mm and set to a killer electronic score.
A graduate of Central St Martins, Morley has written and directed 12 films from experimental shorts to feature length documentaries. Most well known for her genre-bending blend of documentary and recreation in Dreams of Life (starring in Zawe Ashton as Joyce Vincent), her latest film is her most high profile to date. Set in a girls’ school in 1969, it stars Maisie Williams as a young girl who becomes fixated on her best friend. Putting her art school credentials to use, Morley tells her feverish story with a singular flair and freshness. Featuring the always excellent Maxine Peake, and a brand new talent Florence Pugh, this is a British film to get excited about, led by a female talent who is finally getting the attention she deserves.
If you thought Brooklyn was done being neurotic and female, you were wrong. Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour takes in some familiar themes and spits them out in the package of Shirin, a twenty-something bisexual Iranian-American whose idea of post break up dignity consists of storming back to her traditional parent’s house, tightly clutching a strap-on. Having made her name in web series The Slope and with a guest spot on the new season of Girls, we’re glad we’ll be seeing a lot more of Akhavan in the near future.
London Film Festival runs from 8-19th October and tickets go on sale September 18th