What’s in an Oscar nom anyway? Check out the ten female directors who are blowing up – regardless of not being picked for the Award
Very white, and very male – just like Oscar voters. That’s the fed-up observation on this year’s noms that’s been echoing around the net since they were announced last week, with Ava DuVernay snubbed in the Best Director category for her elsewhere lauded and searingly topical Selma. The good news is more and more people are making noise about the industry imbalance. Receiving a lifetime achievement prize at the European Film Awards in Riga last month, legendary French new wave director Agnes Varda called out the lack of women nominees there. US filmmaker Jennifer Reeder (more on her below) made no bones about her views when we asked for her thoughts:
“My polite response is, FUCK THE OSCARS! Critics, film festival programmers, audiences and filmmakers themselves need to remove the faith they put into these narrow-minded nominations. Validation comes in many forms and I for one don't look for it from a group of old white men who are either very lazy or very prejudiced… or both. Anyone who opposes the gender/race discrepancy must be responsible to do the right thing and demand a change. I work with feminists and people who believe in social justice. I have no use for any other kind of film industry type, no matter what kind of amazing opportunity they could offer me.”
In honour of women in the industry, here are ten female directors on top of their game – and if you haven’t heard of them all yet, you soon will.
Ava DuVernay was named best director at Sundance a couple of years back for Middle of Nowhere, and though she missed a chance for an Oscar for Selma the positive buzz around her work means that will hardly hold her back. Commentators have wondered if the none-too-rosy depiction of former US president Lyndon Johnson in the bio-drama, which is about Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for voting rights in a climate of police brutality against blacks, didn’t play nice enough for the Academy (star David Oyelowo also missed out on a nom).
Selma is released in the UK on 6 February.
Quirky, dilemma-ridden New Yorkers are a US indie staple, and Desiree Akhavan’s debut feature Appropriate Behaviour introduces us to some more – but it’s sharp and sassy enough to make her stand out as a strong new talent. Akhavan wrote, directed and stars in the comedy, which mines the clichés of life in Brooklyn for wry effect. Shireen is a bi-sexual twenty-something with deadpan attitude to burn whose relationship we see in flashbacks as she struggles with the aftermath of her break-up with her first girlfriend, leaps into hilariously humiliating situations with devil-may-care abandon, and mulls over whether to come out to her Iranian parents. Akhavan made her name through The Slope, a web series she made with Ingrid Jungermann about “superficial, homophobic lesbians” and has a guest spot on the new season of Girls.
Appropriate Behaviour is released in the UK on 6 March.
Jennifer Reeder’s A Million Miles Away was a film everyone was talking about on the short film circuit last year, and it cleaned up awards at festivals like Encounters and Winterthur. The pop-savvy film, in which a substitute teacher on the verge of unraveling leads a choir of teenage girls rehearsing a Judas Priest song, is an ode to the secret language of adolescence and is infused with a surreal, mythical atmosphere. With her new short Blood Below the Skin premiering at the Berlinale next month, a retrospective set for the famed Oberhausen fest in May and funding confirmed for her first feature (hurrah!), it’s all happening for the US director.
A streak of wicked comedy means Jessica Hausner’s new film about the death wish of poet Heinrich von Kleist Amour Fou never takes itself too seriously, despite its sumptuously shot parlour-room settings. It’s a brilliant, merciless take-down of delusional romanticism and social hypocrisy that tells of the self-obsessed artist’s quest to find someone devoted absolutely enough to him to die with him with ambiguous layers and strange touches that make it strikingly unique. It’s the Austrian director’s fourth feature (her 2007 Venice success Lourdes featured Lea Seydoux in one of her earlier roles).
Amour Fou is released in the UK on 6 February.
It takes a lot of tenacity to get a film made in the harsh creative climate of Russia these days – and if it’s a series of interviews with LGBT couples about their lives and feelings on the new “gay propaganda” law curbing their rights, it takes a lot of courage as well. Alina Rudnitskaya doesn’t lack either, and her latest short Victory Day – which cuts these interviews together with scenes from an annual patriotic parade to suggest a nation harking back to the Soviet era in its repressive tendencies – premiered at DOK Leipzig festival last October. A brilliant documentarian with a flair for absurdist wit and a concern for social justice, Rudnitskaya’s work is not shown as much as it should be, and includes 2007’s Bitch Academy, about a school for women wanting to attract loaded oligarch husbands, and feature-length Blood, which screened at the London Film Festival last year and follows a mobile blood collection team as financial desperation drives donors to sell their blood.
Gillian Robespierre worked around directors at union the Director’s Guild of America for a number of years before deciding to take the reins herself. She brought fresh, bold energy to the US indie landscape last year with her frank and funny debut Obvious Child, which was a Sundance hit. Donna (played by Jenny Slate) is a foul-mouthed stand-up comedian who doesn’t hesitate about using her intimate life problems as comic material on stage and gets knocked up from a one-night stand. Robespierre pushed the film into daring terrain with a pro-choice agenda little seen on screen – let alone a rom-com. We can’t wait for her next film, which she’s currently scripting with Obvious Child co-writer Elisabeth Holm.
A courageously personal innovator with a take on documentary that’s vibrant with experimentation, Dazed visionary Maja Borg is developing a new film – and we can’t wait to see it. Intersplicing Super-8 sci-fi sequences, the Swedish director’s lyrical last feature Future My Love took her to futurist Jacques Fresco’s Venus Project in search of a utopian alternative to our failed economic system, and a way of the heartbreak of her break-up with Italian actress Nadya Cazan. ICYMI, check out her future-set, poetic short about the value of physical diversity, We The Others, on our Visionaries strand.
If you’ve seen an Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western then you must have already caught Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, because it’s the first one. Based in LA, the director makes genre mash-ups with cool grace and imaginative risk. Her black-and-white film’s had considerable buzz since its Sundance premiere, creating anticipation for her next feature, which she has described as a Texas-set post-apocalyptic cannibal love story that’s “Road Warrior Meets Pretty in Pink with a dope soundtrack”.
Australian director Jennifer Kent worked as an actress for years but got tired of it. Being no docile follower of rules she was reluctant to go in for structured study at a film school so instead wrote to Lars Von Trier, persuading him to allow her to assist him on Dogville. Her debut feature as a director was The Babadook – a gothic-tinged, masterfully atmospheric and whip-smart horror in which the pressures of parenting and the past in the form of a bogeyman lay siege to a single mother and her son in the conformist suburbs. One of the scariest films of last year, it achieved complex emotional layers and shows Kent is a unique voice that’s not here to make us comfortable.
British filmmaker Carol Morley is best known for her brilliant, jarringly intimate documentaries. In The Alcohol Years she conducts interviews to find out what she got up to during her lost booze-soaked youth in 80s Manchester, and in Dreams of a Life pieces together the mysterious circumstances in which a young woman died in her London bedsit and wasn’t found for several years. She’s now netting rave reviews for her eerie drama The Falling, about a strange outbreak of fainting in a girls’ school. It stars Maisie Williams as Lydia, who becomes fixated on her best friend, played by new talent Florence Pugh.
The Falling is released in the UK on 24 April.