Female Film Directors You Should Know

Female film directors – a new normal at last? 

As we find our weary way back to some kind of normal, I grow increasingly hopeful that it won’t mean a return to the way things used to be at all.  Especially in the film business.  Over the past year or so we have seen more female directors becoming visible, successful and celebrated and with that success comes power.  And with that power comes stories, more stories about that other half of the world. The better half.  The half that moves humanity forward in the most empirical and pragmatic way…the half that actually and quite literally continues the human species.  The world is female. Take that misogamists.  

Anyway, in case you have been living under a pandemic rock this past year, or your foggy brain can’t remember how many fantastic female film directors we have in the world right now making movies, here is a little list of some of my favourite female directors!  In no particular order.

Julie Taymor is an Academy Award-nominated director, known for such films as “Frida” (2002) and “Across the Universe” (2007). Most recently “The Glorias,” and the phenomenal “Titus” with Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. She’s also a writer of theatre, opera and film. Her stage adaptation of “The Lion King” opened on Broadway in 1997, now has 24 global productions and has been seen by more than 100 million people in over 100 cities in 20 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, and its worldwide gross exceeds that of any entertainment title in box office history. “The Lion King” also received 11 Tony Award nominations, earning Taymor Tony Awards for Best Director and Costume Designer, and was honored with more than 70 major arts awards worldwide.  Not too shabby.

Julie Taymor is just a glorious example of a film director who is an artist first and foremost and “Across the Universe” remains one of my favourite films.

Marielle Heller is a brilliant writer, director and actress (“Queens Gambit”). Her first film, “Diary of A Teenage Girl,” dealt with teenage girls sexuality, not something a male director would tackle too often I think.  “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” was an almost perfect film with Melissa McCarthy and the sublime Richard E. Grant and I bloody loved it!!!

And then came “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which was, according to Ms Keller herself, an antidote to the Trump era.

“if Trump wasn’t the president, I don’t know that I would have wanted to make a movie about Mr Rogers, but it felt like the thing that the world needed was an example of a sensitive man who was trying to help us get in touch with our emotions, who believed in kindness over cruelty.”  She’s such an emotional and intelligent writer and director and was also absolutely unforgettable in “The Queens Gambit.”

Lynn Ramsey is a female director that should be on your list. If you haven’t yet seen, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” then you are completely nuts.  It’s a stunning and gut-wrenching film about a boy who kills and how he got there.  Tilda Swinton is transcending, as usual, and Ezra Miller as the boy and John C. Reilly as the father are also incredible. “You Were Never Really Here” is her most recent film about a man who gets bad stuff done and how the rescue of a young girl goes very wrong and changes everything. It won best screenplay and best actor at the Cannes film festival in 2018 before it was even finished. “We were only five months into the edit […Kevin took 10 months], there were still scenes that were just storyboards, and the producers told me they’d entered it into Cannes, which was two months away,” she says. 

Lynn Ramsey says of “You Were Never Really Here” – “I just put my head in my hands. But the whole film had a kind of crazy punk rock energy – this was just more of the same.”

At Cannes, “You Where Never Really Here” came out of the sound-mix minutes before it went before the audience. It got a standing ovation.  Lynn Ramsey is a Scottish art school alumni, an artist filmmaker with a working class background and an unmistakable style and a fearless eye. She’s a genius basically.

Jane Campion is the first female director I remember becoming aware of. “The Piano” is still on my top ten list and probably always will be.  How can a film with Holly hunter, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neil be anything other than wonderful? And with Anna Paquin winning an Oscar at 10 and the music of Michael Nyman, it’s severely beautiful and basically perfect. “Bright Star,” the series “Top of The Lake,” “In The Cut” and “The Portrait of a Lady” are all equally spectacular and she just embodies  for me what a filmmaker should be. Fierce, empathic and unique.

Patty Jenkins is a phenom of course,  “Wonder Woman” was such a powerful and magical film. “Monster” was also incredible and very disturbing, so what a range! Her next opus is “Rogue Squadron,” so “Star Wars!”

Sophia Coppola is a slow burn kind of director. Nothing showy, nothing flashy, just an innate ability to tell stories that are exquisitely intimate and achingly familiar.

“Lost in Translation” is also in my top 10. ”Virgin Suicides” was her first film and kind of changed the landscape of indie film. “On the Rocks” with the iridescent Bill Murray gave us some hope in the pandemic darkness of this last year. 

Greta Gerwig is another favourite female director.  Another indie darling.  She began with “Frances Ha” and pivoted to directing with “Lady Bird,” which was not that loosely autobiographical and hilarious.  “Little Women” I loved, although some did not. But she grows with every movie and has such a gorgeous position on the world.

Ava Duvernay is the queen of course. “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and the double whammy of “13th” and “When They See Us.”  

Ava Duvernay has pushed the industry forward, sometimes kicking and screaming, demanding representation for women and for brown and black creatives. She is a goddess quite frankly.

Kathryn Bigelow, the original!!! Deciding to just do what she loved and to get on with it. “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Point Break,” for heaven’s sake! That was before we even noticed that a woman directed an action film!!! Her latest is “Detroit,” and she is the first woman to win a directing Oscar for “Hurt Locker.”  

Kathryn Bigelow’s a quiet one, not given to celebrity or fame.  But an amazing filmmaker, a craftsman and someone who lifts up fellow females and creates a climate of sameness for them to flourish.

Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” just won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Everyone should see this film, her first…if you can believe that! It’s a brilliant film – insightful, heartbreaking, suspenseful and darkly funny.  Absolutely deserved the Oscar and Carey Mulligan is fantastic.  Emerald is also Camilla in “The Crown” and was pregnant while she directed “Promising Young Women.”  Powerful woman.

Chloe Zhao, finally.  Our current hero of the realm.  Yes, “Nomadland” was really all it was cracked up to be.  Effortlessly cool, softly heroic and subtle life changing.  A film about a woman being exactly how she wants to be.  No excuses, no revelation, no epiphany.  Just a human being human.  She directed “The Rider” and “Songs My Brother Taught Me.” Her soon to be released, “The Eternals,” is a huge movie with a huge cast.  I can’t wait to see what the master of the understated does with a story as massive as this.  

So are we turning a corner? I like to think the force of the female director has long been rounding that corner but now, perhaps, it’s a little easier to see her.

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros
Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.