Top 10 Female Filmmakers

The Script Lab posted a list of Top 10 Female Directors just a few days ago. While I admire their intention of giving some much deserved attention to female filmmakers, they could at least try to make the list a little more diverse. After all – it’s called Top 10 Female Filmmakers, not American Female Filmmakers.

Because this was not the first time that I came across such a list (that really had, if I put it mildly, the most obvious choices of female filmmakers you could imagine) and because I’m kind of sick of how ignorant the Americans can be towards foreign films, literature and other forms of arts, I decided to make my own version of the list, that will, hopefully, show you a more diverse and interesting picture of great female filmmakers that you should keep an eye on.

  1. Agnès Varda (France): I think she doesn’t need any special introduction, since she’s one of the most iconic female filmmakers of all time. Watch any film of hers and you won’t be disappointed; however, if you don’t know where to begin, start with Le bonheur; it’s my favourite.
  2. Claire Denis (France): her absolutely brilliant filmography most often deals with themes of colonial and post-colonial West Africa (Chocolat, Beau travail, White Material) and with issues of modern day France.
  3. Chantal Akerman (Belgium): one of the most important feminist and avant-garde filmmakers of all time; her Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is considered the most important feminist film in the history of cinema.
  4. Vera Chytilová (Czechoslovakia): an avant-garde film director and a pioneer of Czech cinema. She is best known for her Czech New Wave film, Daisies, that is one of my favourite films of all time.
  5. Naomi Kawase (Japan): one of my favourite contemporary Japanese directors. Her films are an absolute must-see for anyone who appreciates Asian cinema.
  6. Jane Campion (New Zeland): she was the first female filmmaker in history to receive Palme d’Or for her universally acclaimed film The Piano (for which she also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay). Although she finished a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and painting first and started studying film when she was already in her late 20’s, she is without a doubt one of the best, most respected contemporary filmmakers, with the most interesting and diverse filmography one could imagine. And let’s not forget about her latest work, the brilliant miniseries Top of the Lake.
  7. Andrea Arnold (UK): Arnold first rose to fame with her feature debut Red Road, and later with her universally acclaimed film Fish Tank. Her latest film was visually breathtaking (and so far, my favourite) adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights that finally managed to portray Heathcliff (who is described as a “darkly-skinned gypsy” in the literary source, but has for some reason always been portrayed as a white man; Laurence Olivier in the 1939 version is just one such example) as an African man.
  8. Sofia Coppola (USA): one of the best known and critically acclaimed female filmmakers working today. I doubt she needs any further introduction, since you probably all know her films.
  9. Ava DuVernay (USA): a year ago, I had no idea who she was. Now, she’s one of my favourite contemporary American directors. I already wrote about her latest film, Selma, but I also recommend you all to see her 2012 Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere. She’s one of a few American filmmakers who does a thorough research, a whole sociological study of a theme she wants to portray in her film and even interviews certain people to get a sense of what their lives are before writing a screenplay – and for this fact alone she has my deepest respect. She’s amazing.
  10. Margarethe von Trotta (Germany): one of the most important female filmmakers of the New German Cinema and the world’s leading feminist filmmaker.

Honourable mentions:

  • Maya Deren (USA)
  • Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran)
  • Kelly Reichardt (USA)
  • Lynne Ramsay (Scotland)
  • Céline Sciamma (France)
  • Ursula Meier (Switzerland)
  • Catherine Breillat (France) – one of the most provocative female filmmakers, who’s mostly dealing with female sexuality and gender trouble. Her best work is (at least in my opinion) her 2001 film Fat Girl.
  • Cate Shortland (Australia)
  • Sarah Polley (Canada)
  • Mira Nair (India)
  • Gina Prince-Bythewood (USA) – one of the most successful contemporary African-American film-makers. Her best work so far is probably her latest film, Beyond the Lights.
  • Susanne Bier (Denmark) – I’m not a fan of her latest work, but her films After the Wedding and Open Hearts (a Dogme 95 film) are a must see for any cinephile.

Female filmmakers that only released one film so far (but will continue to make great films in the future, I’m sure):

Ana Lily Amirpour: her debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – also described as Iranian Vampire Spagetti Western – is one of the best films of 2015 I’ve seen so far. A truly fantastic cinematic experience.

Haifaa Al-Mansour: the first woman (or rather, a person, since not even a man filmed a movie there before) in Saudi Arabia that made a feature film! Go see Wadjda. Now.

Jennifer Kent: if you haven’t heard about this Australian film-maker and her debut horror film The Babadook yet, stop reading this post immediately and go watch the film! The best psychological thriller/horror from the last decade. And I don’t exaggerate one bit.

Rebecca Thomas: Electrick Children is a stunning feature film by Thomas about a 15-year old girl living in a fundamentalist Mormon community who believes that she got pregnant by listening to a cassette of a rock band.

Dee Rees: her debut film Pariah is a powerful drama about a 17-years old African-American teenager who is trying to embrace her identity as a lesbian while being bullied by her peers and her mother for not being feminine enough. One of film’s best feature is it’s beautiful cinematography by the one and only Bradford Young (one of my favourite currently working cinematographers).

Gillian Robespierre: Robespierre had her major breakthrough last year, when her feature indie film Obvious Child was released. The best rom-com I’ve seen in years that manages to tackle a sensitive subject of abortion with honesty and wit. But since I already wrote about the film, I recommend you to revisit my review.

Gia Coppola: Sofia Coppola’s niece and Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, who released her feature debut Palo Alto in 2014.

Eliza Hittman: her debut It Felt Like Love is one of the most realistic portrayals of how it is to be a teenage girl. Beautifully shot, disturbing to watch, but overall a very rewarding film that will stay with you for quite some time.

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4 thoughts on “Top 10 Female Filmmakers”

  1. Thanks for the great and helpful list. There are more than a few directors here who’s works I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing, and looking forward to following up on some of your suggestions. Just finished Amirpour’s AGWHAAN and I’m excited to see her sophomore effort. Thanks again!

  2. I feel very shitty that I have only seen movies by Catherine Breillat (Fat Girl, Romance) Sarah Polly(Away from Her, Stories We Tell were awesome) Jennifer Kent(Babadook, Holy shit was that movie just amazing) Sofia Coppola.(ever since The Virgin Suicides. I have been loving every movie she has made) Anna Lilly Amipour( Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a great debut and Im excited to see what she has next) Andrea Arnold( Fish Tank was good, but It was just a little too disturbing mainly for Fassbender’s role in that. Amazing list

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