For an industry that’s often considered a liberal’s paradise, there is still a severe underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence within the film industry.
So when a woman does make a name for herself behind the camera, you can be certain that her work is of the very highest quality. In the words of Canada’s first woman mayor, Charlotte Whitton, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
Over the last few decades, we have seen women slowly beginning to press up against the glass ceilings of film industries, both at home and abroad, and doing it in such spectacular style that the rest of us have no option but to sit up and take notice of their brilliance.
No list of influential directors would be complete without Bigelow. In 2009, she showed women across the world that nothing is impossible when she became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
Peek into her mind with: Hurt Locker. Beating out intense competition in one of the most stellar nominee groups in recent history, this gritty film takes a long, hard look at the nature of war and the combatants whose lives are so inextricably linked to the conflict it generates. If that doesn’t convince you, consider this – the film won the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture ahead of films like Avatar, Up, A Serious Man, Inglorious Basterds and Up in the Air.
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She took India to a global audience with her films about Indian society and the quirks of our people, earning one of just three Oscar nominations by an Indian filmmaker along the way.
Peek into her mind with: Monsoon Wedding. It may not have been the film that earned her the coveted Oscar nomination (that distinction goes to Salaam Bombay!) but this is the film that made everyone in India sit up and take notice of her impressive talent for storytelling. This film is all about the big, fat Indian wedding taken in a brave, new direction that brings up things most Indians don’t like talking about.
It takes a lot of work and banging on the glass ceiling to create the kind of body of work that has earned Denis the title of “France’s greatest living female director.” She’s famous for turning genres on their head, which is why we’re so excited for her upcoming English-language psychosexual sci-fi film, High Life.
Peek into her mind with: Chocolat. Nope, not the chocolate-infused Johnny Depp-Juliette Binoche gypsy drama you’re thinking of. This film of colonial-crossed lovers tells us the tale of a young French girl in colonial Cameroon, who falls in love with the family’s household servant – a local boy. If films are all about the dialogue, then this one is all about the silences – the silences that fill the gaps between words and feelings, the silences that allows prejudice to survive.
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After two decades as a renowned actress, she made the leap and began directing films in 1981, evening winning the National Film Award for Best Director that year for 36 Chowringhee Lane. It was followed by the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, in 1987. Her filmmaking legacy looks set to be taken forward by her daughter, Konkana Sen Sharma, whose directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj, was an English-language crossover film reminiscent of the style her mother popularised over two decades from the ’80s to the early 2000s.
Peek into her mind with: Mr and Mrs Iyer. This wonderfully-nuanced and sensitive film about a Hindu woman and Muslim man, pushed together and forced to confront their misgivings about the each other’s religious identities in a time of communal strife, is especially relevant because it came out just a few months after the horrific Gujarat riots of 2002.
As much as we abhor the idea of eugenics, we have to question whether incredible filmmaking genes can be passed down from father to child when we think of Sofia Coppola, the daughter of living legend Francis Ford Coppola. After a brief and moderately successful career as an actress, she burst onto the scene with her directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides.
Peek into her mind with: Lost in Translation. While most of her films are instant classics, this one is a team favourite, and probably one of the best films of the 2000s. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star as two halves of an unlikely couple caught in a fleeting affair in Tokyo.
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