For the first time in MoviePass Blog history, we have reached out to film students to write a collaborative piece for Women’s History Month. We thought that a great way to have a conversation about women in film is to discuss the topic with future women in film: our soon-to-be directors, historians, actresses, producers, etc. We asked these women to talk about their favorite female filmmakers. These are their responses:
Andrea Arnold (Samantha Mustari, Emerson College)
This Summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of American Honey at the Cannes Film Festival. As I stood on the sidelines watching the cast and crew of the film unconventionally strut down the red carpet to “Choices (Yup)” by E-40 in their black-tie attire, I could never have anticipated that the film following this rowdy demonstration would forever change my outlook on cinema as a director. American Honey dripped with all of the grittiness of middle America in such a spontaneous and artistic way I had never before seen on-screen. The teenagers looked and acted like teenagers, not actors or a glamorized version of American youth. Only later did I learn that the lead actress was not only a non-actress, but just a girl who was in the right place at the right time when she was spotted by Arnold partying on a beach during Spring Break.
Looking further into the history of the film, I listened to an interview where Arnold expressed her difficulty in the editing room due to all of the improvisation and the lack of a script throughout the shooting process. While I thought the compelling storytelling that this film accomplished must have taken extremely careful orchestrating, I could not believe the lack of planning that went into the production process. It’s this risk-taking and limit-pushing that makes Andrea Arnold’s work unapologetically authentic, and it’s what made me fall in love with the unique signature on her work. We can see the same patterns in her Oscar-winning short, Wasp, her earlier Cannes submission, Fish Tank, and even her adaptation of the classic novel, Wuthering Heights. She captures her stories like old home videos that play back like memories, inviting an audience into an adventure that feels familiar. I fall in love, feel pain, and am impassioned alongside Arnold’s characters when I am watching her work. She has such an admirable talent for celebrating the mundanities of human life without romanticizing anything or straying too far from the ebbs and flows of the human experience. I look to Andrea Arnold’s films for inspiration when developing interesting, realistic characters, and my fondness of her work has encouraged me to take more leaps of faith in my own filmmaking.
Ava DuVernay (Natalia C. Bell, New York University)
One of my favorite directors is Ava DuVernay (13th, Selma, Spider-Man 2, I-Robot) because she’s an incredible storyteller, expertly able to transcend genre and present through her voice. Although many might recognize DuVernay from her narrative features, she actually has a long history of shifting between fiction and documentary work. Her career began creating documentaries because they allowed her to practice more frequently and less expensively, but today her films – narrative or doc – budget million dollar figures. In fact, her upcoming feature, A Wrinkle in Time, reportedly has a budget of $100 million, making DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size. Being able to produce highly successful films across narrative and documentary genres demonstrates that DuVernay can craft a great story, which of course makes her a good director. However, what I think makes DuVernay an excellent director is that through her finely-crafted stories, she presents an unyielding, self-evident voice. Her telling of a story creates a moving cinematic experience, but her voice leaves a lasting impression as the credits roll and we return to life beyond the sanctuary of the cinema. When I watch her films, I feel a potent urge to do something and that’s powerful.
Emmanuelle Bercot (Geena Matuson, Massachusetts College of Art & Design, thegirlmirage.com)
Recently added to my list of favorite directors is the French actress, writer, and filmmaker, Emmanuelle Bercot. Director of such films as Student Services (Mes Chères Etudes, 2010), a screenplay adapted from a popular novel by the same name, Bercot focuses on projects that aim to expose human truths. Her work is something of a narrative documentary or a documentary-that-is-not; she explores deep personal and societal issues relayed through visceral narratives. Though the film, Student Services, follows a young student turned to prostitution, the character’s thoughts and feelings are relatable to any number of people. This connection to the lead made me feel for her and, in turn, the film itself. I always strive to expose truths, in both my life and my work, and feel empowered seeing a successful female filmmaker with the same ideals.
Similarly, Bercot’s film, Standing Tall (2015), is a true testament to her work and the mentality of truth behind her films. Screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and recipient of three César Awards, the film dives into a dark world of ‘troubled youth.’ Her powerful work is gaining wider recognition, a truly influential filmmaker of today. Bercot’s films and voice have inspired me to produce more socially impactful works, myself. It may have a profound effect on the way you view the world around you, too.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Cassie Pacenka, Pace University)
Gabriela Cowperthwaite isn’t a name that most people recognize, but her most well-known feature length documentary is. Gabriela was the director, writer, and producer of the hit, Blackfish. Blackfish stole the attention of so many people that it impacted SeaWorld’s profits by a whopping 84%. Gabriela took on the story after bringing her children to SeaWorld, like so many have done. She felt that the euphoria that came along with these animal based ‘theme parks’ was unsettling. During college, Gabriela decided to pursue documentary work instead of the PhD in political science she had originally intended. She went from interning at Discovery Channel to directing a series about the Iraq War. She pioneered the way for these viral form films, urging viewers to take action. It’s always important when telling a story like this to tell the truth. Gabriela stated that she was nervous about directly attacking a $2 billion a year entity, but she said “As I moved forward I knew that in telling this story in an honest and fact-driven way, I was telling the truth. It sounds cliché but it’s really that simple.” This line alone is the most important lesson to learn about documentary filmmaking and she captures it in her attitude and work. Before the numbers came in about the true impact the film had, she stated in an interview with Peta, “They have to be convinced that we won’t continue to make these decisions to watch the shows. One great thing about this film, I hope, is that it has a life of its own. It’s a worthy tool for people that need to inform other people. It starts with us telling them that what they’re doing is not okay.” On March 17th, 2016, SeaWorld officially ended its orca breeding program and they will end their orca shows by 2019.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Sunny McDermott, Emerson College)
My favorite female director right now is definitely Jennifer Yuh Nelson. She’s most well known for her work on Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3. Nelson is the first woman to solely direct a feature animated film from a major Hollywood studio, as well as the first woman to win the Annie Award for Best Directing in a Feature Production. I love Jennifer’s work because she has such a strong vision and sense of storytelling, as is evident in her work on the three Kung Fu Panda movies. Nelson grew up in South Korea and learned to draw from observing her mother and crafting stories with her sisters. She was inspired to pursue animation after a storyboard artist came to do a presentation at her school. Prior to her directorial debut, Nelson had a healthy career as a storyboarding artist, working on notable feature films such as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Madagascar. Nelson has proven herself to be a strong visionary force and I truly admire her for helping to pave the way for other women in animation, which has always been a male-dominated field.
Julie Taymor (Katie Lee, Sarah Lawrence University)
Julie Taymor was the reason I decided to move to New York. Or, rather, her 2007 film Across the Universe was. That was my first interaction with Ms. Taymor’s work. Her brightly-colored surrealist love letter to the Beatles allowed me to realize that such an exciting and mysterious world was possible, but I had to go out and find it for myself. Her theatrical directorial style appeals to the parts of us that yearn to be taken out of ourselves and transported to times and places that are literally larger than life. This, perhaps, is why her artistic visions are so well-suited to live theater — I’m also a fan of her interpretation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute for the Metropolitan Opera (which smartly incorporates her talent for puppetry), as well as her Broadway smash-hit production of Disney’s The Lion King (which made her the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing a musical).
I go to Julie Taymor’s work when I need to be reminded of the transformative power of art; when I need to be reminded that life can be big and colorful and whimsical and joyful. It’s something that I increasingly need more of these days, but I’m glad I can turn to films like Frida or A Midsummer Night’s Dream for respite. After all, isn’t that what movies are for?
Oh, and if you were wondering, I did end up moving to New York (albeit temporarily), and I participated in a lot of protests and sang a lot of Beatles songs, but I never did get to ride on a bus full of hippies or take acid at a party hosted by Bono. Maybe someday.
Sofia Coppola (Danielle Cooper, Syracuse University)
Since middle school, I have known that I wanted to be a part of the film industry. I had plenty of directors, screenwriters, producers, etc. to look up to, but as I got older, I realized that I didn’t see myself reflected in any of them. Not one of them was female. Finally, my junior year, in a humanities class, we watched Lost in Translation. It instantly struck me as a beautiful film. It seemed simple, yet it was so complex. I immediately counted it as one of the best films I had ever seen. As soon as we finished watching, I looked it up and saw that Sofia Coppola had directed it. I was overcome with a sense of empowerment and pride. This was the first moment that I truly felt I had a place in the film industry as a woman. I realized that I had subconsciously felt inadequate, incapable of creating great films because I couldn’t think of an example of someone like me, a woman, who had accomplished that. Lost in Translation changed that. I have now found countless inspirational women, including Sofia Coppola, my professors, and others in the industry, who motivate me to achieve greatness everyday.
Sophia Bush (Rikki Ziegelman, Marymount Manhattan College)
I’ve always been fascinated by actors on television shows that get to direct their own episodes. On the CW’s One Tree Hill, actor Sophia Bush, who played Brooke, got to direct a plethora of the show’s episodes. After One Tree Hill concluded in 2012, Bush went on to star in Chicago PD. As an actor, I think it is extremely important to be able to immerse yourself into both sides of the spectrum. Educating yourself in all aspects of the art will make you a more rounded performer. Though directors are not in front of the camera, they deserve just as much, if not more, praise for their work- for they are the backbone of the product. Bush’s dedication to her craft absolutely shows in her work on and off screen and she should be honored for the work that she does in her community. Here’s to hoping we get to see more of this actress in the director’s chair.