Name Some Good Women Directors

I know they must be out there. But all the ones I can think of offhand: Penelope Spheeris, Penny Marshall, Kathryn Bigelow, Betty Thomas, Nora Ephron…either suck or are at best make trivial projects like SNL adaptations or classic-TV-show movies. I’m looking for female directors of capital-A Art films.

Leni Riefenstahl comes to mind, but obviously she’s somewhat problematic.

Can anyone name good female directors and the movies they’ve made?

I think Kathryn Bigelow should be given a lot of leeway just for Near Dark, but anyhoo . . .

The first one that popped to mind for me was Allison Anders, director of Gas Food Lodging and Grace Of My Heart, among others. There is also, of course, Jane Campion, director of The Piano and Holy Smoke!. I don’t know that I would call either of them “capital-A art” diretors, but they’re somewhat out of the mainstream.

The French have given us Catherine Breillat, who has been making movies since 1979, but only really intently over the last decade. Her movies include Romance and the new For My Sister. Also from France is Virginie Despentes, whose extremely explicit Baise-moi raised some eyebrows this year.

Another American, Kasi Lemmons (who you might remember as an actress from her role as Jodie Foster’s friend at the FBI academy in Silence of the Lambs) has directed a few good movies including The Caveman’s Valentine and Eve’s Bayou.

Those are all I can think of off the top of my head.

The only leeway I will give Kathryn Bigelow is to grant that Point Break was the best movie we’ve ever had about zen surfer bank robbers.

I’ve always liked Ida Lupino movies. She never had anything resembling a budget to work with, but check out “Hard Fast and Beautiful,” “The Bigamist” and “The Hitch-Hiker.” B-movies all, to be sure, but she had a real feel for what the camera could do. Her work reminds me of Robert Aldrich or Samuel Fuller, and I would have loved to see what she could have done with some real money.

Lizzie Borden.

No, silly, not the one with the ax!

What is the name of that Middle Eastern director… she directed Blackboards and I think The Apple… her father is a film director too… dammit!

Damnit! I was gonna say Kathryn Bigelow. She also directed Strange Days, an excellent film.

I agree, but her Triumph of the Will was a milestone for female directors. Still alive, too, isn’t she Fiver? I wonder if she considered herself “A cog in the wheel” or if she was proud of her glorification of the third Reich?

Also, did Jeanne Moreau ever direct?


I thought Bonnie Hunt did a good job in “Return to Me.” Though I admit it is not an “art film,” it said a lot of good things without getting really sappy.

Nora Ephron - I think she directed Sleepless In Seattle, You’ve Got Mail

Mimi Leder - Directed The Peacemaker,Deep Impact and Pay It Forward

On October 22, 2001, kung fu lola wrote:
What is the name of that Middle Eastern director… she directed Blackboards and I think The Apple… her father is a film director too… dammit!

That would be Samira Makhmalbaf, who is from Iran and is the daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

There’s also Mira Nair, the Indian director of:

Salaam Bombay! (1988)
Mississippi Masala (1991)
The Perez Family (1995
Kama Sutra (1996)

and several others less well known in the US

I highly recommend the documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl for some insight into her character. It raises some very provocative questions.

Other good female art-movie directors include Lina Wertmüller who directed the classic Seaven Beauties and Mary Harron who directed I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho.

Of course, that would be Seven Beauties. Sheesh.

Penny Marshall is a pretty good director, with films like “Big,” “A League of Their Own,” “Awakenings,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” and now “Riding in Cars with Boys.” “Big” is a terrific movie, and the others mentioned were all critical successes, and hardly fluff.

Amy Heckering had deserved hits with “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Look Who’s Talking,” and “Clueless.”

Last I checked, Leni Riefenstahl was still alive and unapologetic about having glorified Hitler in Triumph of the Will, etc. I’ve seen it, and it is moving propaganda. She spent the 1980s doing underwater camera work.

Barbara Koppel – a number of excellent documentaries, including Harlan County, U.S.A., as well as several (well, at least one) episode of Homicide.

Nancy Savoca did a couple of good films in the late '80s/early '90s – True Love and Household Saints – but I don’t know what she’s done lately.

And going way back, Alice Guy produced a lot of silent films; I don’t know how “great” she was, though.

I first must mention two French directors: Agnes Varda and Claire Denis, who have made a series of impressive films, only a few of which have been made available in the U.S. Varda: Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond, and The Gleaners and I; Denis: Beau Travail, Nenette et Boni and Chocolat (not the Johnny Depp one)

One of the most revered female directors of the studio system is Dorothy Arzner, though I think her status has been elevated beyond what it deserves. Still, Dance, Girl, Dance and Christopher Strong (among others) have very passionate followers.

Nobody’s mentioned Barbra Streisand (Yentl, The Prince of Tides, The Mirror Has Two Faces), who would definitely qualify as “A-list” talent in Hollywood, though I find her movies generally atrocious. As female actor/directors go, I prefer Jodie Foster or Joan Chen (Xiu-Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl). Mai Zetterling, Liv Ullmann, Diane Keaton, Bonnie Hunt, and Christine Lahti are others.

Other notables:

Elaine May made three excellent films (The Heartbreak Kid, A New Leaf, Mikey and Nicky) before the disastrous Ishtar
Agnieszka Holland (the harrowing Europa, Europa and lovely The Secret Garden)
Barbara Kopple (won 2 Oscars for the documentaries Harlan County U.S.A. and American Dream)
Julie Dash (her film Daughters of the Dust was the first film directed by an African-American woman to receive nationwide theatrical distribution)
Maya Deren (one of the most influential avant-garde directors in the U.S. ever; Meshes of the Afternoon was the first film in the National Film Registry directed by a woman)
Nancy Savoca (Household Saints and the excellent Dogfight)
Marguerite Duras (better known as the writer of Hiroshima, Mon Amour, she has a number of directorial credits, most notably India Song)
Alice Guy (silent film director, contemporary of Melies, with over 200 films to her credit)
Margarethe von Trotta (Rosa Luxembourg and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum)
Randa Haines (Children of a Lesser God, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway)
Marleen Goris (Mrs. Dalloway and the Oscar-winning Antonia’s Line)
Liliana Cavani (The Night Porter)
Catherine Breillat (36 Fillette and the controversial Romance)
Amy Holden Jones (the underrated Love Letters and Slumber Party Massacre)
Susan Seidelman (Desparately Seeking Susan
My votes for the best:
American - Lupino and May
English langauge - Campion (also directed the wonderful An Angel at My Table)
Foreign language - Varda & Riefenstahl

Allison Anders is O.K.

There’s also the extremely uninteresting films of Annie Sprinkle, Monika Truet, Patricia Rozema and Chantal Akerman.

Not to mention all the washed-up porn queens who are now writing, producing and directing their own smut.


(Jennifer freaking out that she has a movie to shoot next weekend for class and no script and no actors quite yet)