Great Women Filmmakers: A Few Further Thoughts

The recent announcement of the results of two polls – one conducted by the BBC asking a bunch of critics for their favourite films directed women, won by Jane Campion’s The Piano, the other Sight & Sound’s annual look at the films of the year, won by Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir – got me thinking about my own favourite movies directed by women. Initially I thought I’d try to compile a top ten for myself, but that proved far too difficult, so in the end I opted for a list of 50, which felt about right as long as I could limit each director to one film only. To keep to that number, however, I also felt I should exclude documentaries and shorts (thus rendering ineligible such great movies as Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason and  Forugh Farrokhzad’s The House, not to mention some of the finest work by Agnès Varda, pictured above). Even then, I ended up feeling regret at having to leave out some other favourites. Then too, of course, there were titles that simply slipped my mind, and still others that for one reason or another I haven’t yet seen. So apologies if some of your own favourite films or filmmakers don’t appear. For better or worse, this list is mine, with all the pros and cons conferred by subjective viewing experience, taste and opinion. Moreover, since I published this list, a reader pointed to the regrettable omission of Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky – a wonderful movie I confess simply slipped my mind. But then maybe I would have chosen May’s superb A New Leaf instead. We all make mistakes; I certainly do, all the time.

Whatever, the list is posted not as an antidote to the BBC poll but simply as a reminder that there are a great many other terrific films by women not mentioned on the BBC list. If you’re interested in movies made by women – and why wouldn’t you be? – the alphabetically ordered list below is, perhaps, a resource for further research. I haven’t checked which of the titles below are available on one platform or another (and some of them, I confess, I haven’t seen for many years), but most, I hope, you should be able to find with a little effort. Finally, if by any chance you’re wondering whether I have an absolute favourite among the 50, all I can say is that any number-one film would probably change on a daily basis. So I won’t proffer one.

All Is Well   Eva Trobisch, 2018, Germany

Angels Wear White   Vivian Qu, 2017. China

Angels Wear White

The Apple   Samira Makhmalbaf, 1998, Iran

The Ascent   Larisa Shepitko, 1977, Russia

Beau Travail   Claire Denis, 1999, France

The Bigamist   Ida Lupino, 1953, USA

The Bigamist

Black Shack Alley   Euzhan Palcy, 1983, Martinique-France

Blue Car   Karen Moncrieff, 2002, USA

Boys Don’t Cry   Kimberley Peirce, 1999, USA

The Boys Next Door   Penelope Spheeris, 1985, USA

Capernaum   Nadine Labaki, 2018, Lebanon


La Captive  Chantal Akerman, 2000, France-Belgium

Cléo de 5 à 7   Agnès Varda, 1961, France

Clueless   Amy Heckerling, 1995, USA

Daisies   Vera Chytilova, 1966, Czechoslovakia

Dance, Girl, Dance   Dorothy Arzner, 1940, USA

Faithless   Liv Ullmann, 2000, Sweden

La Fiançée du pirate   Nelly Kaplan, 1969, France

Flowers from Another World   Icíar Bollaín, 1999, Spain

Free Radicals    Barbara Albert, 2003, Austria

Girl Friends   Claudia Weill, 1978, USA

Gisela  Isabelle Stever, 2005, Germany

Happy as Lazzaro   Alice Rohrwacher, 2018, Italy

The Headless Woman   Lucrecia Martel, 2008, Argentina

The Headless Woman

Hour of the Star   Suzana Amaral, 1982, Brazil

The Hurt Locker   Kathryn Bigelow, 2008, USA

Lifelong   Asli Özge, 2013, Turkey

Lourdes   Jessica Hausner, 2009, France-Austria

Meek’s Cutoff   Kelly Reichardt, 2010, USA

Mug   Malgorzata Szumowska, 2018, Poland


À ma soeur!   Catherine Breillat, 2001, France

Reinventing Marvin   Anne Fontaine, 2017, France

Rien à faire   Marion Vernoux, 1999, France

The Selfish Giant   Clio Barnard, 2013, GB

Shock Waves: Diary of My Mind   Ursula Meier, 2018, Switzerland

Shoes   Lois Weber, 1916, USA

The Silences of the Palace   Moufida Tlatli, 1994, Tunisia

The Souvenir   Joanna Hogg, 2019, GB

The Souvenir

Sweetie   Jane Campion, 1989, Australia

Things to Come   Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016, France

Toni Erdmann   Maren Ade, 2016, Germany

Walking and Talking   Nicole Holofcener, 1996, USA

Wanda   Barbara Loden, 1970, USA


Water Lilies   Céline Sciamma, 2007, France

We Don’t Want to Talk About It   Maria-Luisa Bermberg, Argentina, 1993

Western   Valeska Grisebach, 2017, Germany-Bulgaria

Will It Snow for Christmas?   Sandrine Veysset, 1996, France

Winter’s Bone  Debra Granik, 2010, USA

Yes  Sally Potter, 2004, GB

You Were Never Really There  Lynne Ramsay, 2017, UK-USA

you were never
You Were Never Really There

You can check out the BBC and Sight & Sound polls online. Mark Cousins’ documentary celebrating women filmmakers (in, I’m sure, considerably more detail and after far more extensive research than I have been able to conduct) will be released next year.


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