5 Women Filmmakers Who Are Setting the World on Fire

Let’s address the elephant in the room before we move onto the five amazing filmmakers featured in this list, shall we? I know I am a man writing about women filmmakers.

Here’s the thing, though: I strongly believe that we should use whatever platforms we have at our disposal to support underserved and underrepresented creators. It’s our responsibility, as soon as we reach a new step in the ladder, to look for ways in which we can help others express themselves. I’m taking this opportunity, therefore, to talk about up-and-coming women filmmakers whose work is sure to blow any cinema fan’s brain out. Their work certainly doesn’t need our validation, but I think support wouldn’t go amiss.

Every time I hear about films directed by women, I’m sure to find a “dude” talking about how limited their appeal is, due to who directed them, “bro.” That is quite obviously not the case, so next time you find yourself in a conversation with such a specimen, please refer to this list to set the record straight.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are countless women filmmakers changing the world and creating timeless masterpieces all around us. These are just five of my favourites, and I hope that you get to watch at least some of their work. I can assure you, it will be an enthralling, thoroughly enjoyable and culturally enriching experience.

Julia Ducournau (France)

2016 was all nice and dandy, until out of nowhere, along came a tale of a vegetarian college student with an insatiable taste for human flesh. Julia Ducournau’s debut film Raw premiered at Cannes that year and went on to receive critical and commercial acclaim upon its worldwide distribution in 2017.

While one might easily fixate on the graphical violence and overt sexuality, biting harder into the meat of the film’s themes reveals a strong symbolic approach to issues of family, body ownership, violence and more.

Though her work is divisive, Ducournau’s approach to storytelling is sure to make an impact and eliciting audience response is never, ever an issue.

She’s now working on Titane, a film which revolves around the sudden reappearance of a boy thought to be missing for 10 years.

Trivia: Ducournau’s seemingly cold and factual approach to cannibalism, corpses and death comes from her upbringing, as both of her parents are medical doctors.

Mika Ninagawa (Japan)

Sure to be remembered as one of the greatest and most multifaceted talents of her generation, Mika Ninagawa has established herself as one of Japan’s most accomplished stills photographers. However, one of her many other skills is directing films, and she is just as prodigious with moving pictures as she is with static ones.

Her output is sporadic, but all the more anticipated for it. Out of her filmography, 2012’s Helter Skelter remains the most impactful to me. The tale of a supermodel who undergoes surgery after surgery in a bid to stay on top of a ruthless industry might seem like a well-worn cliché, but there’s more to this film than a tagline would suggest.

Infusing model Lilico’s journey with the unique trappings of being Japanese celebrity provides a pseudo-documentarian’s view of a much, much different take on the phenomenon. Adding to the appeal is Ninagawa’s masterful visual style, which provides a gorgeous backdrop upon which to learn about the mysterious Land of the Rising Sun.

At the moment, Ninagawa is working on a couple of undisclosed projects, and to become a Ninagawa fan is to learn the art of patience. However, she’s directed an episode of Followers, a TV series dedicated to exploring influencers, AI and the perils of going digital. Definitely a must-watch for those interested in a Japanese take on Black Mirror-type topics.

Trivia: The role of Lilico in Ninagawa’s Helter Skelter is played by Erika Sawajiri, a mixed-race actress and model. Casting the half-Japanese, half-Algerian Sawajiri in a film about societal pressure, appearances and old Japanese concepts of race purity is a deliberate statement, very much on-brand for Ninagawa’s work.

Sofia Villagra (Paraguay)

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I know Sofía. But it isn’t a relationship that you’d normally associate with nepotism. In 2016, I directed a moderately successful horror short film called Kurusu Serapio, which made it into a large number of festival programmes. Regardless of which festival I submitted and got accepted to, though, Sofia’s own film Recoleta always came away with the top prizes. She was only 19 years old at the time.

At 23, her filmography now lists over 20 titles (including short films and documentaries), and the number of awards and scholarships she’s received is equally as impressive (and extensive).

While she has shifted her attention momentarily to her teaching position (which again, at her age, is nothing short of impressive), she continues to create relevant, poignant films. Sofia’s work now has a strong social commentary, and in particular, her documentaries are helping reshape what we know about the lives of children with disabilities in developing countries.

I have long been a defender of cinema’s role as a provider of entertainment and as an outlet of artistic whim. But it is equally important to acknowledge that art should not be left without voices who speak for those who can’t do it themselves. Sofia’s current and upcoming documentary filmmaking, as well as her focus on social awareness and helping children with disabilities, should be commended and consumed. This is made all the more relevant due to the fact that Paraguay has little to no history when it comes to making films, having escaped from dictatorship and censorship only 30 years ago.

Trivia: Upon the release of the horror anthology Oscuridad, which featured her short film Recoleta, Sofía became the youngest women filmmaker in Paraguayan history to have a theatrical release.

Mati Diop (France)

From the struggle of having a multi-racial background to living up to a larger-than-life legacy, Diop’s own life would surely make for a pretty cracking film. Though she has been making movies for over a decade and a half, it was her recent feature debut that really pushed her career forward.

Atlantics, based on her short documentary featuring African migrants, saw Diop become the first Black woman director to be in contention for the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Though she narrowly missed out on the top honour, her debut still earned her the Grand Prix, the second biggest award given out at the prestigious festival.

Exploring her African roots, as well as her own identity, has always been at the core of Diop’s work. Her uncle was one of Senegal’s most influential filmmakers, Djibril Diop Mambéty. Born in France, Diop has been able to craft a resonance with audiences through her unique analysis of what it means to be Black in the modern world.

Trivia: Atlantics was picked up by Netflix, and can now be streamed worldwide on the service. Definitely a film you must not miss. It is based on the 2009 documentary short of the same name and addresses illegal immigration in a raw, urgent manner that is as relevant today as it was 11 years ago.

Natalia Beristáin (Mexico)

Much as Mati Diop’s work is a product of her own struggles, Natalia Beristain’s filmography is a direct result of her environment. While Mexico has long struggled with a patriarchal society, the country has, arguably, also been the cradle of the Latinx feminist movement.

This is immediately apparent upon first glancing at The Eternal Feminine, a fictionalized biopic centred on Rosario Castellanos, one of Mexico’s most influential women writers in Mexican literature (and an ardent proponent of gender equality).

However, the more subtle She Doesn’t Want to Sleep Alone – a tale of a lonely teenager and her grandmother Dolores, a retired actress – is no less relevant in telling an important side of what it means to be a woman in Latin America. Dealing with sexuality, abandonment, alcoholism and depression, Beristáin’s film transcends any notion of gender to become a stark reminder of the realities of being alive.

Trivia: Beristáin joins the score of women who have a fantastic tradition of being both proficient and prolific in other areas of filmmaking. A graduate of the Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica, she is also a prominent casting director.

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