“There’s been a lot of conversation this year about how to encourage more women to be in film or get more women into the conversation,” director Lulu Wang told the crowd whilst collecting her Best Feature Prize at the Independent Spirit Awards this year. “I just have to say that we don’t have to encourage women. There are lots of women making films and who want to make films… What women need is just the job. Just give them the freakin’ job. Give them the money.”
And she’s not wrong. In honour of international women’s day 2020 we’ve rounded up 12 female film makers to watch – all of whom have films out now or coming soon in 2020.
1. Lulu Wang. It only makes sense to put her first! Wang’s 2019 film The Farewell collected awards and made film of the year lists around the world. Written, directed and produced by Wang and based on her family’s own true story, it stars Awkwafina as a first generation Chinese-American millennial who travels to China with the rest of her family to say goodbye to the matriarch of the family, their terminally ill and deeply beloved Grandma. The kicker? The family have not told Grandma that she is dying and insist the secret must be kept. What follows is a touching comedy drama about family relationships and feeling out of place in the world. Well written and fantastically acted, it finds beauty in the mundanity of the real world and real relationships. The Farewell is available to rent or buy now.
2. Marielle Heller. Heller has had an insane 2 years. Her 2018 feature Can You Ever Forgive Me? was nominated for 3 Oscars including best actor nominations for its two stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant AND it made me both laugh and cry in the cinema. Several times. In 2019 she directed Tom Hanks to a best actor nomination in ‘’A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood,’’ the Mr Rogers biopic. Heller certainly knows her actors. The film has been universally loved by critics and audiences alike and is essentially a much-needed shot of sunshine and hope into what some might consider a pretty dark 2020. Can You Ever Forgive me is available to rent or buy now, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood has just left cinemas and its home release date is expected soon.
3. Mati Diop. Diop is a new name in film making having just released her debut feature Atlantics (Atlantique) last year. A romantic drama with a hint of the supernatural, the film follows a young couple in Senegal and touches on many timely issues including the refugee crisis, unfair working conditions in developing countries and marriage inequality for women and girls. Diop became the first black female director to enter a film in the Cannes Film Festival Competition. She ended up winning the top prize at both Cannes and the London Film Festival and established herself as a key player to watch. Atlantics is available to stream on Netflix now.
4. Greta Gerwig. After two smash hit films in terms of awards show recognition and audience reception I surely don’t have to tell you much about Greta Gerwig? After years as a talented writer and actress on her partner Noah Baumbach’s projects amongst others, Gerwig exploded onto the scene with her second directorial feature Ladybird in 2017 before achieving mainstream studio success with her adaption of Little Woman in 2019. Garnering 3 personal Oscar nominations across those two features, Gerwig’s films can be recognised by their quirky sense of humour, real world dialogue and beautifully realised characters. Ladybird is available to stream on Netflix now, Little Women is available to rent or buy from May 4th.
5. Celine Sciamma. Sciamma is French director whose previous films Tomboy and Girlhood have been significant for their exploration of identity, femininity and the idea of sisterhood in the modern world. Her latest feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, is a period drama about a love affair between a female portrait artist and the woman she has been hired to paint. A film quite literally about the female gaze. The film was big news across festival season and has been lauded as a masterpiece, one of the most visually beautiful films of the year. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is in cinemas now.
6. Melina Matsoukas. Previously known as a director of adverts and music videos Matsoukas made one of the most pertinent films of 2019 with Queen and Slim. Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith and written by Lena Waithe the film follows a couple on a first date which spirals out of control after they are pulled over for a traffic stop by an abusive white cop and are forced to defend themselves. The film gives the Bonnie and Clyde ‘’lovers on the run’’ trope a stylish 21st century makeover. Queen and Slim is still out in selected cinemas and is expecting a home release date soon.
7. Alma Har’el. Har’el is an award-winning documentary film maker who came to notice for her first drama feature last year, Shia LeBeouf’s autobiographical film Honey Boy. Honey Boy stars LeBeouf playing his own father (whilst he himself is played by a variety of different actors at different ages) and is an unconventional coming of age story that merges artistic interpretation and hard truths. It was critically acclaimed for taking an interesting point of view and subverting what can be an overdone genre. Honey Boy is streaming on Amazon Prime in the US now and is expected to be available in the UK soon.
8. Radha Blank. A director whose first film isn’t even out yet may seem like an odd choice, but we get the feeling we’re all going to be hearing her name soon enough. Blank is a New York based comedy writer and playwright. Her directorial debut The Forty-Year-Old Version made a big splash at this years Sundance film festival where Blank scooped the best director prize and sold her film to Netflix for a tidy sum. The film, which Blank wrote, directed and produced herself is a semi-autobiographical comedy about a woman rediscovering her creativity in her 40’s. We can expect The Forty-Year-Old Version to stream on Netflix later this year.
Now hold up. Just when you may have thought this list was going arthouse there’s something important to bring to your attention. You know those global blockbuster powerhouses Marvel Studios and DC Films? All of their 2020 releases are directed by women. Yes, all! (Let’s ignore Sony and Fox acquisitions at this point, that’s murky water…) So, to round out the list, here’s who’s behind the biggest releases of the year:
9. Cathy Yan. Yan was the voice behind DC’s Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. A film that we’ve already reviewed on this site as being really rather good actually. Birds of Prey is expected to be get a home release date in May.
10. Cate Shortland. Shortland is an Australian director whose previous films Somersault and Lore have carried serious critical clout at film festivals and awards ceremonies. She’s the director heading Marvel’s long-awaited Black Widow film and if the trailers are anything to go by, she’s leaned into the Cold War thriller vibes of previous fan favourite Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Black Widow is in cinemas May 1st.
11. Patty Jenkins. Jenkins returns to direct her sequel Wonder Woman 1984 after the huge box office and critical success of her first Wonder Woman outing. The trailer shows Gal Gadot’s Diana transported to a technicolour 80’s and reunited with her lost love Steve Trevor. Jenkins will be hoping to maintain DC’s run of recent hits. Wonder Woman 1984 is in cinemas from June 5th
12. Chloe Zhao. In hiring Zhao to direct Eternals Marvel have continued their tradition of hiring hot young indie directors to helm their behemoth productions. Zhao’s 2017 film The Rider topped film critics top 10 lists the world over and was nominated for numerous indie and festival awards. Zhao’s previous two films have a combined budget of $3.5 million dollars and cast non-actors in the lead roles. It will be curious to see what she can achieve when given a stacked A-list cast and a near endless supply of money. The film is in production now with the plot still mostly shrouded in mystery. Eternals is set to be in cinemas on November 6th.