When considering the work of female filmmakers, Ava DuVernay is a name that stands out in the minds of many. Her achievements are overwhelming; she is the first African-American woman to win the Best Director prize at Sundance, the first black woman to be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe, and the first black female director to have a film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. She has Emmys, Black Reel Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and countless nominations under her belt. In 2018, her film ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ will make Ava DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million.
In many ways, these facts are shocking – DuVernay should not have had to be the first to lay claim to these achievements. Regardless, her filmography paints a picture of true passion for the moving image. From short films to television specials, documentaries to biographical films, there doesn’t seem to be much that the filmmaker won’t try her hand at. As a director, writer, producer, marketer, and distributor, DuVernay is also involved in every level of the process – occasionally even making appearances in front of the camera (‘This is the Life (2008)’). The variety of her work represents not only an ability to adapt to various genres, but also the method by which she rose to fame. DuVernay did not go to film school, and instead practised her craft through lower-budget documentary filmmaking.
This month, I wanted to choose a director whose work I had little familiarity with, so that I too would get to experience their filmography for the first time. A few recommendations later (thanks Iana!) and I settled on Mia Hansen-Løve, a French filmmaker whose work I had always intended to get around to watching, but never really did – until now. Hansen-Løve’s films have received widespread critical acclaim, in particular, ‘Things to Come’ in 2016, which stars Isabelle Huppert and won the Silver Bear at Berlinale. Her work has been lauded for its muted and empathetic observations on everyday life, a variety of character and attention to human detail, and the slow artistry of her camera. Sure, her films may not be for everyone; they epitomise the leisurely French drama, concerned with intricate relationships, difficult emotions, and the impact of time. For the right viewer, however, Hansen-Løve’s filmography is a luxurious exhibition of real life, and an experience that I would highly recommend.
Fathers and Daughters: ‘All is Forgiven’ (2007) and ‘Father of My Children’ (2009)
First features can often be necessary stumbling blocks for filmmakers. In Hansen-Løve’s case, however, her first two films, which both focus on familial difficulties, immediately landed on their feet, contributing an assured, refined start to her career and easily holding up against her later works.
I first came across the work of Dee Rees a few years ago, during a search for good quality LGBTQ+ cinema to add to my viewing list – ‘Pariah’ is, to this day, one of the best lesbian films I have ever seen. It was to my complete joy, then, that I heard her name bandied around film circles once more earlier this year, this time in the context of a potentially awards-worthy Netflix original, ‘Mudbound’ (2017). Regardless of that ongoing debate, and the overall impact of Netflix on the prestige of cinema, Rees’ work contains a depth of character and attention to detail that is befitting of a director with much more experience than her current three feature films; her introduction into a more mainstream circuit can only result in a great gain for the industry in the future.
Hey everyone! Dilara and I have decided to start a monthly female director spotlight here at Much Ado, so we can explore the amazing films of so many women in the industry whose work we believe deserves more acknowledgement, attention and/or appreciation. If you have any suggestions for directors you’d like to see here, please let us know! Gender imbalance is a deeply entrenched issue within film, and it’s disgraceful to see, especially when the work of so many women deserves much higher credit. For the first entry in this series, I’ve chosen my all-time favourite director, Andrea Arnold.
THE REALITIES OF WORKING CLASS BRITISH LIFE: FISH TANK
As a young, working class British woman, I often feel that British cinema does not represent my surroundings in the slightest – a feeling that I’m sure many others share when exploring the cinema of their home countries. British cinema is usually characterised by a certain middle-upper class charm, whether it be in the quaint fantasy world of Harry Potter, to elaborate costume drama reflecting on icons of the past, through to the romanticised portrayals of royalty which sanitise the distinctive class divisions that seem to be embedded within our social system. Without making this piece too political, discovering Andrea Arnold’s work provided me with access to the stories I grew up around and experienced daily, portrayed on screen with no sanctimonious sheen to dispel audience discomfort. Here was my own reality reflected at me, and for the first time, I felt represented.
Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank (2009)
To move away from personal attachments, Arnold’s 2009 breakout work, ‘Fish Tank’, is the starting point I’d recommend for most newcomers. ‘Fish Tank’ homes in on what it feels like to have dreams of a better life, whilst being trapped in a cycle of poverty. It tells a brutal story of working class adolescence, featuring an amazing lead performance from first timer Katie Jarvis, as well as supporting roles from Michael Fassbender and a young Harry Treadaway. Arnold takes what could easily have become an over-the-top melodrama and skilfully channels it into an honest and sometimes heart-breaking portrayal of life on a council estate. The impact of neglect and misfortune on a strikingly human protagonist is incredibly moving, and it’s hard not to be deeply affected by lead character Mia’s struggle through teenage life.