Let us burn our bras and stand out in the streets to celebrate International Women’s Day. I personally prefer to stay home and eat potato chips while I watch General Hospital. Is this progress? It is because I had the choice. All jokes aside, I celebrate the women who came and conquered.
I think of women like Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan who were the NASA mathematicians immortalized in the Academy-nominated film Hidden Figures. I think about my heroes, like artist Frida Kahlo and poet Maya Angelou. These women were examples of the very best of us and a reminder of what we can achieve when we bulldoze the obstacles.
As for film, there are obvious examples of women who defied the odds in Hollywood. Katheryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola and Ava DuVernay to name a few. Sadly, there are a few that make it to superstar status. I recently watched the critically acclaimed indie film Take This Waltz and completely forgot it was directed by the super talented Sarah Polley.
It’s true that even with the lack of interest for female directors and writers in mainstream Hollywood, there has been an explosion of highly talented women in film in the independent and international market. Here are five films that have been directed, written and/or produced by highly talented women that are on my radar. In no particular order of greatness:
- GIRL ASLEEP (2015)
This highly imaginative film was directed by Australian filmmaker Rosemary Myers. I wrote about Girl Asleep in Selig Film News. It’s the coming-of-age story about a young women about to turn 15. The whole film is practically an allegory of the transformation from girl to woman really means. Starring the absolutely enduring Bethany Whitmore as Greta. It also stars the film’s writer, Matthew Whittet, as Greta’s weird and over-the-top dad. I mean this guy sports the super tight 80s jogging shorts like a champ. There is music, dancing, romance, heartache and some kick ass fantasy creatures. What’s great about Girl Asleep it looks like a high budget film but it was made on an independent budget. Girl Asleep is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon Video.
2. WHITE GIRL (2016)
In case you’re not down with the lingo, “white girl” is also a street name for cocaine. The film White Girl shows plenty of that, telling the story of the stunning Leah (Morgan Saylor), a overtly sexual and privileged millennial thrown in a bad New York neighborhood the summer before she starts college. She is a fish out of water who learns how to get her way even in the worst situation. She falls for Blue (Brian Marc), an exotic hustler who turns out to be her saving grace. White Girl is complex and unapologetic. Director/writer Elizabeth Wood does a great job of making us feel just a little bit sympathetic but also recognize the power of a woman’s sexuality can be a dangerous thing. And it brings us a character that is ultimately unlikable. But, yet, we kinda do like her, because she reminds us of that one crazy sexy white girl we were secretly jealous of who got away with everything. Probably even murder. You can watch White Girl on iTunes.
3. I SMILE BACK (2015)
Co-written by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman, I Smile Back is a brilliant portrait of the married woman who has it all but still manages to destroy her life. Although it is directed by a male, Adam Salky, it deserves to be on the list because of the writing and also Sarah Silverman’s performance. She plays Laney Brooks, a privileged woman who has the perfect loving husband and kids. But Laney is miserable. It’s not them. It’s her fear of losing it all. This is probably one of my favorite female performances of all time. Read my review to see why. I Smile Back is available on iTunes and Amazon.
4. 42 SECONDS OF HAPPINESS (2016)
Reunions can be tricky things, especially after not seeing a group of people for a long time. Director Christina Kallas invites us to watch the meeting and unraveling of a group of friends. And the last 20 minutes of the film are why I’m excited to see what she will come up with next. I had the privilege of hanging out with Kallas at the Women Texas Film Festival, and she mentioned Robert Altman and John Cassavetes as filmmakers whose work she is attracted to. Also, she comes from the inprov world. That combination of mentors and hands on theatrical training has produced a masterful piece of art. It really does feel like you’ve been dropped into the conversation where people talk over each other and react naturally to what is thrown at them.
5. LITTLE SISTER
Colleen is a nun with some interesting secrets that we discover in the middle of the film. Directed by Zach Clark and co-written and produced by Melodie Sisk, they give us the gift of a dark and humorous tale that challenges the norms. Little Sister is a great example of how characters naturally change in a film. Each character is brilliantly fleshed out, especially Colleen and her brother Jacob (Keith Poulson). Nothing is forced, yet, there are surprises. Check out my interview with Clark and Sisk at the Oak Cliff Film Festival. Little Sister is now streaming on Netflix.