25 Movies by Female Directors Every Aspiring Filmmaker Should See


Spike Lee has allowed a few more women-directed films to grace the list of essential films he gives to his class at NYU, bringing the total women-films he deems worth watching up to a grand total of eight, four of which are by the same filmmaker, Lina Wertmuller. (The others deemed admissible to the list are Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, and Julie Dash.) Indiewire points out that even with these new inclusions on Lee’s previously all-male-except-Katia-Lund list, overall women still make up proportionally less of Lee’s list than they do in filmmaking as a whole.

So, in an effort to supplement this list we offer our own, of 25 films by women directors that all film students should see.

A short rant for the men who will inevitably comment that none of this should matter because it’s Lee’s taste and why are women always on about this and yadda yadda yadda: Sure. I must tell you that in an ideal world I’d not have to write lists like these. I’d like to stop having to take time out of my day to point out that just as water is wet, women have been making movies for as long as men have, and deserve to be acknowledged as actually existing in the world. Individual taste is as individual taste does. When they cut entire swaths of people out of the dream-life of the culture, personal preferences shouldn’t be treated as an absolute good. Lists like these ask that people question and expand their viewing habits, that’s all. The end.

And now for the women filmmakers, and their movies. I chose just one film per filmmaker, to try to get as many names in as possible. Instead of trying to persuade you to watch them with text, I’m letting the trailers and clips speak for themselves. And I’ve assumed that Wertmuller, Bigelow, Campion, and Dash are already on your radar, since they’re on Spike’s. I also tried to pull from various geographical locations and even from experimental film. And I stopped at 25 because at a certain point I wanted some personal taste to inflect the selection here, so quite a few more women filmmakers — Sofia Coppola, Miranda July, Sarah Polley and Lena Dunham — could be added.

First up:

Sally Potter, Orlando

Naomi Kawase, The Mourning Forest

Claire Denis, White Material

Isabel Coixet, My Life Without Me

Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou

Lisa Cholodenko, High Art

Agnès Jaoui, The Taste of Others

Alison Anders, Gas Food Lodging

Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere

Chantal Akerman, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Nora Ephron, This Is My Life

Claudia Llosa, The Milk of Sorrow

Zoe Cassavetes, Broken English

Ida Lupino, Outrage

Liv Ullmann, Faithless

Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, “Meshes of the Afternoon” (short film)

Deepa Mehta, Fire

Margarethe von Trotta, The Promise

Susanne Bier, After the Wedding

Catherine Breillat, Romance

Cheryl Dunye, The Watermelon Woman

Mary Harron, I Shot Andy Warhol

Agnès Varda, Vagabond

Samira Makhmalbaf, Blackboards

Agnieszka Holland, Europa Europa