It’s an intriguing week for directors coming from other lanes in filmmaking. There’s “Jessica Jones” lead Krysten Ritter directing a four-episode sweep of “The Girl in the Woods”, Frida Kempff coming over from documentaries to direct a horror movie, Kim Cho-hee making her feature directing debut after a career in production, and Agata Alexander crossing over from music videos. Even experienced directors like Mia Hansen-Love and Joy Hopwood started out as actors.
As I’ve done this feature for the last year-and-a-half, I’ve tried to write a bit about each director’s prior experience. What films have they directed, might you know them as an actor, what department did they start in, that kind of thing. Most moviegoers could name countless male directors, but very few who are women. I often worry that readers may go blank as I write about names they don’t know, but the hope is that they’ll latch onto some of those names and remember them, even seek their work out.
One thing I’ve noticed is the number of actresses who become directors. Actors becoming directors is hardly a new phenomenon, but there does seem to be more fluidity in roles when it comes to women in front of and behind the camera. That could be because social mores about gender roles give women a greater flexibility or perspective that men lack.
At the same time, I worry that the technical fields in which directors work their way up are dominated by men and boys’ clubs. Cinematography has been one of the most traditional fields of training for later directors. In 2019, the L.A. Times reported that of the American Society of Cinematographers’ 390 members, only 18 were women. (And only 5% Latine, 3% Asian, 2% black.)
We can look at the Motion Picture Editors Guild to see that women are less than a third of the membership. Worse yet, only 6.1% of women in the guild feel safe in reporting discrimination. To say the road is more difficult risks understating that the road is entirely more dangerous. When I look at projects by men, directors come from across the board. They come from technical fields. When I look at projects by women, a much higher rate of directors come from acting backgrounds – at least in part because the technical fields are often shut off to women both in terms of access and safety.
The technical fields that are more open to women are set design, costuming, make-up – fields that are no less important to creating a movie, but from which it’s far more difficult to make the leap to directing. One might argue that this is based in biases that categorize these fields dismissively as “women’s work” or housekeeping – biases that first act as if this isn’t real work when it is, and that next act as if these fields don’t demand the same technical work, creativity, and leadership as any other.
It’s not a bad thing at all for actresses to become directors. Hell, I’d argue over the last few years, women have squarely been directing better movies than men – perhaps this is because their perspective is fresher and less repeated than male-driven story archetypes we’ve already seen countless times. But that starts to get into another conversation.
What is bad is that women in film do not have the same access or safety working in a variety of fields that can lead them to directing. Men can become directors making the leap from acting or from technical fields. Women tend to make the leap from acting and are largely shut out from technical fields. The technical fields women can more safely access aren’t treated as seriously when it comes time to hiring new directors, greenlighting their projects, or acquiring their films. The industry is in terrible need of change.
Let’s get into it:
More than Blue: The Series (Netflix)
directed by Hsieh Pei Ju
The history of two star-crossed lovers is traced. As one faces a terminal diagnosis, he tries to find a partner for the other. The Taiwanese series is adapted from the 2018 film, itself based on a 2009 film from South Korea.
Hsieh Pei Ju has previously directed “Heavy Craving”, a drama about how doctors often ignore women’s physical health in favor of body image.
You can watch “More than Blue: The Series” on Netflix.
CW: flashing images
The Girl in the Woods (Peacock)
half-directed by Krysten Ritter
Carrie escapes from a cultish colony that guards a hidden door in the woods. They say they guard it to keep monsters out of our world. The series is based on a pair of short films.
Krysten Ritter of “Jessica Jones” and “Breaking Bad” directs the first four episodes of the eight-episode series. This is her second time directing on a series after an episode of “Jessica Jones”.
You can watch “The Girl in the Woods” on Peacock.
CW: imagery of suicide
directed by Frida Kempff
After undergoing a trauma and a stay in a psychiatric ward, Molly moves into a new apartment. Yet she keeps hearing knocking. She can’t sleep or live a normal life, and no one else hears it or believes her. “Knocking” is adapted by Emma Brostrom from the novel by Johan Theorin.
Frida Kempff is a Swedish director who’s primarily directed documentaries before this. “Knocking” is her first narrative feature.
See where you can rent “Knocking”.
Bergman Island (VOD)
directed by Mia Hansen-Love
A wife and husband travel to an island that inspired legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman to write. As they stay there, reality and fiction start to blur together.
Mia Hansen-Love quickly left acting in favor of writing and directing. She’s had success as a French filmmaker that includes a Cannes win and Cesar nomination.
See where to rent “Bergman Island”.
Lucky Chan-sil (MUBI)
directed by Kim Cho-hee
Chan-sil is a film producer, but she loses her job when a long-time directing partner dies. She’s forced to find a more affordable place to live. Yet something doesn’t seem on the up and up with her new landlady.
Kim Cho-hee is an experienced film producer, and this is the first feature film she’s written or directed.
You can watch “Lucky Chan-sil” on MUBI.
Rhapsody of Love (VOD)
directed by Joy Hopwood
A wedding planner and wedding photographer fall in love in a romantic comedy that – unlike many Australian films – puts Asian-Australian stories front and center.
Joy Hopwood comes from a background of acting in Australian TV. She quickly started writing, producing, and later directing films.
See where to rent “Rhapsody of Love”.
Sa Balik Baju (Netflix)
This Malaysian comedy centers on the impact of social media on the lives of six women. There isn’t a whole lot more English information out on this one, so I’m a bit in the dark on more details than that.
You can watch “Sa Balik Baju” on Netflix.
directed by Agata Alexander
A series of sci-fi vignettes weave connections between characters that delve into life in the near future.
Director and co-writer Agata Alexander is an experienced music video director and has been a go-to director for Destructo. This is her first feature.
See where to rent “Warning”.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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