Top 5 Female Directors to Watch (Podcast Round Up!)

I was recently invited to be a guest on The Top 5 Film Dive - a podcast hosted by Torontonian Kurt Morrison where he discusses a list of five favourites on a film-related topic each week. For this episode, we both listed the five female film directors whose work we are most excited about - the official title of the episode is 'Top 5 Female Directors We Are Looking Forward To Seeing Projects From'. Some of my picks are directors who have named future projects announced, while others just have a fantastic filmography and I am eagerly awaiting what they do next.

1. Wanuri Kahiu

Wanuri Kahiu's first feature film From A Whisper is based on the real events surrounding the 1998 twin bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and won Best Narrative Feature in 2010 at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, as well as five awards at the African Movie Academy Award, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Kahui has had films at Sundance, Cannes Indie Film Fest and Venice and is even helmed as the creator of the Afrobubblegum genre. Given all of this information, I'm not sure why more people aren’t talking about her!

Her second feature film Rafiki premiered at Cannes 2018 and was nominated for the Queer Palm. It broke box office records in Kenya as well as doing very well with international audiences on the festival circuit. The film is about the love between two young Kenyan women so it has a romantic central storyline, but because of the social and cultural contexts (it is essentially illegal to be gay in Kenya and same-sex marriage is banned), it also features a lot of tension and suspense. The cast are wonderful and colour in the film is beautiful with lots of pink and purple hues throughout - as you can see in the still above. It is a brave film in many ways.

The world needs more courageous filmmakers like Kahiu and I will be looking out for her upcoming projects - two of which have been named as The Thing About Jellyfish (based on the novel by Ali Benjamin and starring Millie Bobby Brown) and Plus / Minus (fantasy drama about a women in two parallel realities).

2. Crystal Moselle

Crystal Moselle's debut feature length film is a documentary called The Wolfpack (2015) about a family (six brothers) who learn everything by reenacting classic films. It's a brilliantly odd film and I wholly recommend it.

Skate Kitchen (2018) portrays a fictional family in the shape of a group of female skateboarders and it's one of my favourite films of the last decade (you can read my full review of it here). This film is fictional but was produced very much in a documentary style. It portrays young women in a male dominated space and beautifully depicts how the main character Camille uses skating as the ultimate freedom.

Given the naturalistic eye of Moselle and her ability to work with people and subjects from different walks of life, I am keen to see which subculture or forgotten corner of society she will choose to focus on next.

3. Sarah Gavron

Sarah Gavron is the British director of Rocks (2019), a film about a girl named Shola or Rocks (Bukky Bakray) who is left to fend for herself. Her friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali) is a total star and the way that London is framed so honestly is one of the film's many feats. Gavron used unknown actors in familiar settings, but London is seen from an entirely new lens - the perspective achieved will open many viewers' eyes to the reality of life in the UK. For me, it's one of the best contemporary depictions of friendship, girlhood and the real struggles of young women.

Sarah Gavron also directed Suffragette (2015) and Brick Lane (2007), proving that the can take on period dramas and book to film adaptations with just as much flair as original screenplays.

As well as being a talented director, Gavron also uses her position as director to employ more women in film and actively get more people into the industry who otherwise wouldn't have the means or 'way in'. Providing these opportunities for the underrepresented is just one of the reasons I would love to see more projects being greenlit with Sarah Gavron at the helm - not only do you know you're going to have a fantastic, thought provoking film at the end of it, but her work is making strides towards gender equity in a very unequal industry.

4. Chloé Zhao

Chloé Zhao is now best known for Nomadland (2020), which made history at the 2021 Academy Awards when it won Best Picture and Zhao became the first Asian woman to be nominated for - and win - Best Director. It's also worth noting that she is the writer of the film (adapted from a book) AND editor.

Zhao is also the director of The Rider (2017), Songs My Brother Taught Me (2017) and will direct Eternals (a Marvel superhero film with an ensemble cast), which is coming later in 2021 - an interesting move away from her trademark non-professional actors, sunsets and focus on the lives of 'real' people.

In fact, besides Nomadland and the Oscar wins, people may already know her name because of the association with Marvel. The film hasn’t been released yet so my hope is that after this stint with a major studio/Disney as a conglomerate, it will mean that there are more opportunities for films from her and people with a similar style or approach to filmmaking. The success of Nomadland means that studios will see similar directors and similar stories as less of a risk so hopefully that means more sensitive filmmaking!

The authentic and tender storytelling is what I love most about Chloé Zhao films. It will be great to see how that will apply to a Marvel film. I am very intrigued to see how it pans out and where this takes her career next.

5. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is a talented actor (Frances Ha is one of my all time favourite films!) but is also known for directing Lady Bird and Little Women - both are very highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

Lady Bird was the first film that I reviewed for Miss En Scene - it actively made me want to discuss film and characters with other people rather than just having solitary thoughts on that remained in my own head. I think that when a film moves someone to respond in such a way, it shows how powerful of a message it must have, or how much film generally can have an impact on us. Gerwig stated in a previous interview that making a movie is “an act of love every time” and this completely comes through in her directorial work so far.

Lady Bird was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Director. Women behind the camera rarely get mainstream recognition for their work and this nod made Gerwig just the fifth woman nominated for directing in 90 years of Academy Awards. Like many of the films by the directors I've picked so far, it's a coming of age film - not just about growing up but social mobility, sexuality, motherhood and place are all covered in its 94 minute runtime. Little Women - an adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott's classic novel - was also a success, with many considering it a progressive interpretation of the source material which treats all of the March sisters with the fairness that they deserve.

Greta Gerwig's next announced film is Barbie. There is no release date yet, but Margot Robbie is set to play the lead. The IMDB synopsis reads: ‘A doll living in 'Barbieland' is expelled for not being perfect enough and sets off on an adventure in the real world’. Robbie wouldn't say a word about it, except for this: "All we can say is whatever you're thinking, it's not that." which just makes me even more excited to wonder what they (Greta is directing and will be co-writing with her husband, Noah Baumbach) will do with a toy/collectible that people around the world already have a point of view on. I look forward to being thoroughly wowed and entertained as Barbie is turned on her head!


Kurt's Picks

For the record, Kurt's Top 5 were Cathy Yan, Lulu Wang, Olivia Wilde, Kate Herron and he cheated by declaring his final pick as a tie: Lorene Scafaria and Andrea Berloff.

Thank you again to Kurt for inviting me to come on his show and for hosting the episode. You can check out his Anchor page here where all links to listen can be found.

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