UK film monthly magazine Sight & Sound’s most recent issue is dedicated to "The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women." The list of 100 films runs some 20 pages, and the edition also collects mini essays from actors like Greta Gerwig, Isabelle Huppert, and Tilda Swinton; directors like Jane Campion and Claire Denis, and critics like Amy Taubin and Camille Paglia, all focusing on female-directed films that deserve a second look.
Many of the filmmakers are fairly obscure, but even better known directors are represented here with lesser-known selections, like Ida Lupino’s Outrage (and not her noir classic The Hitchhiker) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless, her first feature co-directed with Monty Montgomery and featuring a young Willem Dafoe. (Fact: Until Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2010, no woman had earned a Best Director Oscar).
Presented in chronological order, the list of 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women features many landmarks in film history, like Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the first feature-length animated film, which we recently highlighted here. Open Culture has also previously discussed Germaine Dulac’s 1928 surrealist film The Seashell and the Clergyman.
Lois Weber’s 1913 Suspense, her short film co-directed with Philippe Smalley (view it at the top of the post), is one of the first examples of cross-cutting to create tension, and it even features a three-way split frame. Cross-cutting is a technique all thrillers have used since. (And Weber stars in the film as well.)
Sight & Sound also profiles Stephanie Rothman, the first female director to work for Roger Corman, and her 1971 film The Velvet Vampire, a West Coast take on a gothic genre. Jessie Maple, who made Will in 1981, was the first African-American woman to become a part of New York’s camera operator’s union.
Then there's the careers of filmmakers whose lives were cut short: Soviet director Larisa Shepitko died in a car crash at 40, leaving behind two masterpieces, while Elia Kazan’s wife Barbara Loden made her debut with Wanda in 1970 and passed away soon after, too young.
Many of these films are difficult or impossible to find, and Sight & Sound includes an online article of eight more films that might be lost for good, like the aforementioned Lois Weber’s only color film White Heat, or the only film actor Lillian Gish directed, Remodeling Her Husband.
The Sight & Sound issue is available on newsstands and as a digital edition to subscribers. As noted at the end of the article’s introduction, “a season related to this project will take place next year at BFI Southbank, London."
Readers interested in the contributions of women filmmakers will want to explore the Women Film Pioneers website hosted by Columbia University.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.