Women's cinema

Women's cinema

The term women's cinema usually refers to the work of women film directors. It can also designate the work of other women behind the camera such as cinematographers and screenwriters. Although the participation of women film editor, costume designers, and production designers is usually not considered to be decisive enough to justify the term "women's cinema", it does have a large influence on the visual impression of any movie.

ilent films

Alice Guy-Blaché made the very first feature film "La fée aux choux" in 1896. More than 700 films followed, working in France and the U.S. [http://www.nfb.ca/collection/films/fiche/?id=32905] Lois Weber was among the most successful film directors of the silent era. Actresses like Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and others were the stars.

Classic Hollywood

In the twenties large banks had assumed control of Hollywood production companies. Production supervisors began to standardize film making. The introduction of sound demanded new investments which further increased the control of the banks. In 1929 Hollywood accepted a list of taboos which was later to become the Hays Code. Any unconventional film maker had a hard time. Women film makers could afford economic failures even less. Dorothy Arzner was the only women film maker to survive in this unfriendly environment. She did so by producing well made but formally rather conventional films. Nevertheless, she succeeded in smuggling in feminist elements into her films.

Experimental and avant-garde cinema

Germaine Dulac was a leading member of the French Avantgarde film movement after World War I, and Maya Deren's visionary films belong to the classics of experimental cinema.

Shirley Clarke was a leading figure of the independent American film scene in New York in the fifties. Her work is unusual, insofar as she directed outstanding experimental and feature films as well as documentaries. Joyce Wieland was a Canadian experimental film maker. The National Film Board of Canada allowed many women to produce non-commercial animation films.In Europe women artists like Valie Export where among the first to explore the artistic and political potential of videos.

Impact of second-wave feminism

In the late sixties, when the Second Wave of Feminism started the New Left was at its height. Both movements strongly opposed the 'dominant cinema', i.e. Hollywood and male European bourgeois auteur cinema. Hollywood was accused of furthering oppression by disseminating sexist, racist and imperialist stereotypes. Women participated in mixed new collectives like Newsreel, but they also formed their own film groups. Early feminist films often focused on personal experiences. A first masterpiece was Wanda by Barbara Loden, one of the most poignant portraits of alienation ever made.

Representing sexuality

Resisting the oppression of female sexuality was one of the core goals of Second Wave Feminism. Abortion was still very controversial in many western societies and the feminists opposed the control of the state and the church. Exploring female sexuality took many forms: focusing on long-time censured forms of sexuality (lesbianism, sado-masochism) or showing 'normal' heterosexuality from a woman's point of view.
Birgit Hein, Elfi Mikesch, Nelly Kaplan, Catherine Breillat and Barbara Hammer are some of the directors to be remembered.

Resisting violence and violent resistance

Resisting patriarchal violence has always been a key concern of Second Wave Feminism. Consequently many feminists of the second wave have taken part in the peace movements of the eighties, as had their foremothers in the older pacifist movements. Nevertheless the patriarchal cliché of the 'peaceable' woman needed to be criticized. Women film directors documented the participation of women in anti-imperialist resistance movements. In their Kali films Birgit and Wilhelm Hein assembled found footage from 'trivial' genres, the only domain of cinema in which the portrayal of aggressive women was allowed.

African-American women's cinema

Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust" (1991) was the first full-length film with general theatrical release written and directed by an African-American woman. Since then there have been several African-American women who have written, produced or directed films. Neema Barnette ("Civil Brand"), Maya Angelou ("Down in the Delta"), Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), Cheryl Dunye ("My Baby's Daddy"), Stephanie Allain ("Biker Boyz"), Tracey Edmonds ("Soul Food") and Dianne Houston ("City of Angels") are among these filmmakers.

To date, Nnegest Likke' is the first African American woman to write, direct and act in a full-length movie released by a major studio, Phat Girlz (2006) starring Jimmy Jean-Louis and Mo'Nique.


The first African woman film director to gain international recognition was the Senegalese ethnologist Safi Faye with a film about the village in which she was born ("Letter from the village", 1975). Other African women filmmakers include Sarah Maldoror, Anne Mungai, Fanta Régina Nacro.


Mira Nair, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha are among the best known Indian women filmmakers, partly because of commercial success of their films. However there are a number of other Indian women filmmakers who have made some remarkable films that address a variety of issues. Other noteworthy Indian women filmmakers include Nisha Ganatra, Sonali Gulati, Indu Krishnan, Eisha Marjara, Pratibha Parmar, Nandini Sikand, and Shashwati Talukdar.

In Japan for a long time Kinuyo Tanaka was the only woman to make feature films. She was able to do this against fierce resistance because she enjoyed a status as star actress. Using genre conventions her films showed women "with a humorous affection rare in Japanese cinema of the period" (Philip Kemp).


Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, a writer and a director, is probably Iran's best known and certainly most prolific female filmmaker. She has established herself as the elder stateswoman of Iranian cinema with documentaries and films dealing with social pathology. Samira Makhmalbaf directed her first film The Apple when she had only 17 years old and won Cannes Jury Prize in 2000 for her following film The Blackboard.

Latin American

Marta Rodriguez is a Colombian documentary film maker.


Elvira Notari was a pioneer of Italian cinema.

During the "golden age" of "Classical" French cinema Jacqueline Audry was the only woman to direct commercial movies. In 1959 writer Marguerite Duras wrote the script for Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon Amour. She turned to directing with "La Musica" in 1966. Among the best known French women film makers are Agnès Varda, Claire Denis, Nelly Kaplan. The work of many more French female directors is rarely screened outside France.

German woman filmmaker Helke Sander was also one of the pioneers of the feminist movement. Other prominent female film-makers include Margarethe von Trotta and Helma Sanders-Brahms. Monika Treut has also won recognition for her depictions of queer and alternative sexuality.

In Hungary Marta Meszaros has been making important films for decades.

Sally Potter is a prominent British feminist film maker. British filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah explores the legacies of colonialism.

(Re-)entering the mainstream?

Since the beginning of sound cinema, with very few exceptions, the films of women had been absent from mainstream cinema for more than half a century.Fact|date=July 2008 Sometimes actresses enjoying a star status turned to directing (like Barbra Streisand). "Thelma & Louise" and "The Color Purple" showed the acceptability of feminist themes – when the director was a man.

Kathryn Bigelow works in male-dominated genres like science fiction, action, and horror. Dörris Dörrie landed a box office hit with her satire "Men". Italian Lina Wertmüller has directed a great number of popular films on the war of the sexes, with various artistic success.



*Ally Acker, "Reel Women. Pioneers of the Cinema. 1896 to the Present", London: B.T. Batsford 1991
*Attwood, Lynne, Ed., "Red Women on the Silver Screen: Soviet Women and Cinema from the Beginning to the End of the Communist Era", London: Pandora 1993
*Jacqueline Bobo (ed.), "Black Women Film and Video Artists" (AFI Film Readers), Routledge 1998
*Russell Campbell, "Marked Women: Prostitutes and Prostitution in the Cinema" University of Wisconsin Press 2005
*Ellerson, Beti, "Sisters of the screen : women of Africa on film, video and television", Trenton, NJ [u.a.] : Africa World Press, 2000
*Lucy Fischer, "Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women's Cinema", Princeton University Press 1989
*G.A. Foster, "Women Film Directors" (1995)
*Kenneth W. Harrow, ed., "With open eyes : women and African cinema", Amsterdam [u.a.] : Rodopi, 1997 (=Matatu - Journal for African Culture and Society)
*Claire Johnston, "Women's Cinema as Counter-Cinema" (1975) in: Claire Johnston (ed.), "Notes on Women's Cinema", London: Society for Education in Film and Television, reprinted in: Sue Thornham (ed.), "Feminist Film Theory. A Reader", Edinburgh University Press 1999, pp. 31-40
*Julia Knight, "Women and the New German Cinema", Verso 1992
*Denise Lowe, "An encyclopedic dictionary of women in early American films, 1895 - 1930", New York, NY [u.a.] : Haworth Press, 2005
*Judith Mayne, "The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women's Cinema", Indiana University Press 1990
*Janis L- Pallister, "French-Speaking Women Film Directors: A Guide", Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press 1998
*Sarah Projansky, "Watching Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture", New York University Press 2001
*Quart, Barbara Koenig: "Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema", Praeger 1988
*Judith Redding, Victoria A. Brownworth, "Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors", Seal Press 1997, based on interviews with 33 film makers
*Rich, B. Ruby. "Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement". Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1998.
*Carrie Tarr with Brigitte Rollet, "Cinema and the Second Sex. Women's Filmmaking in France in the 1980s and 1990s", New York, Continuum, 2001.
*Amy L. Unterburger, ed., "The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera", Paperback, Visible Ink Press 1999
*"Women Filmmakers: Refocusing", edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis and Valerie Raoul, Paperback Edition, Routledge 2003


*"Camera Obscura"
*"Frauen und Film"
*"Women and Film"
* [http://www.ejumpcut.org/ "Jump Cut"]
*"New German Critique"

Films (small selection)


* 1896 "La fée aux choux"; director: Alice Guy-Blaché; one of the first narrative (fiction) films
* 1911 "Bufera d'anime"; director: Elvira Notari
* 1914 "The Merchant of Venice"; director: Lois Weber; the first full-length feature film directed by a woman
* 1921 "The Blot"; director: Lois Weber
* 1921 "The Love Light"; director: Frances Marion, starring Mary Pickford
* 1922 "La souriante Madame Beudet" ("The Smiling Madame Beudet"); director: Germaine Dulac; often cited as one of the first feminist feature films
* 1923 "The Song of Love"; director: Frances Marion, starring Norma Talmadge
* 1923–1926 "Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed" ("The Adventures of Prince Achmed"); director: Lotte Reiniger — animated feature film
* 1927 "The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty"; director: Esfir Shub
* 1931 "Mädchen in Uniform" ("Girls in uniform"); director: Leontine Sagan
* 1933 "Christopher Strong"; director: Dorothy Arzner, a Hollywood studio feature film starring Katharine Hepburn
* 1935 "Robin Hood" (animated film); director: Joy Batchelor
* 1935 "Triumph des Willens" ("Triumph of the Will"); director: Leni Riefenstahl
* 1937 "The Bride Wore Red"; director: Dorothy Arzner, a Hollywood studio feature film starring Joan Crawford
* 1938 "Olympia (1938 film)"; director: Leni Riefenstahl
* 1943 "Meshes of the Afternoon" (experimental film); director: Maya Deren; selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry


* 1950 "Outrage"; director: Ida Lupino, the first Hollywood studio feature directed by a women after Dorothy Arzner's films; the story of a rape
* 1953 "The Hitch-Hiker"; director: Ida Lupino, the first film noir directed by a woman; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
* 1959 "Bridges Go-Round"; director: Shirley Clarke
* 1961 "The Connection (film)"; director Shirley Clarke
* 1961 "Cléo de 5 à 7" "(Cleo from 5 to 7)"; director: Agnes Varda
* 1964 "The Cool World"; director: Shirley Clarke; the cruel reality of street life in the U.S.
* 1964 "Älskande par" ("Loving Couples"); director: Mai Zetterling
* 1966 "Sedmikrasky" ("Daisies"); director: Věra Chytilová — the story of two young girls who explore the world without taking it too seriously
* 1966 "Blood Bath"; director: Stephanie Rothman
* 1967 "Portrait of Jason"; director Shirley Clarke
* 1968 "Rat Life and Diet in North America"; director: Joyce Wieland
* 1969 "La fiancée du pirate" ("A very curious girl"); director: Nelly Kaplan


* 1971 "The Woman's Film"; directors: Louise Alaimo, Judy Smith
* 1971 "L'aggettivo donna"; directors: Ronny Daopolus, Annabella Miscuglio; a radical feminist documentary which analyses the double exploitation of women workers and the isolated situation of housewives and children
* 1971 "Wanda"; director: Barbara Loden; an innovative, influential independent Amerian film
* 1972 "Sambizanga"; director: Sarah Maldoror — feature film about the liberation movement in Angola
* 1972 "The Heartbreak Kid"; director: Elaine May
* 1972/73 "Es kommt darauf an, sie zu verändern"; director: Claudia von Alemann — organised women workers discuss the possibilities for change
* 1974 "Il portiere di notte" "(The Night Porter)"; director: Liliana Cavani
* 1975 "Kaddy Bekat — Lettre Paysanne" ("Letter from My Village"); director: Safi Faye
* 1975 "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum" ("Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann"); directors: Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlöndorff
* 1975 "Hester Street"; director: Joan Micklin Silver; Academy Award nomination for Carol Kane as best actress
* 1976 "Jeanne Dielmann 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles"; director: Chantal Akerman — the daily life of a housewife
* 1976 "Pasqualino settebellezze" ("Seven Beauties"); director: Lina Wertmüller; the first time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film
* 1976 "Harlan County, U.S.A."; director: Barbara Kopple; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
* 1977 "First Love"; director: Joan Darling; the first Hollywood studio film directed by a woman after Ida Lupino's "The Trouble With Angels" (1966), starring Hayley Mills
* 1978 "Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit" ("The Universally Reduced Personality"); director: Helke Sander
* 1978 "The Mafu Cage"; director: Karen Arthur
* 1978 "Mais qu'est ce qu'elles veulent?" ("But what do they want, after all?") — director: Coline Serreau
* 1979 "Daughter Rite"; director: Michelle Citron — a feminist pseudo-documentary which deconstructs the conventions of Direct Cinema
* 1979 "Bildnis einer Trinkerin" ("Aller jamais retour"; "Portrait of a Female Drunkard"); director: Ulrike Ottinger
* 1979 "Killing Us Softly"; directors: Margaret Lazarus, Renner Wunderlich — the effects of advertising on women
* 1979 "Deutschland bleiche Mutter" ("Germany Pale Mother"); director: Helma Sanders-Brahms
* 1979 "My Brilliant Career", starring Judy Davis; director: Gillian Armstrong


* 1980 "The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter" (documentary); director: Connie Field; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
* 1981 "Eight Minutes to Midnight: The Story of Dr. Helen Caldicott"; director: Mary Benjamin; Academy Award nomination for best feature documentary
* 1981 "The Decline of Western Civilization"; director: Penelope Spheeris
* 1981 "36 Chowringhee Lane"; director: Aparna Sen
* 1982 "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", starring Sean Penn; director: Amy Heckerling
* 1983 "Yentl"; director: Barbra Streisand
* 1983 "Born in Flames"; director: Lizzie Borden
* 1983 "Le Grain de sable" ("Grain of Sand"); director: Pomme Meffre — the gradual disintegration of a woman (played by Delphine Seyrig)
* 1985 "Desperately Seeking Susan", starring Madonna; director: Susan Seidelman
* 1985 "Verführung: die grausame Frau" ("Seduction: The Cruel Woman"); directors: Elfi Mikesch, Monika Treut
* 1986 "Children of a Lesser God"; director: Randa Haines; Academy Award for Marlee Matlin as best actress
* 1988 "Big", starring Tom Hanks; director: Penny Marshall
* 1988 "Salaam Bombay!"; director: Mira Nair; nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film (India)
* 1988 "Love, Women, and Flowers" ("AmorR, Mujeres, y Flores"); directors: Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva (Colombia)
* 1988 "Little Dorrit (film)"; director: Christine Edzard
* 1988 "Die Jungfrauenmaschine" ("Virgin Machine"; director: Monika Treut
* 1988 "Kali-Filme" ("Kalih Films"); directors: Birgit Hein and Wilhelm Hein
* 1989 "A Dry White Season"; director: Euzhan Palcy


* 1990 "Europa, Europa"; director: Agnieszka Holland
* 1990 "An Angel at My Table"; director: Jane Campion
* 1991 "Point Break"; director Kathryn Bigelow
* 1991 "Daughters of the Dust"; director: Julie Dash; selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry
* 1991 "A Place of Rage"; director: Pratibha Parmar
* 1991 "American Dream (film)"; director: Barbara Kopple; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature
* 1992 "Orlando"; director: Sally Potter
* 1992 "A League of Their Own"; director: Penny Marshall
* 1993 "Bhaji on the Beach"; director: Gurinder Chadha
* 1993 "Sleepless in Seattle"; director: Nora Ephron
* 1994 "The Piano"; director: Jane Campion, the second time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film; Academy Award for Holly Hunter as best actress and Anna Paquin as best supporting actress
* 1994 "Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter"; director: Deborah Hoffman
* 1994 "Black Beauty"; director: Caroline Thompson
* 1995 "Coûte que coûte" ("At all costs"); director: Claire Simon — documentary
* 1996 "Fire"; director: Deepa Mehta
* 1996 "Unstrung Heroes"; director: Diane Keaton
* 1996 "White Men Are Cracking Up"; director: Ngozi Onwurah
* 1996 "The Mirror Has Two Faces"; director: Barbra Streisand; Academy Award nomination for Lauren Bacall as best supporting actress
* 1999 "Boys Don't Cry (film)"; director: Kimberly Peirce; Academy Award for Hilary Swank as best actress; nomination for Chloë Sevigny as best supporting actress
* 1999 "Romance"; director: Catherine Breillat
* 1999 "Titus"; director: Julie Taymor


* 2001 "Nirgendwo in Afrika" ("Nowhere in Africa"); director: Caroline Link; Academy Award winner as Best Foreign Language Film (Germany)
* 2001 "Ophelia Learns to Swim"; director: Jurgen Vsych
* 2002 "Frida"; director: Julie Taymor
* 2002 "Whale Rider"; director Niki Caro; Academy Award nomination for Keisha Castle-Hughes as best actress
* 2003 "Te doy mis ojos" ("Take my eyes"); director: Icíar Bollaín
* 2003 "Thirteen"; director Catherine Hardwicke; Academy Award nomination for Holly Hunter as best supporting actress
* 2003 "Gujarat: A Laboratory of Hindu Rastra, Fascism"; director: Suma Josson
* 2003 "Monster (film)"; director: Patty Jenkins; Academy Award for Charlize Theron as best actress
* 2003 "At Five in the Afternoon"; director: Samira Makhmalbaf
* 2004 "Lost in Translation (film)"; director: Sofia Coppola, the third time a woman was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a feature film; also nominated for best picture and best actor, Bill Murray
* 2005 "Karov la bayit" ("Close to Home"), directors: Dalia Hager, Vidi Bilu
* 2005 "" (documentary); directors: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman; Academy Award winner for best documentary feature
* 2005 "North Country (film)"; director: Niki Caro; Academy Award nominated performances by Charlize Theron (best actress) and Frances McDormand (best supporting actress)
* 2005 "Sisters of '77 (documentary)"; producers and directors: Cynthia Salzman Mondell and Allen Mondell; executive producer Ed Delaney; produced in association with The Women's Museum
* 2006 "Marie Antoinette (2006 film)", starring Kirsten Dunst; director: Sofia Coppola
* 2007 [http://www.arte.tv/fr/Video/183604,CmC=1724338.html "Feminine, Masculine] (2007)", director: Sadaf Foroughi
* 2007 "Across the Universe"; director: Julie Taymor

Films about women directors

* [http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c552.shtml Filming Desire. A Journey Through Women's Film, A film by Mary Mandy, 2000]
* [http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c622.shtml Sisters of the Screen. A film by Beti Ellerson, 2002]

Books about women directors

* [http://thewomandirector.com The Woman Director by Jurgen Vsych]

Film festivals

*Ankara Flying Broom Women's Film Festival
*Asian Lesbian Film and Video Festival
* [http://www.broadhumor.com/ Broad Humor Film Festival - Los Angeles]
* [http://LAFemme.org/ LA Femme Film Festival - By Women, For Everyone - Los Angeles]
* [http://www.lesbenfilmfestival.de/ Lesben Film Festival Berlin]
* [http://www.immaginaria.org/ Festival internazionale del cinema lesbico - Bologna]
*Créteil International Women's Film Festival
* [http://www.cineffable.fr.fm/ Paris Lesbian Film Festival]
* [http://www.festivalcinemadelledonne.com/ festival internazionale del cinema delle donne - English version available]
* [http://www.madcatfilmfestival.org/ Madcat Women's international film festival]
* [http://www.feminale.de Feminale - German festival]
* [http://www.widc.org/ Women in the director's chair - Chicago]
* [http://www.madebywomen.org/ Made By Women: International Women's Film Festival - India]

ee also

*African Cinema
*Native American Cinema
*Feminist film theory
*List of female directors
*Political Cinema
*Third Cinema

External links

* [http://www.wmm.com Women Make Movies]
* [http://www.people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/libsci/womFilm.html WOMEN IN CINEMA: A Reference Guide]
* [http://www.people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/libsci/fwfdindx.html Women Film Directors - Index based on GA Foster]
* [http://www.newsreel.org/ California newsreel]
* [http://www.cinenova.org.uk Cinenova]
* [http://www.africanwomenincinema.org/ African Women in Cinema]

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