Five Women Directors You Should Know

(Plus, local talent you should work with)

While Hollywood & pop criticism lack representation & amplification of women directors, female creators have been utilizing the form brilliantly since almost the medium's beginning. A simple list of five is insufficient, so in addition to checking out these five director, we encourage you to explore the work of many more


Agnès Varda

The French New Wave is a term that’s often tossed around by modern filmmakers as jargon. However, it's undeniable that this movement of brash filmmakers pushing cinema's boundaries with on-location filming, narrative experimentation, & social commentary has its fingerprints all over today's cinema. At the heart of this movement was Agnes Varda, the woman who’s been ordained as "one of the Gods of Cinema."

After studying literature & psychology, Varda began her career as a photographer. Her green perspective and relative naïveté to film– she claimed only to have seen 20 films by the age of 25 –allowed her to craft films with a realism and vanguard sense of story. Throughout her career, she played with form, weaving between narrative and documentary, short and long-form, and even utilizing multimedia– often incorporating still images in her films. Intrigued? Last year, Criterion Collection released its first box set solely dedicated to a female filmmaker with a 15-disc release curating and restoring 39 films and a rich swath of supplemental materials.

Notable works:
Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961)
Black Panthers (1968)
Vagabond (1985)
Faces Places (2017)


Garrett Bradley

One of the most exciting voices in cinema right now is a director who continues the lineage of blending form and content: Garrett Bradley. Originally from New York City, Bradley was born to notable abstract painters Suzanne McClelland and Peter Bradley. Though her path to the director's chair wasn't A-to-B.

While Bradley has a formal MFA from the storied UCLA film program, she's also studied religion and visual arts at the famed Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. This amalgam of experience has benefited Bradley as she's excelled both in the traditional film community, screening at Tribeca and Sundance, as well as the fine art space. Over the last year, her work has begun gathering even more traction with the premiere of her film, Time (2020). The film follows social activist Sibil Fox Richardson and her fight to have her husband released from serving a 60-year prison sentence. Not only incredibly prescient, but the film's "unvarnished intimacy" catapulted it to many best of 2020 lists, building more anticipation for however Bradley continues to tell her stories.

Notable works:
Below Dreams
The Owls

Garrett Bradley
Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

"I'll have what she's having." And as simple as that, Nora Ephron requires no further accreditation. Ephron effortlessly penned some of the most quoted lines in all of cinema. Raised by noted playwright/screenwriters Henry & Phoebe Ephron, she grew up in a competitively witty environment where she famously taught that "everything is copy."

After graduating from Wellesley College, she briefly worked at the White House as an intern in the JFK administration. Ephron, a relentless writer, had careers as a journalist and novelist before her Academy recognized screenwriting credits. Still, her talents as a director often go uncelebrated or written off as popcorn fluff. Her direction of classics, e.g., Sleepless in Seattle (1993) & You've Got Mail (1998), required acute attention to detail. Balancing their levity with craft, making them the endearing and enduring films they are. If you remain skeptical about her prowess, you need not look any further than the vacuum left at the heart of today's film industry and its inability to replicate her unparalleled Ephronisms (as laid out in the Blank Check mini-series surveying her work).

Notable works:
[writer] (1986)
When Harry Met Sally 
[writer] (1989)
Sleepless in Seattle
You’ve Got Mail
Julie & Julia

Karyn Kusama

Originally from St. Louis, Kusama had a long trek to her cult-classic, feminist auteur destination. After graduating from NYU with her undergrad, she balanced odd part-time jobs as a nanny, video editor, and house painter. She, by happenstance, met prolific filmmaker John Sayles leading to her working as his assistant for three years– in which he did some of his own well-regarded filmmaking.

This connection became pivotal. Regarding Sayles as a mentor, Kusama spent years crafting her debut script. At the ripe age of 31, Kusama was more than ready to prove herself on her terms, turning the previously mentioned script into the Sundance & Cannes hit, Girlfight (2000). Well received, she was called up by the studios to make Æon Flux (2005). However, the studio meddled: recutting, reworking, and mutating it into the film that's been oft memed. Kusama has described that process as a "learning experience" with how to create in Hollywood. And she's also included her follow-up as part of this learning process, Jennifer's Body (2009), its staying power is undeniable. Kusama worked from a Diablo Cody script to make what's now seen as a feminist horror classic! She chooses to work primarily in television and indie films since '09, where she has been less inhibited to tell stories as a "feminist unapologetically."

Notable works:
Girlfight (2000)
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
The Invitation (2015)
Her Only Living Son (2017)
Destroyer (2018)
Karyn Kusama
Jennifer Reeder

Jennifer Reeder

We’re ecstatic to close out this list with a Chicago name that’s currently gathering international recognition. In 2020 Director Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) included Reeder as one of 20 emerging directors whose work will change the film landscape!

While emerging, Jennifer Reeder has a proven track record of iconoclastic, goth storytelling that’s incomparable to any other. She first crashed traditionalists’ parties with her video work & performances as/with White Trash Girl (1995). Throughout the 2010s, Reeder crafted a slew of short films premiering at some of the world’s most acclaimed festivals, e.g., Rotterdam, Sundance. She received the Creative Capital grant in 2015 to help finance her first experimental feature-length, Knives & Skin (2020), which premiered to rave reviews with screenings at Berlinale & Tribeca. Notably, she also directed the endearingly Chicago feature, Signature Move (2017), a Full Spectrum production which screened at SXSW (and is currently available on VOD through the Music Box)!

Notable works:
White Trash Girl (1995)
A Million Miles Away (2014)

Signature Move (2017)
Knives and Skin (2019)


Looking to work with Female Directors in Chicago?
Here are some we recommend checking out:
(in no particular order)

Dani Wieder
Jessica Tolliver
Emma Thatcher
Katherine Bourne Taylor
Hannah Welever
Evelyn Landow
Al Torem
Aliya Haq
Sadie Rogers
Layne Marie Williams
Kyra Jones