Celebrating Woman Director Awareness Month With Recommendations From Local Filmmakers
From artistic inspirations to personal connections, the legacies of women directors
September is Woman Director Awareness Month: In recognition of women whose visions have shaped cinema on the screen and the careers of others behind the camera, we've asked four women in Austin's film scene to put a director who has touched their lives in the spotlight.
Cinematic Salve: Holly Herrick on Jane Campion
"I'm sick on the couch – give me a movie recommendation!" is a version of a text message I receive fairly often. In these situations, I've determined that my mental Rolodex should identify those filmmakers who I find myself returning to again and again, whose work I always get lost in. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you Jane Campion, whose embrace of the wide, wide spectrum of humanity and the possibilities of character-driven cinema is so far-reaching that her films will never let you down, no matter what cinematic salve you seek. Family got you down? Take the sibling conflicts of Sweetie for a ride. Bad breakup? Nicole Kidman will spark you back to life as she navigates her own relationship hellscape in The Portrait of a Lady. Want romantic escapism? Nothing beats The Piano, except the absolutely glorious Bright Star: Holly Hunter's epic Michael Nyman-scored tryst in pre-electricity New Zealand vs. the doomed love of a consumptive poet and his muse ... it's a tough call. Campion makes tapestries out of taboos, both within her narratives and in how she chooses to make her films, whether it be creating an outsider female protagonist in An Angel at My Table or casting America's beloved girl next door Meg Ryan as a sexually expressive character in her unfairly maligned In the Cut. I swoon for Jane Campion's filmmaking, and so, reader, will you if you are searching for diamonds in the darkness of your television set.
Holly Herrick is head of Film and Creative Media at Austin Film Society. Jane Campion is the Palme d’Or and Oscar-winning writer/director of The Piano.
Slice of Life: Chelsea Hernandez on Kelly Reichardt
Early on in my college career, I was caught in the crossroads of figuring out if I wanted to study film or broadcast journalism. I had started going to SXSW and watching films that inspired and captivated me, but I remembered a film called Old Joy directed by Kelly Reichardt. I wanted to check it out because I had recently discovered Yo La Tengo (who provided the score) and was obsessed with them in the moment (because who doesn't love the drumming style of Georgia! She rocks!), but I didn't know what to expect from the film. The film follows two men who are old friends as they camp out together after not seeing each other for a while. Reichardt's slow but thoughtful pacing of storytelling was intriguing. There was so much patience in the way it was shot, holding on shots and letting the action occur within frame, the long pauses between dialogue; it was a very "slice of life" kind of film that I hadn't seen from a female director in the U.S. Even though I ended up going into the documentary field over narrative filmmaking, my filming and editing are inspired by the wondrous pacing of Old Joy and even her second film, Wendy & Lucy. Those films showcased real-life stories but portrayed through a narrative lens which still makes an impact on my films today.
Chelsea Hernandez is the director of upcoming PBS documentary Building the American Dream. Kelly Reichardt is the director of Meek’s Cutoff and the upcoming First Cow.
"Do we see the exit spray?" Meredith Johns on Ellen Kuras
I've worked with numerous amazing women directors in my career, but perhaps one of my favorite stories is from my first meeting with director Ellen Kuras on season 2 of The Son. Ellen is a true badass cinematographer and director. Look her up. She's done mind-blowing work. I went into her office expecting the usual ... ok, this guy gets shot, where do you want the wound, do we see the exit spray? She said, "Let's map this out and make it awesome." What followed was an almost hourlong meeting where we acted and mapped out the entire scene in the lawyer's office (episode 7). We talked trajectory, camera angles, who shoots who and from where, and ... well, watch the scene to see the other fun parts. We drew out a full schematic of the room with character paths and where cameras and I (because I had to hide to run tubing rigs) would be situated. This was a far cry from "I show up to set and then find where can we cram me under a table, contorted so that I'm not run over by a camera dolly" that I'm used to facing. Best first meeting with a director ever!
Meredith Johns is an Emmy-nominated special effects artist and co-founder of Hawgfly Productions. Ellen Kuras is a veteran cinematographer (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, He Got Game) and TV director.
Do Good Work: Tracy Frazier on Kat Candler
"Are you nice?" This is the first question director Kat Candler asked me when crewing up for her indie film Jumping Off Bridges back in 2005. It threw me off. I thought she was kidding. But then I could see it in her eyes, a twinkle of jovial strength that shot straight from her heart and pierced through the ego I had (and that I had expected in her). In fact, any ego she had seemed to cycle directly back into her work. Her purpose: Do good work to create great art with kind human beings. Being new to film, that was my Lesson No. 1. I thought, "Ah! This is how working in film must be!" Wrong. Ego is always there. But I also learned from her that when ego inevitably drifts in, it should be treated with grace and respect, including your own. From the bittersweet beauty of Cicadas to the raw charge of Queen Sugar and 13 Reasons Why, there's evidence of her superpower because her stories are brave and authentic, and that's exciting to me. It further proves that kindness is a force with which to be reckoned, and to have that ability creates pure art.
Tracy Frazier is the director of upcoming documentary Becoming Leslie. Kat Candler is the director of Hellion and producer of Queen Sugar and 13 Reasons Why.