Essential Women-Directed Films

Summer always is the perfect time to sit down and watch movies. When living in New York City, I’d always go to my old cinema haunts like Quad Cinema and IFC Center when the weather was warm. Although those days are gone and I’m blissfully living in a city that doesn’t have a big movie scene, there’s always an abundance of options to stream. Whether you’re in the city and safely gathering with friends, or in suburbia grabbing an old project in the backyard, here are some films directed and led by women that you need to watch.

House of Hummingbird (2018) by Kim Bora

There’s something really magical about House of Hummingbird, and, once you actually watch it, you’ll slowly come to realize why this film took the film festival circuit by storm. It’s a coming-of-age story set in Seoul during 1994, the year that the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung dies and when the Seongsu Bridge collapses. Our protagonist, Eunhee, is fourteen years old, awkward, and extremely lonely. This is a very quiet film, one where we can often hear the cicadas or traffic in the background. Eunhee’s story is very compelling. It is a distinctly Korean narrative but also relatable to young women all around the world in regards to theme and content.

The Watermelon Woman (1996) by Cheryl Dunye

The Watermelon Woman is a contemporary classic, starring the director in the titular role. This was the first film to be directed by a Black lesbian woman. Cheryl is a young woman living in Philadelphia who’s working in a video rental store, where she becomes obsessed with an uncredited 1930s actress, one who often depicted the racial stereotype of the mammy. The film is about Cheryl trying to make a documentary about this woman and who she was, leading us down a queer rabbithole of history and the tensions between minorities.

Women Without Men (2009) by Shirin Neshat

New York City-based artist Shirin Neshat pulled out all of her filmmaking chops for her debut, Women Without Men. While she is best known for her photography about women in post-revolutionary Iran, this film goes back deeper into the roots of what made contemporary Iran in 1953. Set during the American and UK-backed coup that instated the Shah back into power, the film follows four women and the gender issues they face in Iran as women.

Siao Yu (1994) by Sylvia Chang

Sylvia Chang is seriously underrated when it comes to her work, and Siao Yu is just as impressive as the rest of her later films. Taiwanese citizens Siao Yu and her boyfriend Gang Wai want to get their green cards for the United States but are unable to do so quickly. And so, Siao Yu moves to New York City and engages in a fake marriage with an Italian-American in order to expedite the process. The film follows this marriage and how the two forge an unlikely bond as they try to convince others that this is a legitimate marriage.

Oriana (1985) by Fina Torres

This Venezuelan film won the Caméra d’Or Prize at Cannes Film Festival, although this was Torres’ first feature film. We follow the main character, Maria, as she goes back to her family’s ancestral hacienda (ranch) after living abroad in France due to her aunt’s death. The house she visited as a young girl is now decaying, unlike the former glory she once remembered it to have. It’s a rather quiet film, but we get in-depth character studies of both Maria and her aunt.

Orlando (1992) by Sally Potter

I first geeked out about this film in my Costume and Fashion in Film class at FIT, where we did an in-depth analysis of the costuming in this film. Let’s just say the costumes are so iconic that the Met Gala did their theme based on it. The movie starts following Orlando, a young count in the English court of Elizabeth I. On her deathbed, the queen commands Orlando to not grow old, and so, upon waking up one day, Orlando discovers he is now a woman and can no longer age. Orlando then begins to spectate history as a bystander, while navigating their own experience that directly defies gender standards.

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