One interesting, under-reported trend in modern cinema is the increasing prevalence of the female documentarian. Whereas the statistics for female directors in Hollywood at large are predictably depressing, with only three wide-release movies in 2013 directed or co-directed by a woman, women are quietly producing incredible work in the documentary sector. In my home country (the UK) we’ve recently seen powerful, original, brilliant work by Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life), Jeanie Finlay (Sound It Out), Clio Barnard (The Arbor), Beeban Kidron (InRealLife)… seriously, if you wanted to use this post as a set of NetFlix recommendations, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
Want evidence of how accepted and respected female directors have become in the documentary sector? The Directors’ Guild of America, an organisation that you will be surprised to learn is a guild of American directors, just published its list of nominees for Best Documentary. They include two men – Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) and Zachary Heinzerling (Cutie and the Boxer) – and three women. The actress Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell, about discovering an old family secret, is the most high-profile film on the list, but there’s also Jehane Noujaim’s The Square, about the unrest in Egypt, and Lucy Walker’s extreme sports film The Crash Reel.
A surprise omission, and one that I suspect the Oscars will honour, is Blackfish, the film exposing conditions at SeaWorld. That one was directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. A woman? Uh huh.