The #52FilmsByWomen Challenge – A Geek’s Awakening

I'm super excited to bring you Strong Women a great post today.  If you ever want a good natter on social media with someone completely clued up on her TV and film, you should go straight to Amanda on @filmvsbook.  She has great insight, stellar recommendations, and is also a funny and warm person.  Founder of the #BookVsFilmClub and participant in the #52FilmsByWomen challenge, let me hand you over to wonder woman Amanda, so she can tell you about some of her favourite moments from the challenge so far...

The #52FilmsByWomen Challenge – A Geek’s Awakening

by SWS guest writer, Amanda

Emma Thompson (screenplay) and Lindsay Doran (producer) on the set of Sense & Sensibility

Emma Thompson (screenplay) and Lindsay Doran (producer) on the set of Sense & Sensibility

I’ve been writing film reviews and opinion pieces for years now but it wasn’t until I started covering the London Film Festival a few years ago that my eyes were opened in the world of female filmmakers. I had previously thought that the poor showing of films made by women in mainstream cinemas was solely because women weren’t given as many opportunities to either write or direct them. However true that may be, there’s another element I hadn’t realised also played a huge part: the lack of coverage. Many films are made. They exist in a final form. But many of them just disappear with very little discussion.

So, with the #52FilmsByWomen challenge (basically, one a week on average!), I set out not just to watch films made by women but to talk about it. Because, love or hate them, these films deserve to be discussed. (Which is also why I expanded my challenge to include films written by women, too.)

Now, there were some well-known films on my list this year, from Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins) to The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola), but many of them were hidden gems or films I would usually have not noticed.

As I write this, I’m one film away from hitting the 52 target but I won’t stop there. The brochure for this year’s London Film Festival has arrived and I’ve been through and highlighted the many films from across the world which are directed by women.

So, after 51 first-timers and rewatches of films either written and/directed by women, here are my top 10 recommendations from what I’ve seen so far:

1. Ava DuVernay/13th

People who might not have heard of DuVernay this time last year are certainly becoming aware of this bold and exciting director now. She first grabbed my attention with Selma. She followed that up with the powerful documentary 13th (it’s on Netflix – check it out!) and she’s just directed next year’s A Wrinkle in Time, which looks AMAZING (there’s a trailer – look it up!)!

2. Emma Thompson

Everybody knows Emma Thompson the actress, but only this year did I fully appreciate Emma Thompson the screenwriter. I revisited her superb adaptation of Sense and Sensibility along with Nanny McPhee and realised that there actually is nothing this woman can’t do.

Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood - "Both heartbreaking and empowering."

Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood - "Both heartbreaking and empowering."

3. Gina Prince-Bythewood

At the start of the year I had no clue who Gina Prince-Bythewood was. Her name had never crossed my radar. Then my favourite London cinema (hello Prince Charles Cinema!) tweeted me to let me know that they were showing two of this lady’s films back to back and it might be good for the challenge. I got my tickets and settled in for a night of film fun.

The real standout from that evening was Beyond the Lights, an incredible film starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Minnie Driver. It’s about a music star who’s struggling with the limelight and all the many ways in which she’s being manipulated. It’s both heartbreaking and empowering.

Prince-Bythewood is being talked about a lot more now, what with her TV show Shots Fired and the news that she’s been tapped to direct 2019’s Silver & Black. So it’s time to get used to hearing her name!

4. Amy Heckerling never gets old

I had forgotten just how good Amy Heckerling was. I mean, I knew… but I’d forgotten. The genius of this woman does not fade with time. Clueless. Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too... She’s brilliant. Trust me. It’s time to go and rewatch the classics.

Clueless by Amy Heckerling - "She’s brilliant. Trust me. It’s time to go and rewatch the classics."

Clueless by Amy Heckerling - "She’s brilliant. Trust me. It’s time to go and rewatch the classics."

5. Miss You Already

The combination of director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) and writer Morwenna Banks makes for an incredible film about friendship. There are romantic relationships (and rather delicious male partners for our two leading ladies, Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette) but the real heart of this story is the bond of women and all that we help each other through. It’ll make your stomach hurt from laughing and then have you balling on your friend’s shoulder.

6. Niki Caro

Largely known for 2002’s Whale Rider, Caro is a director who has been working hard for many, many years but for some reason she had again, not really crossed my path. This year, I went to see her film The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and the tension and beauty of the film really woke me up to her talents as a director. She has a careful and intelligent vision with her filmmaking that is exciting to watch.

She’s now lined up to direct 2019’s new take on Mulan.

7. Maudie

I saw this quiet and beautiful film in my other favourite London cinema, the Phoenix Cinema (what can I say, I love them both but in very different ways!). Director Aisling Walsh came along for a Q&A that really illustrated the lengths directors have to go to in order to get what we see on the screen.

Written by female scriptwriter Sherry White, Maudie is a stunning film with a give-her-all-the-awards performance from Sally Hawkins at its centre. It’s also incredibly visual and powerful and as brutal as it is beautiful.

8. What Happened, Miss Simone?

Documentaries are a recent discovery for me but few have been quite as gripping as this one. Directed by Liz Garbus, the film looks at Nina Simone in all her messy glory and will have you appreciating Simone’s music – and story – in an entirely new way once you’ve finished watching.

Take This Waltz - "Incredibly bold in its execution."

Take This Waltz - "Incredibly bold in its execution."

9. Take This Waltz

This romantic drama from Sarah Polley is full of longing and incredibly bold in its execution. It’s about an affair but also not… The film is about emotional cheating and the need to connect and be desired.

The following year, Polley’s documentary Stories We Tell, about her own family, was released and is just as phenomenal – but in a far more shocking way!

10. The Handmaiden

Chan-wook Park’s visual masterpiece – and adaptation of Sarah Water’s ‘Fingersmith’ novel – is a thing of beauty from start to finish. A sensual saga, The Handmaiden has two phenomenal lead actresses and is co-written by scriptwriter Seo-kyeong Jeong.

So that’s it! There will no doubt be far more once I delve into this year’s London Film Festival…


Thank you so much, Amanda!  Some great recommendations for anyone wanting to expand their love of females working the movie business. 

You can follow Amanda and her #52FilmsByWomen challenge on Twitter @filmvsbook