The future is female, and it’s in extraordinary hands thanks to these 20 rising talents behind the camera. Over the next two weeks in June, two movies directed by women are set to shake up the summer movie season. The first is the big R-rated studio comedy “Rough Night,” which hails from Lucia Aniello and opens nationiwide June 16. The second is the wild genre movie “The Bad Batch” from Ana Lily Amirpour, which begins its limited rollout June 23.
Both filmmakers are getting a lot of exposure for these efforts, and they’re included on our list of 20 rising women filmmakers you need to know about right now. Fortunately, these are just a few of the many female voices making an impact in cinema today.
Click through the gallery.
Not every director gets to make their feature film debut at Cannes, but Anahita Ghazvinizadeh is not your typical director. The Iranian filmmaker studied with Abbas Kiarostami and made several short films that caught the eye of Jane Campion, who praised her “very unique flavor.” Ghazvinizadeh brought her feature debut “They” to the festival just this year, and it’s an impressionistic character study of a gender non-conforming kid that evokes the styles of both of her award-winning mentors. Campion executive produced the movie.
Reed Morano has made such a bold impression as the cinematographer of television series (“Vinyl” and “Looking”) and indie films (“The Skeleton Twins” and “Kill Your Darlings”) that it was only a matter of time before her directing career took off. She has two features under her belt — “Meadowland” and the recently wrapped “I Think We’re Alone Now” — but her biggest directing break has been for the acclaimed Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Morano directed the first three episodes and received sterling reviews. She’s ready to become a household name.
For intelligent and thought-provoking takes on the future, look no further than Jennifer Phang. She’s only made two features in nine years, but the leap from intimate drama “Half-Life” to the ambitious sci-fi drama “Advantageous” is so impressive that there’s no telling how high Phang will soar in her third feature. The latter broke out at Sundance 2015 and exclusively premiered on Netflix that summer.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite made a name for herself as the director of the widely seen 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which exposed Sea World and their mistreatment of orca whales. The movie earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary, but more importantly it forced Sea World to revaluate its methods. They ended their killer whale shows in 2015 and phased out their orca breeding program the following year. Cowperthwaite, meanwhile, made the jump to narrative features with “Megan Leavey” just this month. The film is already one of the highest-grossing indies of 2017.
Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Alicia Vikander probably needs to thank Lisa Langseth first. The Swedish filmmaker cast the eventual Oscar winner in her first two features, “Pure” (2009) and “Hotell” (2013), setting her up to become one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. Most people don’t know Langseth’s name, but they will when her English-language debut, “Euphoria,” drops sometime this year. The movie stars Vikander opposite Eva Green and Charlotte Rampling, and has all the makings of a fall festival hit.
It’s miraculous Ana Lily Amirpour already feels like a household name in independent film given she’s only directed two movies. That’s what happens when your feature debut is as critically acclaimed as “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.” Expect Amirpour to wrangle even more fans with this summer’s “The Bad Batch,” a more accessible but still wildly inventive slice of moviemaking. With two features behind her, Amirpour is already the next best thing in indie genre filmmaking.
If you love documentary filmmaking, then Kitty Green is a name you absolutely need to know right now. Her breakout non-fiction film “Ukraine Is Not a Brothel” provided an inside look at the country’s topless feminist sensation Femen and won praise at SXSW and the Venice Film Festival. But it’s her second documentary, “Casting JonBenet,” that has given her the most exposure. The movie premiered at Sundance earlier this year and was picked up by Netflix. It’s now available to stream.
Writer-director Sarah Adina Smith only has two features to her name, and yet both are so intimately ambitious that you can already tell she’s on her way to becoming something really special. “The Midnight Swim” (2014) takes a rather familiar story of family grief and adds surreal layers of mystery so that the film becomes something at once familiar and totally new. “Buster’s Mal Heart” is even more daring. Smith creates a narrative to mimic her protagonist’s broken psyche, creating a character study in the form of a hypnotic cinematic puzzle. It might be too early to call Smith a “visionary,” but she’s well on her way.
Atsuko Hirayanagi made headlines at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival when her short film “Oh Lucy!” won the Cinéfondation prize. She adapted the movie, about a lonely office worker in Tokyo who falls for her English instructor and ventures to Southern California to find him, into a full-length film for her feature debut. And where else to premiere it but Cannes? Hirayanagi returned this year with an “Oh Lucy!” feature, which once again turned heads and raised her profile by premiering at International Critics’ Week.
Nearly every indie filmmaker that gets called up by the studios after their first feature is a man, which makes Stella Meghie a winning exception. The Canadian filmmaker’s debut feature, the family drama “Jean of the Joneses,” premiered to great reviews at SXSW in 2016 and caught the eye of Warner Bros., who signed her to direct their adaptation of the popular Nicola Yoon novel “Everything, Everything.” The film was released this summer, making Meghie the only black woman to direct a wide-release film in 2017. It’s already grossed nearly $32 million opposite a $10 million budget.
Ry Russo-Young got thrust into a bigger spotlight earlier this year as director of the YA adaptation “Before I Fall,” starring Zoey Deutch, but she’s been a ubiquitous voice in independent film for the past decade now. Her 2007 debut “Orphans” won a special jury prize at SXSW, while both follow-up films, “You Won’t Miss Me” and “Nobody Walks,” won prizes at the Gotham Awards and Sundance, respectively. She’s even appeared in front of the camera in films by Joe Swanberg (“Hannah Takes the Stairs”) and Alex Ross Perry (“The Color Wheel”).
Sophia Takal made her debut feature “Green” in 2011, but it wasn’t until “Always Shine” in 2016 that she became one of the best new indie filmmakers working today. She spent the interim years acting in indie features like “V/H/S,” “Gayby” and “Gods Pocket,” among many others, but she finally made her second feature and brought it to Tribeca last year. “Always Shine” ended up wowing critics, with some outlets comparing her work to the likes of Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock.
If you read a ton of lists of the best movies of 2016, chances are you saw Anna Rose Holmer’s debut feature “The Fits” mentioned several times. IndieWire called it one of the year’s most promising debuts, singling out Holmer’s evocative physical imagery as one of her most compelling cinematic tools. Her work earned her the Someone to Watch prize at the Indie Spirit Awards, plus a Gotham Award nomination for Breakthrough Director. Holmer is currently gearing up for her next project, the rodeo drama “Bronco Belle” in which Natalie Portman will star.
“Broad City” has turned stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson into household names in the comedy world, but there’s been a third instrumental voice behind the scenes the whole time: Lucia Aniello. An alumna of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Aniello has directed 11 episodes and written six of the hit Comedy Central series. She’s bringing Glazer with her to the big screen for her feature directorial debut, “Rough Night,” which is only one of two studio comedies being directed by a woman this year (“Pitch Perfect 3” is the other). Most directors, male or female, don’t get the opportunity to debut with a star-studded studio picture, which puts Aniello in the rare position to take movies by storm.
Instead of paying tuition and going to film school, director Quinn Shephard decided she would just make her own movie on her own terms. The New Jersey native was 15 when she came up with the idea for what would become her feature directorial debut “Blame,” a modern high school-set adaptation of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Seven years later, Shephard arrived at the Tribeca Film Festival with the finished feature at just 22 years old and knocked critics off their feet with the drama, which she wrote, directed, edited, produced and starred in.
With just two features, Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao has turned herself into a festival darling and one of the most promising new voices in cinema. Her 2015 debut “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” played both Sundance and Cannes, while her follow-up “The Rider” premiered just last month at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight and won the Art Cinema Award. Her reliance on realism extends to plot, setting and characters (her casts are made up of unknown locals) and has earned acclaim for balancing on the line between fiction and docudrama.
Sabaah Folayan is as new as newcomers get. Her debut documentary “Whose Streets?” only premiered at Sundance earlier this year, but it rocked the festival and became one of IndieWire’s top films in Park City. In the vein of recent award-winners like “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro,” Folayan creates a vital tribute to the Ferguson uprising and the activists at the forefront of America’s race war. Magnolia picked up distribution rights and will release the documentary this summer.
Marianna Palka has been making features for almost 10 years (her debut “Good Dick” premiered in competition at Sundance in 2008), but her new movie, the ferocious feminist satire “Bitch,” is already taking her directing career to an entire new level. The film debuted at Sundance this year and become a midnight favorite with critics. Palka stars as a woman who takes on the identity of a wild dog, but her brilliance shines through as writer-director. She transforms an absurd premise into a chilling look at the destruction of a nuclear family with a vivid, snarling vision.
Sydney Freeland is a transgender Navajo filmmaker, which makes her an all-too rare voice in independent film and one we could definitely use more of. Her Native American drama “Drunktown’s Finest” earned numerous accolades after premiering at Sundance in 2014, including Outstanding Narrative Feature at Outfest, and she earned an Emmy nomination for directing “Her Story,” a digital series about queer and trans women. Freeland’s latest feature, “Deidra & Laney Rob a Train,” was scooped up by Netflix this year at Sundance and is now available to stream.
Few filmmakers are rising up the ranks as assuredly as Eliza Hittman, who is quickly proving she’s one of the best voices for tapping into the honesty of coming-of-age sexuality. “It Felt Like Love” was an indie favorite in 2013, earning Hittmann nominations from the Gotham Awards and the Indie Spirits. “Beach Rats” is already shaping up to be an even bigger hit. The movie earned Hittman the Sundance Best Director award earlier this year and will be released August 25 via Neon.