52 Films By Women: #52FilmsByWomen


Last October TCM in association with WIF (Women in Film) launched their Trailblazing Women film initiative by airing a month of movies made by women. Many of the films and filmmakers highlighted during the month-long programming event were often overlooked, underseen and deserving of a wider audience. Trailblazing Women was groundbreaking television that introduced the work of many women filmmakers to a much wider audience.

As part of the year-long Trailblazing Women initiative, WIF asked visitors to their website to join them in watching 52 Films By Women aka #52FilmsByWomen. The objective was to get people talking about women filmmakers by urging them to watch one film directed or co-directed by a woman every week between October 2015 and October 2016. Viewers were also encouraged to promote their viewing experiences by using the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen on social media. I joined the pledge last year and for the past 11 months I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of my favorite women made films and discovering new favorites. Next month #52FilmsByWomen comes to an end so I thought I’d share a few highlights from my viewing experience and hopefully inspire others to continue to seek out and watch films made by talented women.


Something New (Dir. Nell Shipman & Bert Van Tuyle; 1920)

Canadian film pioneer Nell Shipman produced, co-directed, co-wrote and co-starred in Something New with her husband Bert Van Tuyle. This rip-roaring action-packed silent film concerns a frustrated writer (Nell Shipman) who is trying to plot “something new” for her latest film script. She comes up with a zany story that takes place in Mexico and involves a woman (also played by Nell Shipman) who is kidnapped by banditos and eventually rescued by a miner (Bert Van Tuyle) driving an incredibly durable car across dangerous rocky terrain.

The plot is paper-thin but the action is impressive and Nell Shipman is a lot of fun to watch. I had never encountered Shipman before seeing Something New and I was really impressed by her skills behind and in front of the camera. Shipman rides horses, shoots guns, wrangles animals and comes across as a totally likable heroine who you want to root for. She’s no wilting flower and I appreciated her sense of adventure. The film is really just an hour-long chase movie but it’s shot with skill and humor. I like to imagine what Shipman would have done with a bigger budget but she makes the most of her limited resources. I’m eager to see more of her work and hope to read her autobiography, The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart, soon.


Hard, Fast and Beautiful (Dir. Ida Lupino; 1951)

I don’t care for competitive sports so I tend to run the other way whenever I encounter a sports movie. This is probably why it took me so long to catch up with Ida Lupino’s Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951), a taut melodrama about a young tennis prodigy (Sally Forrest) driven to compete by her ambitious mother (Claire Trevor).

Trevor is particularly good here as a domineering parent, desperate to give her daughter and herself the cocktail drenched high-life she’s always dreamed of no matter what the cost is to her family. The formulaic plot doesn’t contain many surprises but Ida Lupino directs it with formidable precision. Lupino can even be spotted in a cameo with Robert Ryan who was her costar in On Dangerous Ground (1951) and Beware, My Lovely (1952). If you enjoy tennis you’ll appreciate the way Lupino captures the back-and-forth action of the sport but the highlight of the film is the stunning downbeat ending shot in a vacant tennis court. The film’s final moments pack a powerful punch and artfully illustrate the failed dreams of a driven woman forced to except her own personal and professional defeat as she slinks back into the shadows.


Wuthering Heights (Dir. Andrea Arnold; 2011)

Emily Bronte’s classic novel has been adapted for the screen many times but no one has wrestled with the material in such a stark and unforgiving manner. Director Andrea Arnold (Red Road; 2006, Fish Tank; 2009, etc.) forgoes the usual romantic tropes and accentuates the rugged living conditions of the period focusing her constantly shifting camera on the misty moorland landscape and the dirt drenched figures that populate it. The characters in this tragedy are more ghostlike than human, embodying the internal themes that envelope Bronte’s work. In turn, the film is able to relay the darker and more troubling aspects of the story in a way that few other adaptations have.

Arnold employed two black actors (Solomon Glave and James Howson) to portray the tortured Heathcliff, consumed by his unfulfilled passion for Cathy (Shannon Beer & Kaya Scodelario). The casting exemplifies Heathcliff’s position of servitude and makes his plight seem more urgent. Arnold’s directing is confident and she makes bold choices with an avant-garde sensibility that confused and frustrated many critics when it was released. For better or worse, William Wyler’s Academy Award nominated 1939 version of Wuthering Heights has become somewhat of a gold standard that all other versions are compared to but Arnold’s film rejects that template completely and I found it incredibly refreshing and deeply rewarding.


Breathe aka Respire (Dir. Mélanie Laurent; 2014)

The worst bullies I’ve encountered in my life have all been women and some of them started out as friends. Apparently French actress turned director Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds; 2009, Beginners; 2010, Now You See Me; 2013, Enemy; 2013, etc.) has also experienced this phenomenon firsthand and she does an excellent job of illustrating the complexities between so-called “frenemies,” a cute term that too often masks the genuine ugliness found in aggressive or passive aggressive relationships shared between women and girls.

Breathe is beautifully composed and maintains a mournful tone throughout as the young women’s burgeoning friendship blossoms, thrives and finally dies on the vine. We follow them through exhausting school terms, lazy summer days, late night parties and awkward encounters with boys who make poor replacements for missing (or abusive) fathers while Laurent’s intimate camera work invites us to care deeply about their predicament. This intimacy, as well as the young leads (Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge) shared commitment to their roles, makes the shocking finale particularly brutal and heartbreaking. This impressive directorial debut should have gotten a lot more press coverage when it was originally released but it seemed to slip under the radar during award season. Laurent’s recent film is a documentary about climate change (Demian; 2015) that offers ideas and solutions to this worldwide problem effecting us all.


Runoff (Dir. Kimberly Levin; 2015)

This low-key eco-thriller takes place in Kentucky, where corporate controlled agriculture threatens to disrupt and destroy a fragile farming community. As harvest time looms and Halloween beckons, a wife and mother (Joanne Kelly) is forced to take drastic measures in order to preserve her family’s livelihood that will have grave consequences for her and her neighbors.

Kimberly Levin was a biochemist before she wrote and directed the film, which is based on some of her own experiences. Runoff explores some bleak territory but the pastoral beauty of Kentucky masks the darker aspects of this moody drama. The rural setting and focus on family make this an atypical suspense film and I admired Levin’s approach to the material. The modest production also boasts a memorable lead performance from its star, Canadian actress Joanne Kelly (Going the Distance; 2004, Closet Monster; 2015, etc.) and a haunting soundtrack provided by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. I don’t know what Levin has planned for the future but I’m looking forward to seeing whatever she does next.


The Invitation (Dir. Karyn Kusama; 2015)

Grief and malaise run rampant in the Hollywood Hills turning a dinner party among old friends into an incredibly unnerving and flat out creepy affair. Logan Marshall-Green (Across the Universe; 2007, Prometheus; 2012, Madame Bovary; 2014, etc.) delivers an impressive central performance as a recently divorced father still mourning the accidental death of his young son. When his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) invites him to a dinner party among old friends at the house they once shared together, his emotions and suspicions begin to spiral out of control. The atmosphere of dread and unease that permeate the proceedings is so thick you can cut it with a serving knife thanks to Karyn Kusama’s taught direction and Theodore Shapiro’s eerie score.

The Invitation is a terrific slow-burn horror treat that didn’t get a wide release until 2016 but you can currently catch it streaming online. Horror fans might recognize Kusama as the director of Jennifer’s Body (2009) as well as the gritty urban boxing drama Girlfight (2000) and sci-fi action film Æon Flux (2005) but The Invitation demonstrates that she has a more subtle and provocative side that will hopefully continue to flourish as she makes more films. You can expect to see The Invitation on my list of Favorite Films of 2016.

To learn more about #52FilmsByWomen please visit the WIF website where you can find a lot more information about this year-long event.

Further reading:
- 10 Trailblazing Horror Films Directed by Women

9 Responses 52 Films By Women: #52FilmsByWomen
Posted By jojo : September 8, 2016 7:31 pm

“Hard, Fast and Beautiful” is an incredible title. But, it’s a little hard not to be let down when you discover the movie’s actually about tennis.

I should really watch the movie again because I spent the entirety of my first veiwing more than a little sore about that particular bait and switch.

Posted By Flora : September 9, 2016 3:19 am

Thanks for the introduction to Canadian Nell Shipman whose name I do not know.

I’ve seen Hard, Fast and Beautiful.

I find it hard to believe that this festival was almost a year ago.

I remember wishing that some future TCM spotlight would look at the ways women are *portrayed* on film over time regardless of whether it was a male or female director as I don’t think younger generations are aware of how war time really helped out women’s rights unless they have seen it on film.

Certainly, when I heard that TCM was looking at women I was thinking of onscreen as well as off screen.

Posted By swac44 : September 9, 2016 1:15 pm

Although she didn’t direct it, Back to God’s Country features behind-the-camera contributions from Nell Shipman, who co-wrote the picture and co-produced with her husband Ernest. It’s another cross-country adventure, set in the Canadian wilderness, and conveniently available on the same DVD as Something New.

Posted By swac44 : September 9, 2016 1:18 pm

I’ll also throw out a recommendation for the work of Haligonian director Andrea Dorman, whose indie pop features Parsley Days and Heartbeat are refreshingly charming.

Posted By Susan Doll : September 10, 2016 6:22 pm

An excellent post. I am envious of your cinematic adventure in watching 52 films by women. Also, I want to see your recommendations. Am sharing this on FB.

Posted By kingrat : September 10, 2016 7:29 pm

Thank you for the introduction to these films. I have to admit, though, “constantly shifting camera” is not a term that make me want to run to the theater! But I sure do like to know these things.

Posted By robbushblog : September 12, 2016 2:20 pm

Most of these sound really good. A friend of mine told me I should watch THE INVITATION, so it’s one that I really need to watch after getting two recommendations to see it. After THE HITCH-HIKER and her TV work, I’ll watch anything that Ida Lupino directs. HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL sounds like a winner. SOMETHING NEW sounds pretty great as well.

Did you watch any Kathryn Bigelow or Ava Duvernay films for your festival?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : September 12, 2016 7:45 pm

Thanks for all the feedback!

swac – I haven’t seen of Andrea Dorman’s films so thanks for the recommendation.

Susan – I think you’d really appreciate a few of the films. particularly Runoff.

kingrat – If you don’t care for avant-garde or experimental film it’s probably best to avoid Arnold’s Wuthering Heights but you might appreciate the other films I mentioned.

Rob – I’ve seen most of Bigelow’s output and I re-watched Near Dark last October around Halloween but I still need to catch up with Duverney’s work. Selma got so much critical attention that I feel like I’ve seen it although I haven’t. It’s currently streaming on Amazon so hopefully I’ll get around to seeing it soon.

Posted By Everette Eats World : October 3, 2016 12:00 am

Ida Lupino, the True trifecta of talent: great actress, great director, great beauty ( oh, and she embraced controversy on a regular basis). Incredible.

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