10 Women Directors To Watch In 2017
It's going to be a big year for women behind the camera
Illustration by Jihyang Lim
In 2016, Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to direct a $100 million movie when Disney tapped her to adapt the popular children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. She then used that clout to hire only female directors for her drama on OWN, Queen Sugar. Both were signs that a woman in a director’s chair is becoming less of a talking point and more of a norm. Still, Hollywood is very much a boy’s club, and a woman calling the shots on a movie set is something of a unicorn in the industry. Here are 10 women who will help change that in the coming year.
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Bell surprised everyone, including herself, when her 2013 comedy In a World... stole hearts at Sundance, picking up the festival’s screenwriting award and announcing the actress as a major talent behind the camera. Her follow-up, What’s The Point?, will deconstruct the institution of marriage, with the help of a cast that includes Wyatt Cenac, Amber Heard, Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, and Bell herself.
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Ry Russo-Young came up in the same independent scene that nurtured talents like Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg, and Barry Jenkins, and like those filmmakers, Russo-Young is pivoting toward the mainstream. After making the personal film Nobody Walks (which she co-wrote with Lena Dunham), Russo-Young’s latest movie is a high-stakes adaptation of the YA novel Before I Fall, starring Zoey Deutch as a high school girl who relives the final day of her life over and over again. As a nod to Russo-Young’s indie roots, Before I Fall will premiere at Sundance later this month, before opening wide in March.
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In 2014, the New York Times called Maggie Betts a “socialite turned filmmaker” thanks to her gilded upbringing (her father is developer Roland W. Betts) and her foray into moviemaking, which included the 2011 AIDS documentary The Carrier and the 2014 short film Engram. But with her feature debut Novitiate, Betts is looking to make a major splash at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, with the ‘60s-set story of a young woman at the Vatican, studying to become a nun while simultaneously struggling with her faith.
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Before she became one of our finest actresses, Greta Gerwig had dreams of being a playwright and a filmmaker. And for the past few years, she’s been collaborating on scripts with her real-life partner Noah Baumbach (they wrote Frances Ha and Mistress America together), experiences that no doubt served well when writing the screenplay for Lady Bird, which also marks her directorial debut. The movie follows a teenager on the cusp of adulthood (Saoirse Ronan) who dreams of leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California, which happens to be where Gerwig herself grew up.
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Obvious Child was one of the most assured debuts of the last few years, and while much of that had to do with Jenny Slate’s hilarious and heartbreaking performance, Robespierre—who based the movie on her short of the same name—managed to infuse the movie with an appealing blend of sensitivity and humor that felt real and earned. Her follow-up is Landline which, like Obvious Child, will have its premiere at Sundance and reteams her with Slate. The title refers to the movie’s ‘90s setting, before anyone had cell phones, as two sisters discover their father is having an affair. John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, and Jay Duplass round out the cast.
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Okay, so it’s not The Little Mermaid, but The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola’s sixth movie and first since 2013’s The Bling Ring sounds perfectly in her wheelhouse. The movie is a remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film of the same name and follows a Union soldier (Colin Farrell) who holes up in a Confederate all-girls school and slowly starts turning the women in it against each other. Those women will be played in part by Coppola regulars Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, who’ll be joined by Nicole Kidman. The last time Coppola tried her hands at a period piece, we were gifted with Marie Antoinette, so expect something extraordinary.
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You might recognize Zoe Lister-Jones from her many TV appearances, on shows like New Girl and Whitney. But Lister-Jones is also a triple threat, having co-written three feature films (including Lola Versus and Breaking Upwards), each directed by her husband, Daryl Wein. But 2017 is the year Lister-Jones finally breaks out on her own as a filmmaker with Band Aid, a comedy about a couple who starts a band to save their marriage. The movie will have its premiere at Sundance and features a pretty great cast that includes Colin Hanks, Brooklyn Decker, Fred Armisen, Jesse Williams, and, of course, Lister-Jones herself.
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We’d love to sit down with Patty Jenkins and ask her how exactly she goes from directing Charlize Theron to a Best Actress Oscar in 2003’s Monster, to not making a movie for the next 13 years, to then leading this summer’s hotly anticipated Wonder Woman, the first major superhero movie to be directed by a woman. Our guess is it has something to do with Hollywood’s persistent ability to marginalize female directors, a reality that a very successful Wonder Woman movie would help change. We have faith in Jenkins to deliver.
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If the Broad City duo of Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson were to ever become a trio, Lucia Aniello would complete the triangle. She’s been friends with Glazer and Jacobson since their days at the Upright Citizens Brigade and has both written and directed episodes of Broad City. Her feature directorial debut is next summer’s Rock That Body, an R-rated comedy that stars Scarlett Johansson, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Ilana Glazer, and Jillian Bell as a group of friends who have to deal with a dead male stripper during a bachelorette weekend that careens out of control. It’s like Bridesmaids meets The Hangover, and has mega-hit written all over it.
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For proof that Trish Sie is a visual genius, look no further than the instantly iconic videos for Ok Go’s “Here It Goes Again” (the one with the treadmills) and “Upside Down & Inside Out” (the one in zero gravity). Sie, who is also a choreographer, directed Step Up All In two years ago, but it’s the opportunity she got to direct next winter’s Pitch Perfect 3 (after Elizabeth Banks dropped out) where she can really take her career to the next level.