Women Directors Name their Cinematic Influences in NY Times

The New York Times selected six directors to talk about the films that made them want to make movies. Featured in the article, Ava DuVernay, Sarah Polley, Lisa Cholodenko, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Lana Wachowski. Each director is profiled more deeply, and photographed beautifully.

DuVernay’s influences:

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“Ashes and Embers” (directed by Haile Gerima, 1982)
“Gerima is a master. That more people who love cinema don’t know his work, and the work of his contemporaries like Julie Dash and Charles Burnett, is a true shame. This film is a robust, restless, wonderful collision of ideas and images and music. It’s a story about shifting identity and consciousness as it unfolds in the return of a Vietnam vet searching for his place under the sun. I occasionally see the face of one of the characters — the protagonist’s grandmother — in my own dreams at night.”

“Mo’ Better Blues” (directed by Spike Lee, 1990)
“I was a freshman at UCLA when Spike Lee’s jazz-drenched drama hit theaters. It’s one of the few films that I remember what theater I went to, ‎who I was with, even what I wore. I recall leaving the theater feeling bold and brave.”

“Ruby in Paradise” (directed by Victor Nunez, 1993)
“This film made me fall in love with independent cinema and understand that small stories can have the whole world inside of them. For my second film, ‘Middle of Nowhere,’ I named the main character ‘Ruby.’ ”

“Daughters of the Dust” (directed by Julie Dash, 1991)
“A serious film filled with intentional, wholehearted imagery of black women, directed by a black woman. The fact that this was so rare — it leapt off the screen and into my bloodstream like a drug — says something about what is absent, what is silent and what I and others are committed to making sure is seen and heard.”

Sarah Polley’s:

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“The Thin Red Line” (directed by Terence Malick, 1998)
“This film single-handedly lifted and carried me out of a depression when I was about 20. It gave me faith in the ability of human beings to create beautiful things. It gave me faith in other people’s faith.”

“Love and Death” (directed by Woody Allen, 1975)
“Consistently makes me feel better when I am sick or sad. I will never be tired of it.”

“The Battle of Algiers” (directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
“This, to me, feels like an accomplishment way beyond filmmaking. I cannot understand how it came into being as perfectly as it did. There is so much that is innovative, experimental and brave about it. It makes me aspire to one day make political films.”

Lisa Cholodenko’s:

“Ordinary People” (directed by Robert Redford, 1980)
“This was one of those films that felt so real, so honest, so psychologically rigorous, it seemed almost taboo. The fearless yet even-handed exploration of an ‘ordinary’ family going through an extraordinary crisis was a revelation for me and set a standard for emotional honesty in my own filmmaking. Mary Tyler Moore blew my mind.”

“Sweetie” (directed by Jane Campion, 1989)
“ ‘Sweetie’ was the film that allowed me to feel I could become a filmmaker. Watching it, I felt, for the first time, the storyteller behind the camera. I could feel the point of view of the director and knew that it was both tough and female. It was a moving experience of total immersion and identification. It also had an ending that was incredibly potent in its exploration of unconditional love. ‘Sweetie’ woke me up to the idea that I could tell stories through movies and I could say things about human nature that were unpopular, even shameful, but true.”

“Pather Panchali” (directed by Satyajit Ray, 1955)
“The authenticity, realism and lyricism, along with Ravi Shankar’s score, revealed film’s sublime ability to embrace and explore the largest themes, most delicate insights and complex emotions, simultaneously. As a film student, it was a revelation.”

Wachowski’s:

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
“I liked the Space Station on the poster, so I made my dad take me to see it when I was 9. Hated it. Most boring movie ever. ‘And what was that stupid black box?!’ Dad explained it was a symbol. We talked about it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A lifetime of wanting to see and understand things as other than they appear began in that theater.”

“Blade Runner” (directed by Ridley Scott, 1982)
“This film began my obsession with aesthetics, something no one really talks about but which is essential to understanding everything from casting choice to editorial cuts to music. Aesthetics are so powerful that almost no one writing about film considered how ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is in so many ways the same movie as ‘Snow White and the Huntsman.’ Yet no one compared them because they are so aesthetically different.”

Tie: “Ma Vie en Rose” (directed by Alain Berliner, 1997) and “My Neighbor Totoro”
 (directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
“My wife and I watch them whenever we need cheering up.”

Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s:

“The Terminator” (directed by James Cameron, 1984)
“This was my favorite movie for ages. It let the characters and emotion lead the story rather than the tech, which was so rare in sci-fi. The film is also a great primer on Cameron’s cutting, action and mood.”

“Cyborg” (directed by Albert Pyun, 1989)
“I saw this as a kid and it was just nuts. It had a really snappy percussive tempo to the fight sequences — that was the Asian influence coming in. They also were creative with how to make the action cool without a huge effects budget.”

“Blade Runner” (directed by Ridley Scott, 1982)
“I loved seeing how an entire original world could be created. It was idiosyncratic and dense, and it colored every aspect of the film. That one beautifully weird world is still tinting sci-fi movies being made today.”

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s:

“A Woman Under the Influence” (directed by John Cassavetes, 1974)
“It was the first film that really affected me and that made me sit up and think what an interesting medium film was. I had never seen anything as raw or as vulnerable as the performances from Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk.”

“The Piano” (directed by Jane Campion, 1993)
“An epic piece of poetry that felt like it was written and directed in such incredible light, color and performance. I can remember and feel every shift that happens in its storytelling.”

“The Tree of Life” (directed by Terence Malick, 2011)
“It was the last film that I felt was about as beautiful as filmmaking gets.”

5 Comments on this Post

  1. List of woman directors http://sh.st/tkk65

  2. Thank you for sharing that, makes me want to revisit a few of those great movies.

  3. RobMiles

    I think that Sarah Polley had the best list. I love the Blade Runner mentions though.

    Ava DuVernay’s was the worst list.

  4. Igor Sousa

    Not many films directed by women on those lists which makes a lot of sense. And which is sad too.

    Hopefully in some years ahead we’ll have more films directed by women as influences

  5. I enjoy Cholodenko’s list – I’m a sucker for Ordinary People. It’s great when someone else (in this case a talented director) cites this movie. Typically, it’s mentioned when no-nothing dorks want to come off as smart when listing Oscar blunders – by now the difference in quality between Raging Bull and Ordinary People should be evident (it’s almost nil), there is a better example of Scorsese being robbed (Dances With Wolves), and it is a cliche example (so cliche!). Anyways… “Pather Panchali” is also a great film and Jane Campion is just wonderful.

    Sarah Polley’s list is somewhat bland although she does give personal reasons as to why she’s influenced by said films. The Thin Red Line was such a big deal when it came out because Malick had been absent for so long that everyone my age (late 30’s) seems to gush over it. We all rediscovered Malick! Hooray!

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