Filmmaking Inspirations for International Women’s Day 2023!
By Elise Czyzowska
08 March 2023
It might only be March, but we’ve already had a lot to feel inspired by for International Women’s Day 2023 – from the global success of Charlotte Wells’ debut feature Aftersun, to Sarah Polley and her ensemble cast for Women Talking winning the Robert Altman Award, to Emma Mackey’s ‘Rising Star’ win at the BAFTAs. On top of these successes, what we’ve found especially inspiring is how, throughout awards season, women in the screen industries have been consistently highlighting the need for change and continued effort towards gender equality and equity.
Michelle Yeoh touched on this at the London Critics’ Circle Awards. The 2023 recipient of the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film, Michelle returned to the importance of female-led stories from different perspectives: ‘I saw in [my character] a hero’s journey,’ she said, ‘that so many women, wives, mothers and daughters go through. But what I had most in common with her, is that she never gave up.’
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, for which the theme is #EmbraceEquity, we asked our tutors to share the female inspirations in their lives – and more specifically, from the screen industries. Covering a range of crafts, roles, genres, and formats, here are their picks…
Lucy Francis – Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders
‘I grew up watching French and Saunders with my mum and sisters, and they were the first women I remember seeing on television playing diverse, funny characters, with no real reference to the fact that they were women. I later fell in love with the work of Victoria Wood and Julie Walters, with the northern influences of their hometowns adding another element to the comedy that I totally related to and felt at home with.
‘These women paved the way for female comedy, and when I set up my own company, we became a group of six female performers constantly aiming to follow in the shoes of these greats! I’m not sure we succeeded – but we had a bloody good time!’
Alice Guilluy – Gurinder Chadha
‘As one of the rare highly-visible British Asian female directors in the UK, the scale of Gurinder Chadha’s success over the last two decades is inspiring in itself. Bend It Like Beckham in particular remains the highest-grossing football film of all time, and is such a significant milestone in British film history that the BBC celebrated its 20th anniversary last year with its very own TV documentary special!
‘Most of all, however, I admire Chadha’s unique ability to make very entertaining films about often-difficult subject matters. Her films – from the critically acclaimed Beckham and Bhaji on the Beach, through her Bollywood-inspired remake of Pride and Prejudice, to the most recent Blinded by the Light, she combines comedy, romance, and brilliant soundtracks to tackle racism, sexism, homophobia, national identity, and postcolonial nostalgia. In doing so, she brings her unique perspective to the biggest audience possible.’
Reshel Shah – Zoya Akhtar
‘A big inspiration for me is Zoya Akhtar, a director and screenwriter who’s films include Luck by Chance, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Gully Boy. Her work reflects on the Indian culture – both past and present, and as a director, she has always been able to provide realism, built on character relationships, but with a mix of comedy and drama.
‘She highlights the culture while keeping an audience engaged, and the international audience that she has reached speaks volumes for her work.’
Justin Trefgarne – Josephine Baker
‘Although she played only a handful of roles in movies, she was one of the bravest and most extraordinary figures of the 20th century. Born into extreme poverty in the segregated American South, Baker made it to Paris in her teens, where she became perhaps the most celebrated performer of her age. When Paris fell to the Nazis, she dedicated herself to assisting the French Resistance – one of her missions was to smuggle vital intelligence out of France, which helped the British defeat the Germans in the Battle of Britain.
‘After the war, Baker championed Civil Rights in America, and was the only woman to speak alongside Martin Luther King at the March on Washington. She literally lived 10 lives in her 68 years, and showed how sheer courage and relentless hard work can pretty much overcome anything.’
Naomi Wright – Sally Potter
‘I first heard about Sally Potter when I was a teenager – at that point, I didn’t know of any other female film directors in the UK. She opened my eyes to the fact that it was possible with her film, The Tango Lesson – which, aptly, is about the act of seeing, and what it means to direct!
‘Every frame in this film stunned me, and it really did light a fire of enthusiasm in me to pursue a life in film.’
Maja Classen – Nan Goldin
Nan Goldin’s photographs are a visual diary of her life, deeply personal and yet extremely political. They show herself and her friends and chosen family, LGTBQ* – she shows them struggling with love, sex, violence, with drugs, AIDS, and death. But instead of going for the sensational aspects of these topics, Nan’s portraits are full of love. She just sees their beauty, even in moments of despair. There is no judgement in her gaze – just empathy.
Today, Nan is not only an influential photographer, but also a courageous activist, as can be seen in her collaboration with Laura Poitras on the Oscar-nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. The film shows Nan fight against the Oxycodone-Pharmacologist Sackler Family, who carry a big responsibility for the Opiate crisis in the US. Again, Nan doesn’t shy away from sharing her own struggles with addiction, showing how political personal stories can be.
‘Nan Goldin is one of the most inspirational women for me, not only as an artist, but also as an activist. Not only because I love her aesthetics, but also because I admire her ability to acknowledge pain, and find dignity in documenting it. And also, for her courage as an activist.’
Casey Shaw – Working Class Filmmakers
‘I have always been motivated by the work of working class women in the media. Caroline Aherne and Shelagh Delaney were a huge influence on me growing up, and I always aspired to write and produce work which was reminiscent of their incredible way of examining the “magic of the mundane” in working class homes of the North.
‘I was also fascinated by documentary photographers like Tish Murtha and Shirley Baker, and feel that their striking visual narratives, totally engaging and disruptive, have informed the visual language of my own work.’
Athanasios Karanikolas – Female Filmmakers: Past & Present
‘As a queer filmmaker and an immigrant, when I was a student, I tried to eschew the standard ‘film canon’ – I sensed that there were other filmmakers, not included in these lists, to which I felt a great affinity. The most influential films for my work have been those by innovative European and American female filmmakers.
‘Historical figures such as Chantal Akerman, Barbara Loden, Agnes Varda, Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, Kelly Reichardt, and Andrea Arnold – to name a few. Nowadays, I look up to the work of women from all over the world, such as Chloé Zhao, Mati Diop, Cheryl Dunye, Julia Ducournau, Céline Sciamma, Greta Gerwig, Joanna Hogg, Ava DuVernay, Haifaa al-Mansour… And I keep discovering many, many more – it’s a very exciting time for filmmakers.’