Actually I have way more than 15 filmmakers here now I think, I just titled this post that for the alliteration. And since some of them aren’t directors per se, perhaps it evens out. The photo at the top is of Alice Guy-Blaché , who was not just a kind of founding female of narrative cinema, but a founder of narrative cinema PERIOD END STOP. And she was not just a director, but also a producer and a studio head. You’ll note a huge temporal gap in the list below between the 1920s and the 1970s. That is because some women were able to get in on the ground floor of the movie business when it was just starting and thus risky, but once it proved itself and was solid, men took over completely and shut women out of powerful roles for a surprisingly long time. Only now is it beginning to change. You will see that I, too have my biases — toward comedy.
Mary Pickford — Pickford is almost exclusively remembered today for the scale of her movie stardom as “America’s Sweetheart” which, granted, but that’s still crazy. She was also one of the founders of United Artists, a STUDIO CHIEF, and as such one of the most powerful people in Hollywood
Elaine May — one of the 20th century’s great comic geniuses. While she may be justly chided for 1987’s Ishtar (which ended her directing career), and she has a much more epic track record as a screenwriter, May directed many smaller scale comedies that are quite wonderful: A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and Mikey and Nicky (1976).
Barbara Kopple — Directed the life changing, Oscar winning Harlan County, USA (1976) and much else, including another Oscar, and the Woody Allen doc Wild Man Blues
Joan Micklin Silver — Made many films, but the one I most cherish is the seminal Lower East Side Yiddish language period drama Hester Street (1975)
Amy Heckerling — Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)! Johnny Dangerously (1984)! European Vacation (1985)! Look Who’s Talking (1989) and its many sequels! Clueless (1995)! A Night at the Roxbury (1998)! Vamps (2012)! Plus lots of tv. This is a solid comedy track record.
Penelope Spheeris — Too much to list! But we would just point out her Decline of Western Civilization rockumentary trilogy and major mainstream comedies like Wayne’s World (1992), The Beverly Hillbillies reboot (1993), and The Little Rascals reboot (1994).
Susan Seidelman — Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) and She-Devil (1989), et al
Allison Anders — best known perhaps for Gas Food Lodging (1992) but I particularly enjoyed Grace of My Heart (1996)
Sofia Coppola — everything!
Andrea Arnold — I particularly enjoyed her radical Wuthering Heights interpretation (2011) and have enjoyed her films with contemporary settings as well
Sally Wainwright — her most recent series, Happy Valley (2014-present) about a lady cop in a small town in the North of England, knocks my socks off. I know it’s tv as opposed to film, but she’s fresh in my mind, having watched the first two seasons, and she deserves big praise
Lena Dunham — She’s much criticized, even vilified, but I think she’s a brilliant writer, director, producer, and even actress, and I so admire that she never plays it safe.
Greta Gerwig — everything, although ironically I haven’t even seen Lady Bird yet!
Anna Biller — The Love Witch was my favorite film of 2016. She may be my favorite living filmmaker.
Heather Quinlan — Documentarian of Americana with encyclopedic range and a heart as huge as the Grand Canyon. I consider her a soulmate. Her best known film is here.
Oh! And check out the lady horror geniuses at Inappropriate Films!
I know I’m missing major people — that’s the trouble with listicles! I’ll add to them as they occur to me.