Features

Here’s 10 Aussie female filmmakers who deserve their own Hollywood blockbuster

Now that Australian Cate Shortland has been announced as the director of Marvel’s Black Widow – which is rumoured to be shooting in Queensland – Maria Lewis presents 10 other Aussie women who could (and we reckon should) helm the next Hollywood blockbuster.

Who: Leah Purcell

Why: Cleverman was arguably the most important thing to happen to Australian genre television in, like, ever. And a big part of its success has to do with Leah Purcell, who split the directing duties with Wayne Blair (she helmed five episodes, he tackled seven). Perhaps better known for her captivating performances as an actress (Wentworth, Love Child, The Proposition, Lantana), she’s someone who knows the filmmaking process inside and out: as demonstrated with all the different elements she had to juggle on Cleverman.

Project: Purcell handles high concepts and high stakes like a motheflippin’ Russo brother and that would be the most exciting place to see her talents utilised. There’s a Gambit movie Hollywood can’t seem to get a solid director to stick at, plus the big-screen version of Manifold Cleverman creator, writer and producer Ryan Griffen has been dying to make for years. Outside of superheroes, she can handle the darker stuff like, say, the television adaptation of Black Magick by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott that’s currently in development.

Who: Daina Reid

Why: One of the many great things to come out of The Secret Life Of Us was the proverbial girl gang of ace Aussie filmmakers it gave us including Cate Shortland, Ana Kokkinos, Cherie Nowlan, Lynn-Maree Danzey, Claudia Karvan, Emma Freeman, Kate Dennis and Daina Reid. To many Aussies she’s probably most recognisable as one of the stars and writers of Full Frontal, but Reid has built up an impressive body of work behind the camera as she has moved away from her comedy roots. That includes Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Romper Stomper, two episodes from this season of The Handmaid’s Tale and, notably, her directorial debut I Love You Too starring a pre-Game Of Thrones Peter Dinklage. Sweet, funny and effecting, it was a romantic movie that didn’t get enough love back in 2010.

Project: Since The Big Sick hit, well, big there has been a lot of talk about the resurrection of the rom-com with flicks like Set It Up, The Breaker Upperers, Love Simon and the forthcoming Crazy Rich Asians and Isn’t It Romantic. I Love You Too was a rom-com back when that was still a dirty word. It would be rad to see Reid get another crack at it now that the genre is ‘on trend’ again (perhaps starring Melanie Lynskey, who she directed in SBS crime drama Sunshine).

Who: Kim Farrant

Why: Hailing from the training ground of Aussie television where she honed her skills working almost every type of production role, Farrant made her narrative directorial debut back in 2015 (she already had a few documentaries under her belt). Strangerland starred Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and Joseph Fiennes in what was a deeply atmospheric and creepy tale of two kids who go missing in the desert. Currently finishing up on thriller Angel Of Mine, with Noomi Rapace, Luke Evans and Yvonne Strahovski, there are few filmmakers juggling style and substance as well as she is right now.

Project: She would be perfect for a Gillian Flynn adaptation – if there were any of them left – with her directorial style not dissimilar to Jean-Marc Vallée, who’s currently ruining lives with Sharp Objects but is probably better known for Big Little Lies. Farrant is the ideal candidate for the directorial gig on another classy thriller, The Dry based on Jane Harper’s novel, which Reese Witherspoon is in the process of adapting.

Who: Corrie Chen

Why: Teen girls have proven to be a potent box-office force over the past decade and Hollywood is always in search of filmmakers who can tap into that. Few are better than Corrie Chen who – after several shorts and assistant directing on Guillermo Del Toro’s stellar Don’t be Afraid Of The Dark – helmed episodes of Mustangs FC, about girls who start the first all-female team at their local football club, and Channel Ten’s Sisters. Then there’s Michelle Law’s Homecoming Queens, one of the best surprises of 2018 television, which benefited from Chen’s skilled direction.

Project: When Marvel sold off all their big name characters to keep the company afloat, no-one believed they could make feature films successful with the B-List roster left in their vault. Not only did Iron Man prove they could, ten years later we have two films with a giant tree and machine gun wielding raccoon that are hugely profitable (and actually good movies, by the by). Point is, with the right creative vision and right creative talent, you don’t need the brand recognition of Superman to make it work.

Enter Jubilee, a cult favourite among X-Men fans and a character who has either been a) whitewashed or b) pushed entirely to sidelines on screen. Chen has shown how adept she is at dealing with the stories of young, clever women and a fast-talking teen that can shoot pyrotechnic energy plasmoids from her hands could be right in her wheelhouse, especially if it leaned hard into Jubilee solo comic written by Robert Kirkman back in 2010. She could also kill a live action take on Lumberjanes.

Who: Kate Dennis

Why: Over the past several years, Dennis has been quietly chugging out quality episodes of television from all your favourite shows. Nominated for an Emmy last year for directing the best episode of The Handmaid’s Tale so far – season one’s The Bridge – she has also sat in the director’s chair on Glow, I’m Dying Up Here, Sleepy Hollow, Fear The Walking Dead and The Mindy Project.

Project: Between her work on The Tick, Superman prequel Krypton, and Seth Rogen’s Preacher, Dennis has proved she can not only handle a superhero but comic book material in general. Something as large scale as the Y: The Last Man movie they’ve been trying to make forever could do with her skillset. Or even a solo Huntress film for DC – now that female stories seem to be a priority over there – leaning hard into the gritty, urban fantasy of it all .

Who: Rachel Perkins

Why: One of Australia’s most prolific filmmakers, Perkins has an amazing back catalogue of movies including Radiance, One Night The Moon, Bran Nue Dae, Mabo and Jasper Jones. This year she directed the shit out of (technical term) Outback noir Mystery Road, the TV version adapted from the Ivan Sen movie of the same name.

Project: Perkins has made a name for herself telling diverse stories that connect on a mainstream, commercial level. Who better then to tackle the all-female Marvel team-up movie that is rumoured to be in the works after Tessa Thompson, Zoe Saldana and Brie Larson pitched it to Kevin Feige. Also, a narrative version of her documentary Black Panther Woman – with the budget and awards season marketing push of Hidden Figures – could be momentous.

Who: Emma Freeman

Why: Like, have you seen Secret City? Enough said. Freeman directed all six episode of the show’s first season and managed to capture the artificial creepiness of Canberra in a way no one has before. Her vision elevated the political thriller to something State Of Play-worthy and she milked some amazing performances from the veteran cast. She has also helmed a bunch of CocoRosie videos so, you know, maximum cool points right there.

Project: There are not enough women directing mainstream thrillers in Hollywood right now and that’s a bloody crime, especially when there’s someone as skilled at manipulating mood like Freeman right here. Yet given her ability to jump genres so well – Glitch, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Puberty Blues – she’d be ideally suited to directing a screen version of Alison Goodman’s best-selling novel series Lady Helen And The Dark Days Club. Think Buffy meets Pride and Prejudice, with a healthy dose of political intrigue and prickly female characters to boot.

Who: Miriama McDowell

Why: Okay so technically she’s a Kiwi, but what’s more Australian than claiming talent from across the Tasman as our own? Better known for her roles in front of the camera in The Dark Horse, Shortland Street, Waru, Dean Spanley, and Māori Television’s hugely underrated mockumentary Find Me A Māori Bride, she’s also someone who has been making a name for herself behind it. She received rave reviews for her work directing Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for The Pop-Up Globe, which played seasons in Melbourne and Auckland, and featured a contemporary cast of Polynesian performers. And fuck it, while we’re here pinching amazing Kiwi women to direct stuff, lets throw in Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek of The Breaker Upperers fame and Coco Solid aka Jessica Hansell.

Project: We’ve seen what happens when theatre directors are handed the reins of a superhero blockbuster (Kenneth Branagh’s Thor) and that same approach could be applied here. There’s no shortage of ridiculous – on paper – comic book characters that could do with the steady, guiding hand of a director who knows how to lean into that drama and earnestness: think Big Barda or even an adaptation of Marta Acosta’s She-Hulk novel from 2013, The She-Hulk Diaries.

Who: Jennifer Kent

Why: After The Babadook, do we really need an explanation? Her directorial debut rode the hype train hard in 2014 and scored accolades from the likes of Stephen King. Her sophomore effort, The Nightingale, is about to hit with a bigger budget, bigger international cast and bigger stakes.

Project: Look, Kent is doing just fine with her own shit but since this is essentially the film equivalent of fantasy football, our mouths do water at the prospect of what Kent could do within the wheelhouse of a young, scrappy and hungry production company like Blumhouse. Their budget range is tight -between $500,000 to $10M – something she’s already familiar with coming from the world of indie filmmaking. Yet largely the reason Jason Blum’s genre factory has been so successful is because they step the fuck back when it comes to letting their creatives take control. Just imagine what Kent could do with a multi-pic deal at Blumhouse, man …

Who: Shari Sebbens

Why: Over the past decade, Sebbens has become a familiar face to audiences for her roles in films like The Sapphires, Teenage Kicks and Australia Day, plus on the small screen in Black Comedy, The Gods Of Wheat Street and Redfern Now. Sebbens has spoken at length about her directorial ambitions – namely on the stellar Pretty For An Aboriginal podcast from Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui – and she’s putting in the work. She shadowed everyone’s favourite floral twinset wearer Taika Waititi as the director’s attachment on $150M+ blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok (which she also played a cameo role in).

Project: The obvious choice would be staying in the Marvel family, with there being no shortage of diverse, all-female superhero teams – once you dive into the archives – that could be plucked straight from the comics and work within the current Marvel Cinematic Universe and television realms. After the just okay Defenders hit Netflix, why not revamp that shit with Fearless Defenders?

If you’re not familiar, the team was comprised of Misty Knight, Valkyrie, Dani Moonstar and She-Hulk, with other female superheroes dropping in and out per issue. We’re yet to have screen versions of Dani Moonstar or She-Hulk, but those two characters paired with the star power of Tess Thompson’s Valkyrie and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight from Luke Cage plus Sebbens behind the camera … *chef s kiss*.