5 Female Directed Independent Films to Watch in case You Missed This Women’s History Month

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" (Courtesy of IMDB).

With the ever expanding film industry we have had the opportunity for a myriad of people from a myriad of walks of life to tell their stories. Continuing to honor women’s history month and the power of female creatives we celebrate the women who have told tales of coming of age, adventure and girlhood through film. Here is a list of 5 female directed indies that you should watch. 

  1. Booksmart (2019) dir. Olivia Wilde 

“Booksmart” (2019), a coming of age buddy comedy, follows two high-school seniors Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) in the final days of their senior year. After dedicating their high-school lives to academia and extracurriculars to secure spots at prestigious universities, they slowly realize that jeopardizing their social lives was all done in vain as their party-going peers have also been accepted into those same universities. The pair then decide to experience four years of partying and teenage mania all on the night before graduation. 

Throughout their partying endeavors, the two best friends get into shenanigans and misadventures with a colorful cast of background characters — from jocks to geeks to absolute freaks. Olivia Wilde masterfully balances comedic moments with heartfelt conversations about the conflicting feelings surrounding long term friendships, the end of highschool and being on different trajectories than your friends. If you need a feel-good film that will remind you of your childhood best friend, I suggest you watch Wilde’s zany, heartfelt and funny directorial debut, “Booksmart.” 

  1. Watermelon Woman (1996) dir. Cheryl Dunye

This film follows the story of Cheryl (played by director Cheryl Dunye) as she investigates the life and career of the Black sapphic actress credited as “Watermelon Woman” in all of her films in the 1930s and 1940s. Through her exploration of the “Watermelon Woman” persona, Cheryl also undergoes her own journey of self discovery in comparing her own black and queer identities to “Watermelon Woman.” 

Actor and director Cheryl Dune tackles the complexities Cheryl faces in her relationships with lovers, family and friends in issues of race, sexuality and representation. The film walks the line of documentary, narrative and autobiographical filmmaking and represents the Black sapphic experience. Captivating, satirical and impactful, “Watermelon Woman” is thought provoking and experimental in all the right ways to celebrate this women’s history month. 

  1. The Virgin Suicides (1999) dir. Sofia Coppola 

Based on a Jeffery Eugenides novel and adapted by Sofia Coppola, “The Virgin Suicides” tells the tale of the five Lisbon sisters: Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Mary (A.J. Cook) and Therese (Leslie Hayman) in 1970s American suburbia. Each sister grapples with different struggles that women face in adolescence, ranging from questioning identity, sexuality and societal pressures posed by their teenage male counterparts: Trip (Josh Hartnett) and Jake (Hayden Christensen). 

Sophia Coppola creates a hazy nostalgic glow in this film that depicts teenage angst, grief and despair. If you’re looking for a gut-wrenching film that will cast your mind back to the surreal nature of your teenage years, the complexities of adolescence and the impact of grief on communities, I recommend Coppola’s directorial debut, “The Virgin Suicides.” 

  1. The Farewell (2019) dir. Lulu Wang

Lulu Wang’s drama-edy, “The Farewell,” follows a young Chinese-American woman, Billi (Awkwafina) who lives in New York and is deeply connected to her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) who lives in China. After learning Nai Nai has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, Billi is devastated, and is even more shocked to learn that her family is choosing to not tell Nai Nai of her condition. Billi and her family organize an impromptu trip to China to say their farewells and spend time with Nai Nai before her passing. 

“The Farewell” explores themes of cultural identity, the Chinese-American experience, grief and family ties through a blend of humor and unadulterated emotional vulnerability. The film is incredibly dialogue-driven, with Wang exploring the complexities of intergenerational familial relationships, dissecting them in every conversation between her stellar ensemble cast. Heartwarming and tear jerking all at once, Wang walks a delicate line in her second film “The Farewell.”

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma 

Set in 18th Century France, Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” tells the story of a painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant). Marianne has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) by Héloïse’s mother, The Countess (Valeria Golino.) The intention of this portrait is to be sent to Héloïse’s prospective husband who lives in Milan to finalize the marriage. When Héloïse refuses to pose for a portrait, The Countess hires Marianne to be Héloïse’s walking companion. Through their time walking, the two women spark a deep connection that quickly blossoms into a tender romance. 

Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a poignant story detailing forbidden sapphic love in the 18th century, societal expectations for women and finding liberation in love and art. I recommend this film for all of the hopeless romantics, artists and historical fiction enthusiasts.