Columbia Female Filmmakers Shake up the Industry

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Jennifer Lee ('05)
05-Mar-14
Columbia Film alumna Jennifer Lee ('05) made headlines this year as the writer and first female director of a Disney animated picture. Frozen swept the awards season, winning a Golden Globe, an Annie Award for Animation, a BAFTA, and two Academy Awards. The film has also earned over $1 billion worldwide, making Lee the first female director to surpass that mark.
 
Though Variety and others are still calling attention to the undeniable gender inequality in Hollywood, particularly behind the camera, Lee is just one of the many female filmmakers from Columbia to make an impact on the traditionally male-dominated industry. In fact, the top three grossing films of 2013 directed by women—Frozen, Carrie and Enough Said—were all directed by Columbia women.
 
Kathryn Bigelow ('81), Lisa Cholodenko ('97), Nicole Holofcener ('88) and Kimberly Peirce ('96) have all celebrated a great deal of commercial and critical success since leaving the Film Program. Each of these women has carved a unique path through the industry, breaking down boundaries through her distinct style of storytelling.
 
Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, for her 2010 film The Hurt Locker. The film also earned her the DGA Award, BAFTA and Critics' Choice Award for Best Director. Bigelow went on to direct the critically acclaimed Zero Dark Thirty, which won the Golden Globe for Best Female Lead (Jessica Chastain) and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
 
Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right garnered rave reviews, as well as two Golden Globes and four Academy Award nominations. A. O. Scott, reviewing the film in The New York Times (where it was named a Critics' Pick), wrote, "The best comedy about an American family since ... Since what? Precedents and grounds for comparison seem to be lacking, so I may have to let the superlative stand unqualified for now." Cholodenko's feature debut, High Art, was also widely acclaimed, and won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance.
 
Kimberly Peirce first made her mark with the unflinching feature Boys Don't Cry (co-written with fellow alum and faculty member, Andy Bienen). The film earned Hilary Swank an Academy Award, won widespread critical acclaim, and propelled Peirce's career as a formidable filmmaker. Her other features include Stop-Loss and this year's remake of the Stephen King horror classic, Carrie, which was one of the top-grossing 100 movies of the year (and the second-highest grossing with a female director, behind Frozen). In September 2013, Peirce talked to The New York Times Magazine about her career and the complexities of being a female director: "The studio system, she said, 'is kind of built to keep you out of your own vision, and then you just muscle back. And then you’re wondering, Is it O.K., as a girl, that I’m muscling this much?'"
 
With projects like Please Give and Walking and Talking, Nicole Holofcener has championed strong female characters throughout her career in film and television. Her talent for bringing these one-of-a-kind characters to life onscreen has made her a serious force in the indie and commercial worlds alike. Holofcener's latest film, Enough Said, was her most successful to date. The film stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, alongside James Gandolfini in his final role, and earned several award nominations, including an Independent Spirit Best Screenplay nod for Holofcener.
 
"We are absolutely thrilled at Jennifer Lee's success, and the success of all these alumnae," said Ira Deutchman, Chair of the Film Program. "The work of these outstanding female filmmakers showcases the fact that the type of storytelling we teach at Columbia transcends the limitations imposed by stereotypes of genre and gender. I am certain that the next generation of female filmmakers will continue to build on this tradition and help to expand the options for women behind the camera."
 
More recent alumnae and even current students are already establishing strong voices within the industry. Cherien Dabis ('04) was named one of Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch" in 2009 after the release of her feature debut Amreeka, which premiered at Sundance and won the FIPRESCI award at Cannes. Dabis went on to more Sundance success with last year's May in the Summer. Lauren Wolkstein's ('10) most recent work, Social Butterfly, tells the story of a 30-year-old American woman who enters a teenage party in the South of France. The film was an official selection at Sundance, SXSW and more, and established Wolkstein as one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of 2013. Kate Barker-Froyland ('11) was recently featured in Brooklyn Magazine for directing her first feature, Song One, starring Anne Hathaway. Current screenwriting student Clara Roquet (2nd-year) recently sold her feature Long Distance (aka 10,000KM) ahead of its premiere at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin. Madeleine Olnek's ('08) The Foxy Merkins was a festival success this year, showing at Sundance and earning Olnek an Independent Spirit nomination for the Someone to Watch Award. Other Film Program alumnae include writer, director and author Amy Talkington ('99), writer Beth Schacter ('04) and director Tanya Wexler ('95).
 
The Columbia Film Program celebrates these groundbreaking women, along with all of our incredible alumni, who are adding complexity to the film industry with their distinct voices and eloquent storytelling.
 
VIDEO: Watch Lisa Cholodenko, Cherien Dabis, Nicole Holofcener and Shari Springer Berman discuss gender and filmmaking, in "What Glass Ceiling: The Remarkable Success of Columbia's Women Filmmakers" recorded at the 25th Annual Columbia University Film Festival:


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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.