Female Filmmakers, Norm-breakers and Revolutionaries

An article by
Afsaneh Larsson
The Reunion

Tear-jerkers, chick flicks, date movies – films for or directed by women have often been placed to the side in their own category apart from the mainstream selection, those films directed by men and for the general public.

For the most part, female directors have been and continue to be a break from the norm. To don the mantel of the genius, worn threadbare by men before, has been considered nothing less than a provocation.

Fortunately, however, numerous women throughout Swedish film history have boldly occupied the director’s seat. From the 1910s when pioneering women such as Anna Hofman-Uddgren and Ebba Lindkvist led the way, to powerful Karin Swanström and Pauline Brunius in the 1920s, through the female-starved decades which followed until women once again entered the scene in the 1960s, Mai Zetterling making her debut with delectably scandalous Loving Couples (1964). Zetterling’s perhaps most notorious film The Girls (1968) was consequently also the one to receive the harshest critique. Male critics thought the film created meaningless caricatures of men, and the only way to improve the story would be to focus on the men in the film (!).

As Zetterling did before them, female directors debuting in the 1970s and 1980s paved new ground as well as broke norms and taboos in their work. Directors such as Marie-Louise Ekman (For Adults Only, 1979) and Suzanne Osten (The Mozart Brothers, 1986), who not least of all revolutionised children’s films, kicked off wilful careers that are still going strong today. Even though they have been considered norm-breaking feminist icons in their roles as women in the male-dominated film industry, they themselves have not always wished to be granted such an epithet nor set out with that intention in their work or creative output. In much the same way, many present-day female directors are perhaps not considered rebels as such, yet tell norm-breaking stories in a more mainstream manner, as is the case with Helena Bergström (A Holy Mess, 2015).

This is down to the fact that more and more women now have the opportunity to make films, and are granted the space to express a wider range of stories and show how norms are now broken in new manners. The previously decades-long riotous debate around gender roles has expanded from strictly male vs. female camps to grant space to queer voices, trans perspectives and even enable a discussion of structural racism, mental illness, and class and social constructions. More often than not this by adopting a boldly personal perspective in order to expose larger issues. Some of today’s voices include Lisa Aschan (She Monkeys, 2011), Ester Martin Bergsmark (Something Must Break, 2013), Ninja Thyberg (Pleasure, 2013), Anna Odell (The Reunion, 2013), Rojda Sekersöz (Beyond Dreams, 2016), Saga Becker (Fuckgirls, 2017), and Bahar Pars (The Turk Shop, 2017), to name a few. Norm-breaking artists who all don the genius mantle by occupying the director’s chair and not apologising for being precisely who they are, telling their tales – and creating magic on the screen.

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