There’s irony in the fact that a man directed this hugely insightful and informative documentary: respected film critic and, well, director Mark Cousins has slaved almost five years for this follow-up to his 2011 ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’. Showcasing female directors from pretty much every continent and using hundreds of clips, this ‘Road Movie through Cinema’ is as much of a tutorial as it is a celebration of women in cinema.

Narrated by Tilda Swinton (who also functioned as co-producer), Kerry Fox, Adjoa Andoh, Sharmila Tagore, Jane Fonda, Thandie Newton and Debra Winger, this cinematic odyssey is divided in thematic chapters such as Time, Love, Death, Sex, Dance, Comedy, Melodrama, Sci-Fi, Action, Horror and, of course, the technicalities such as how to compose an opening shot, how to introduce a character or how to keep an on-screen conversation engaging.
Rather than introducing each of the featured female directors with a little background info about their lives and careers (which would have been nice), instead we learn about them through the various film clips presented in the thematic chapters. While this is no doubt informative, quite often we are perhaps left rather frustrated when (in the case of Tilda Swinton’s narration during Episodes 1-4) we hear a lot of superlatives such as “This celebrated Japanese actress/director” or “This magnificent Romanian filmmaker” when it would be fair to say that the majority of us will be rather unfamiliar with Kinuyo Tananka or Malvina Ursianu’s works. So from that point alone a little background info for these lesser-known female directors wouldn’t have hurt!

What’s really nice is the timeline demonstrating all the talent showcased here (although it’s impossible to mention them all), from early female directors such as Alice-Guy Blaché, Germaine Dulac, Ida Lupino, Dorothy Arzner or Wendy Toye to more contemporary ones such as Mai Zetterling, Chantal Akerman, Joan Micklin-Silver or Lizzie Borden. While the obvious candidates include internationally known and instantly recognised names such as Agnès Varda, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Sally Potter, Penny Marshall or even The Wachowskis we are introduced to a sheer kaleidoscope of lesser known filmmakers including Norwegian actress/director Edith Carlmar, avant-garde Czech film director Vera Chytilova, Sowjet/Ukrainian director, screenwriter and actress Kira Moratova or Iranian Marva Nabili.

Themes such as Dance are exemplified through scenes from ‘Boris Godunov’ (director: Vera Stroyeva, 1954) while Death features a near expressionistic scene from the drama ‘The Eternal Breasts’ (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1955). We have Animation such as ‘The Owl who Married a Goose’ (Caroline Leaf, 1974) and ‘Thumbelina’ (Lotte Reiniger, 1954) versus action sequences exemplified by Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Blue Steel’ (1990) and ‘Point Break (1991). Particularly interesting is a scene from director Antonia Bird’s offbeat-Western ‘Ravenous’ (1999) in the Time section which demonstrates how a fight- and fall sequence, during which Guy Pearce falls from a cliff and plummets through seemingly endless tree branches, can be extended using clever editing methods.

As already pointed out, there are too many film clips and too many directors to mention here, unfortunately. But even if you’re not a budding filmmaker then WOMEN MAKE FILM is an interesting road journey through the history of female directors.

Special Features in this 4-Disc Blu-ray release include ‘The Making Of...’ / ‘Mark Cousins and Barbara Kopple Q&A plus ‘Together’ – an experimental b/w film from 1956 directed by Lorenza Mazzeti in collaboration with Denis Horne.