As the 2010 Academy Awards approach on Sunday and we round the corner to “International Women’s Day” on Monday, March 8, I thought I’d take this opportunity to champion the few fabulous female film directors who have received a Best Director nomination for the Oscars in its 61-year history. May this year mark a first WIN.
The Swiss born Lina Wertmuller was the first of the female Best Director Oscar nominees, when she was nominated for the 1976 Italian film, “Seven Beauties.” Her film was up for four Oscars and won for Best Screenplay, which she also wrote. New Zealand-born Jane Campion came next, as the director of the 1993 award winning film, “The Piano,” which received a total of eight Academy Award nominations and won three (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay, also written by Campion.) The next nominee was America’s Sofia Coppola, nominated for “Lost in Translation” in 2003. This film garnered four nominations and like the others, also won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, written by Coppola . This year, Kathryn Bigelow, an American, has been nominated for the film, “The Hurt Locker” which has a total of nine Oscar nominations.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Bigelow being a novelty of sorts, due to the fact that she directed a movie about war and has a track record of choosing films that are fast paced and action centered. She takes a little umbrage at this “novelty” angle and simply describes herself as a film maker, gender aside, who happens to have an interest and a knack for this genre of film. She’s fielding journalistic queries by talking simply about her personal style. Her gender, she says, should be irrelevant.
I believe Bigelow deserves to win the Oscar for Best Director this year. Her film idea came about after she read a series of articles by journalist Mark Boal, who was embedded with a bomb squad unit in Iraq. She found the subject compelling and Boal came on board as her screenwriter. In making the film, Bigelow’s mission was to make everything as realistic as possible- to viscerally bring the audience into the bomb squad’s experience, instead of granting them a safe sense of detachment. To this end, she cast relatively unknown actors in principal roles, with better known actors playing the smaller characters. In addition, she shot the film almost entirely in Jordan, under extreme 110-150 degree heat, with the actors seeking cover inside Bedouin tents when they weren’t working.
“The Hurt Locker” is not a shoot-’em-up, bang, bang kind of film. This is a film that depicts what being at war is like in Iraq (and now, for that matter, in Afghanistan,) where the extreme heat and rugged topography challenge you daily; where your enemy is often hidden among civilians; and where every step you take can result in tripping an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) and causing a massive explosion. Bigelow captures it all and has your heart racing with suspense and fear from the very beginning of the film.
If you haven’t seen this film, do so. If you don’t like war films in general, then this might be the argument for why her gender makes a difference. It’s not like other war films. Yes, it’s gritty and it’s suspenseful and it has all the makings of the genre in this way, but Bigelow’s directorial touches and the film’s central focus on the characteristics of individuals who actually choose to be on an Army bomb squad…moving toward the danger every day…makes it riveting in a whole new way.