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4 Female British Documentary Directors: Smart & Enlightening

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These female British documentary directors combine their creative filmmaking skills with journalistic curiosity to uncover hidden worlds and reveal them to us in the most expressive ways. Have a look at what Lucy Walker, Zana Briski, Jaine Green and Frannie Armstrong have to offer.

Cheeky and Controversial

Gone are the days of tedious documentaries, filled mind-numbing and useless facts and which were used mainly for propaganda. Documentaries these days are on par with mainstream entertainment being fun, sharp and visually beautiful. What is better is that many smart female filmmakers are at the forefront of documentary film making.

From the Academy Award winners like Zana Briski to the cheeky, controversial filmmakers like Jaine Green, we take a closer look at some of the leading female documentary filmmakers from Britain.

Lucy Walker

Walker is an accomplished documentary filmmaker with her work spanning nearly two decades, and earning her close to one hundred awards and accolades and being nominated for numerous others, including two Academy Award nominations.

Some of her prominent films include: ‘Devils Playground’ (2002) ‘Blindsight’ (2006) ‘Countdown to Zero’ (2010) ‘The Crash Reel’ (2013)

Recommended Documentary: ‘Wasteland’ (2010)

The Academy Award nominated documentary film chronicles artist Vik Muniz, as he travels to, Jardim Gramacho, Brazil, the world’s largest landfill to collect recyclable materials which her uses to create breath-taking artworks to be auctioned off in one of London’s most up-market auction houses . He does this in collaboration with the local waste-pickers who he befriends and become an integral part of his journey.

The film is narrated by Vik Muniz, himself, with visuals cutting back and for the between his reality and other relevant footage and the entire documentary. The story unfolds layer by layer, giving the viewer layers of thinking to do.

The visuals are simple, but effective and beautiful in their own way. The use of the medium was effective in helping the documentary feel personal and sincere, but without losing the insight into the pivotal socio-political issues.

Lucy Walker is a courageous, versatile and accomplished filmmaker having nailed many different difficult topics with ease and flair.

Zana Briski

Academy award winning documentary director, Zana Briski studied at University of Cambridge, earning a master’s degree before going on to study documentary photography in New York.

This extensive training developed both her creative eye and her intellectual capacity as witnessed in her work. Her documentaries are powerful and beautiful, both visually and intellectually.

Recommended Documentary: ‘Born into Brothels’(2004)

Children who are raised in brothels of India as the children of prostitutes are given cameras by the filmmaker and taught how to use them. They then take pictures of their world, seen through their eyes. They candidly document their daily lives as they slave doing endless chores and working menial jobs to earn income to help their families survive while receiving an onslaught on verbal abuse by both the occupants and visitors to the brothel.

The film is narrated by the children themselves and scenes take us deep into their lifestyle and thoughts. As Briski is a photographer, the style incorporates many photograph montages of pictures taken by her and the children. The cinematography is thoroughly creative, enhancing the feeling of the environment. It is beautiful in its creativity, without sugar-coating the content of the shots.

The film is both heart-breaking as we witness first-hand, the harshness of the children’s everyday reality, but humbling as despite this, the children still manage to have a fighting spirit surprisingly optimistic outlook.

Briski combination of cinematographic skill and intellect creates documentaries that are sure to move you on numerous levels.

Jaine Green

Starting her career as a stand-up comedienne definitely gave Green the edge that comes into her work in filmmaking as her documentaries have a reputation of being controversial.

She started making films in 1996 and to date, she has directed over 50 films and commercials to date as well as successful theatre productions.

Recommended Documentary: ‘The Clitoris Uncovered’ (2003)

This documentary caused waves as she was the first filmmaker to show female genitals up close on television. Fresh, witty and informative, this film is educational and satirical at times as it confronts the prejudices and societal double standards of female sexuality.

**Unfortunately, at the point of publishing there was no trailer for this movie available on YouTube.

Jaine Greene brings controversy and humour to documentaries, giving the world the cheeky stir it sometimes needs.

Frannie Armstrong

Franny Armstrong was pop drummer before becoming a film maker through teaching herself. Although having only made three feature documentaries to date, Armstrong has already made quite the name for herself as her documentaries have made headlines and garnered quite an audience and many prestigious award nominations.

One of her prominent films is: ‘Drowned Out’ (2002)

Recommended Documentary: ‘The Age of Stupid’ (2009)

This Academy Award nominated documentary is made in the form of a mockumentary in which a future archivist looks back to footage from out times to discover why and how humans failed to address climate change and the devastating effects on the planet. The film is thoughtfully edited from real footage and narrated by Pete Postlethwaite, who plays the archivist of the future. It is creative and clever and at times scathing as we are forced to re-examine out own choices.

Armstrong uses wit, humour and creativity to get us to really take a hard look at ourselves and issues that affect us.


Making the World More Well-Informed.

Documentary filmmaking plays a crucial part in educating society about the things that are happening in the world, from many different personal perspectives.These fierce female documentary directors are just some for the few to take the initiative to show us the world from different viewpoints through the use of the powerful medium of film.

Let us know in the comment which other female documentary directors you can recommend.

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