10 years ago, Brokeback Mountain burst on the scene as a major gay classic. It was an independent film, and was considered a huge gamble for everyone involved -especially its two lead actors- due to its subject matter. Flash forward to today: Behind the Candelabra went to HBO because every major Hollywood studio turned it down for being too gay -despite the incredible star power of its creative team. In a time when being out in Hollywood is not as much of a liability as it was in the time of Rock Hudson, here are 15 LGBT filmmakers you should know about.
If you think that totalitarian regimes and LGBT people are like oil and water, you wouldn’t be far off. But Eisenstein, despite having been married to a woman until his death, discusses at length his attractions to the same gender in his diaries. Not unlike Leni Riefenstahl in the Nazi regime, he created propaganda films that have since been acknowledged as landmark works in the realm of montage and how crucial editing is for the story to have impact on the screen. Francis Ford Coppola credits his chance viewing of The 10 Days that Shook the World as the catalyst for his vocation as filmmaker.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pasolini was a man of many talents – journalist, poet, philosopher, novelist, playwright, columnist and, of course, filmmaker – and whichever one he was showing, his work ended up being controversial. To this day, films still remain daring as ever. Through his great talent and powerful intellect he became a major figure of the Italian cultural landscape of the twentieth century. His work didn’t always deal with homosexuality, but the ones that did were, once again, controversial, most notably his adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, Salò, which turned out to be his last movie before being assassinated in obscure circumstances.
This name has become synonym with larger than life characters, intricate stories, passion and pop culture. He has been a major figure of the Movida movement, which was the cultural liberation in Spain following the death of dictator Franco. He was one of the many who found creative bliss in the newfound liberties that were offered. He’s always created complex female characters and he’s no stranger to toying with gender lines. Drag, camp and gay are merely a starting point, in his universe.
Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant has started out as a strong independent voice in cinema, who’s always gone for strong visual experiments. He started to break out on the independent scene in the 80’s and directed the likes of Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, before going bigger with the 1997 hit Good Will Hunting. He kept on experimenting during the 2000’s with Elephant, and Last Days. He then directed the political biopic hit Milk whose exploration of gay rights activist Harvey Milk mirrored the political debate around Prop. 8 in California.
Not unlike Almodovar, pop is where John Waters lives. He is the father, godfather and mother of camp in independent film, and has been for the past decades. Not only does he think outside the box, he spends most of his time trying to disturb the people who call that box home. For instance, he cast former convicts in his films, or former porn star Traci Lords. He also brilliantly cast drag queen Divine in Hairspray, in the role of the mother, which John Travolta undertook in the 2007 musical adaptation. He’s always made a point of being subversive and transgressive which has made for greatly inventive and fun films in a decades long career.
Jodie Foster has been around for so long as an actress, it might seem strange to put her in a list of LGBT directors, especially since her output as a director has been rather scarce and has rarely tackled gay issues. However, she’s been in the public eye for her entire life (as she reminded the world in her famous non-coming out speech at the Golden Globes) and, in that respect, is a highly influential figure. Her fourth directorial effort (not counting House of Cards and Orange is the New Black episodes) will be released later this year. Her second feature, Home for the holidays, featured a marvellous ensemble, which indcluded Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Chaplin. Robert Downey, Jr. also starred as probably one of the first « post-gay » characters: the fact that he was gay didn’t drive any part of the plot, nor was it his main personality trait -his obnoxiousness was so apparent that nothing else really mattered. That was a wise move in the interest of the overall story, and a particularly bold one considering the landscape of the 90’s.
Peirce’s latest feature may have been the unnecessary remake of Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie, her major foray into filmmaking came with the independent Boys Don’t Cry in 1999, which remains one of the major films about the transgender experience. It put the subject on the map long before Caitlyn Jenner and Orange is the New Black happened to pop culture. This harrowing film has remained a must-see ever since.
Since his breakout film Poison in 1991, Haynes has emerged as a strong independent voice with a profound grasp on LGBT problematics and queer aesthetics. He’s since collaborated with Julianne Moore in the 1995 Safe and in the acclaimed Far From Heaven. The eroticism, the weight of appearances have become some of his trademarks, which are bound to appear in his next project, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett as a 1950’s housewife who falls in love with a young woman played by Rooney Mara, which will be released later in 2015.
Stephen Daldry has accomplished the rare feat of being nominated for a directing Oscar for his first three movies. He had an extensive background in the theatre before directing his first feature, the acclaimed Billy Elliot, about a boy living in a mining town who discovers a passion for dance instead of boxing. He followed up this moving exploration of the effects of gender stereotype with The Hours, about the intertwined effects of Mrs Dalloway on three lives, then directed Kate Winslet to an Oscar-winning performance in The Reader.
It seems like Bryan Singer has been at the helm of the X-Men movie franchise for so long, it’s hard to remember that he directed the small-budget hit The Usual Suspects in the mid-nineties. He has never dealt with LGBT issues in his films, yet he has made no secret out of the fact that he considered the X-Men movies to be an allegory for the plight of the gay community. That is how he approached Sir Ian McKellen and convinced him to take the part of Magneto.
In a diverse filmography which goes back and forth between short film and full-length features, across a number of genres, French director François Ozon has demonstrated great versatility, whether he’s going for Hitchcockian suspense, camp, broad comedy or coming-of-age drama. Both in his treatments and his topics, he’s touched upon gay themes and sexuality. His 2002 film 8 women, which is a quirky mix of suspense, camp and grandiose drama, has developed a strong following as a cult classic.
Cholodenko has been directing features since the 90’s, and is most known for her 2010 comedy-drama The Kids are All Right, which this is not a gay movie in that gay is not the issue here, nor is it even really discussed. It’s a story that happens to be about LGBT women, and the fact that it was made with such high-profile actors may have contributed to a shift in the perception of women and diversity. She’s since directed the acclaimed miniseries Olive Kitteridge for HBO starring Frances McDormand. All three of her features tackle LGBT themes and have aimed at improving LGBT visibility in the mainstream.
All it took was a partly autobiographical film for Dee Rees to emerge with a strong storytelling voice. Pariah, her 2011 debut feature, was shot on a low-budget and was released to sensational reviews. It explored the throes of a young lesbian black girl who lives in Brooklyn and tries to make sense of her feelings about coming out, coming of age and always trying to move forward.
After directing a few shorts, Haigh made his first full-length feature about male prostitution, Greek Pete, which he followed up with the universally acclaimed Weekend, which followed two men over the course of 48 hours during which they grow more and more intimate with each other. His direction was both subtle and sensitive, and he brought these skills to the now-cancelled HBO series Looking, which managed to capture the hearts of a devout following by exploring the throes of gay life in the age of Grindr. His next movie, the highly anticipated indie 45 years starring Charlotte Rampling, will be released later this year.
The young Canadian burst on the scene at the Cannes film festival in 2009 like he does everything: with tremendous energy. Not content with this, he has directed virtually a film a year since, finally won a prize for the devastating Mommy last year, and has two films on his plate, where he’ll direct the likes of Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel. He has always refused to be pigeonholed as a gay filmmaker -so much so that he didn’t go and accept the Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for Laurence Anyways. If his movies touch upon the questions of gender identity, it’s always part of a broader dynamic, usually between characters who are attracted to one another, or think they are, who want to make it work and try to, or they don’t. In any case, it seems as though not much can be done to stop him and, given his output, few would want to try.
Is there any LGBT director you love we might have missed ? Share in the comments !