7 Pioneering Female Directors Who Paved The Way For Women In Film

With awards season finishing up, here’s a look at some incredible female directors who are making their mark in the film industry currently, and the women who paved the way for them.

  1. Penelope Spheeris (USA)

Penelope Spheeris grew up living in various trailer parks throughout southern California and worked as a waitress at Denny’s diner to put herself through film school. Often referred to as a 'rock 'n roll anthropologist', she worked as a film editor and a cinematographer before forming her own company in 1974, ROCK ‘N REEL which specialised in music videos.

Penelope produced, directed, and edited videos for major bands through the 70’s and 80’s (including the Grammy-nominated, “Bohemian Rhapsody” video for Wayne’s World), and then concentrated on film, directing iconic movies such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals and Wayne’s World.

  1. Penny Marshall (USA)


Photo Credit: David Gabber / Photorazzi

Born in the Bronx, New York, Penny Marshall attended a private girls' high school before going to the University of New Mexico. Penny started off her acting career with minor roles before featuring on the iconic Happy Days and playing Laverne DeFazio of Laverne & Shirley. It all kicked off from there, and Penny went on to direct blockbuster films such Big (1988) and A League of Their Own (1992).

  1. Sofia Coppola (USA)

Image via creativemindsandfashion.com

Sofia Coppola was born in New York City. Her life in film began when she played the infant Michael Francis Rizzi in her father’s seminal film, The Godfather. While her career in acting did not flourish, she has become well-regarded as a director, known for Somewhere (2010), Lost in Translation(2003) and Marie Antoinette (2006).


Coppola was awarded Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, only the second time a woman won the prize in the festival’s 70-year history.

  1. Nora Twomey (Ireland)

Nora Twomey was born on October 31, 1971 in Cork City, Ireland. She dropped out of school at 15 and took a factory job before finding her calling in animation and founding The Cartoon Saloon in 1999 with Paul Young and Tomm Moore. Since then Twomey has seen the production company grow internationally, becoming a leading player in the global cartoon industry.

Nora is best known for her directorial work in The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014), and The Breadwinner (2017).

  1.  Vicky Jenson (USA)


Photo credit Kurt Krieger

Vicky Jenson started in animation as a cell painter. She began painting animation cells at the age of 13, and started her career by painting backgrounds on The Flintstones (1960) and The Smurfs (1981) at Hanna Barbera Studios where she worked summers to cover tuition at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.

After directing on both the Oscar-winning winning Shrek (2001) and the Academy Award Nominated Shark Tale (2004), Vicky directed her first live-action feature Post Grad (2009). She also directed a live-action short, Family Tree (2003), which premiered at Sundance, and went on to win multiple festival awards.

  1. Greta Gerwig (USA)


Greta Celeste Gerwig was born in Sacramento, California and graduated from Barnard College in NY, where she studied English and philosophy. Gerwig has been involved in all areas of film production - from acting, playwriting, screenwriting, and for which she is now best known, directing.

Greta earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work in Frances Ha, before making her solo directorial debut with the critically acclaimed comedy-drama film Lady Bird, which she also wrote.

  1. Juanita Wilson (Ireland)

Juanita studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and went on to work in sculpture and video art. Before directing her first film, she worked as a producer on two notable features: Les Blair’s H3 and Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing.

In 2010 Juanita Wilson secured an Oscar nomination in the best short film section for the incredible The Door. A year later, her first feature, As If I Am Not There, was the Irish selection for best foreign language film.

Recommended for you