A surprisingly good year for female directors, 2013 featured well-received work on film and television by Jane Campion, Lake Bell, Jenji Cohan, and Maggie Carey. But if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, your independent theatre was probably busy showing Blue Jasmine for three months, so you may have missed the excellent crop of smaller films women released this year. This is why Netflix exists.
1. Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Although marketed as a piece of feel-good agitprop, Wadjda—the first film by a female Saudi director—is not a PSA. It’s a deceptively simple and rather lyrical take on one of film’s favorite symbols of hope: the bicycle.
2. Fill the Void by Rama Burshtein
Despite what the horrible English title would lead you to believe, this debut film from the ultra-Orthodox Israeli director Rama Burshtein isn’t about rock climbing or space exploration. It’s an intimate portrayal of women in ultra-Orthodox society that doesn’t attack or defend the community but simply tells a surprisingly erotic and complex story of female desire. Also, bonus points for having one of the best film posters of the year.
3. Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley
Exploring the history of her own parentage, Sarah Polley plays with the documentary form—mixing found footage with reenactments—as she questions our preconceived notions of narrative and memory. And it’s one of the sweeter depictions of a father-daughter relationship on film—genetics be damned.
4. The Selfish Giant by Clio Barnard
In the follow-up to her innovative documentary The Arbor, Clio Barnard once again reveals the harsher side of contemporary English life that somehow never makes it onto the pages of The Daily Mail. Although the film is based on an Oscar Wilde short story, don’t expect any Lady Bracknells to show up. This is tough viewing.
5. Yellow Fever by Ng’endo Mukki
The winner of the Chicago International Film Festival award for Best Animated Short Film, this debut by Kenyan director Ng’endo Mukki combines mutiple styles of animation to explore the politics of race and beauty. Good luck finding it online, but hopefully it will be streaming soon.