Female Experimental Filmmakers: A Noncomprehensive A-Z

There are almost as many types of experimental films as there are experimental filmmakers. Many of them come to film from different directions than conventional filmmakers — weaving together psychology, painting, dance, poetry, literature, theater, sculpture, and other fields. This being Women’s History Month, I thought I’d have a crack at compiling a list of some of the names with which I’m familiar. If you have additions you’d like me to insert, let me know in the comments.

AMY GREENFIELD

Amy Greenfield was born 8 July 1950 in Boston. She is an originator of the cine-dance genre, her namefor her artistic intersection of experimental film and dance. In addition to film she’s created holographic moving sculptures, live multimedia pieces, poetry, and video installations.

BADY MINCK

Bady Minck was born in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg. She studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts and experimental film at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Her debut, 1988’s Der Mensch mit den modernen Nerven, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989. Minck today divides her time between Luxembourg and Vienna.

BARBARA HAMMER

Barbara Hammer was born 15 May 1939 in Los Angeles. She graduated from University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in psychology and later earned degrees in English literature and film at San Francisco State University. Today she is a professor at the European Graduate School in Saas-FeeSwitzerland.

 

BETH BILLINGSLEY

Beth Billingsley studied art at the School of Visual Arts. She married sculptor Scott Billingsley and the two formed the filmmaking duo Scott B and Beth B who were seminal figures of the No Wave scene. Their first film was G-Man (1978). Beth Billingsley began making films outside Scott B and Beth B in 1987.

BETZY BROMBERG

Betzy Bromberg studied film at California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s. She began making experimental films in 1976 and her early films included Petit Mal (1977) and Ciao Bella (1978). Today she serves as the Director of the Program in Film and Video at that same school.

CHIAKI WATANABE

Chiaki Watanabe’s muX

Chiaki Watanabe (also known as CHIAKI) studied at School of Visual Arts. Today she divides her time between New York and Copenhagen.

COLEEN FITZGIBBON

 
Coleen Fitzgibbon’s Land of Nod (1992/2013)

Coleen Fitzgibbon was born in 1950. She studied structuralist cinema at the Art Institute of Chicago and with the Whitney Independent Study Program. In 1976 she co-founded the collaborative X&Y with Robin Winters. In the late 1970s she was associated with New York’s No Wave scene and today she divides her time between New York and Montana.

DINORAH DE JESUS RODRIGUEZ

Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez’s Elixir (2004)

Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez was born 28 April, 1957 in Placetas, Cuba. At the age of six she emigrated with her family to the US via Spain. She developed an interest in filmmaking whilst studying journalism at Boston University in 1975. In 1978 Rodriguez moved to California but today she lives in Miami.

 

EILEEN MAXSON 

Eileen Maxson was born 1980 in New York. Maxson received degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Houston.

ELAINE SUMMERS


Elaine Summers’s Tumble Dance (1965)
Lillian Elaine Summers was born 20 February 1925, in Perth, Australia. She grew up in Boston and first studied art education at the Massachusetts College of Art. She was a founding member of the group from which the Judson Dance Theater would coalesce. She died after a fall at her home at New York’s Bellevue Hospital on 27 December 2014.

G. B. JONES

G. B. Jones was born in Bowmanville, Ontario. Her synthpunk band, Bunny and the Lakers, released their only albumNumbers in 1979. She went on to co-found the post-punk band, Fifth Column. Jones also made experimental Super 8 mm films, often in collaboration with Bruce LaBruce.

GERMAINE DULAC

Germaine Dulac’s Étude cinégraphique sur une arabesque (1929)

Germaine Dulac was born Charlotte Elisabeth Germaine Saisset-Schneider on 17 November 1882, in Amiens, France. After initially working as a journalist she became interested in film through her friend, actress Stacia Napierkowska in 1914. Dulac and writer Irene Hillel-Erlanger then founded DH Films and produced a series of films from 1915-1920. Dulac died in Paris on 20 July 1942.

JAN MILLSAPPS

Jan Millsapps was born 26 February 1950 in Concord, North Carolina. She rose to prominence as an independent experimental animator and her film, Parthenogenesis, was awarded at the North Carolina Film Festival in 1976. She was a professor of cinema at San Francisco State University from 1987 and from 1991 to 1995 she served as chair of the cinema department at the school.

JANIS CRYSTAL LIPZIN

Janis Crystal Lipzin was born in 1945 in Colorado Springs. She studied painting and photography at Ohio University and New York University, and film at the San Francisco Art Institute. She made numerous Super 8 mm and 16 mm films begining in the mid-1970s. She directed the film/photo program at Antioch College and taught film and Interdisciplinary studies at the San Francisco Art Institute from 1978 to 2009. Here are a couple of links to excerpts of her films, De Luce 2- Architecturaand Micro-Celluloid Incidents in 4 Santas.

JEANNE LIOTTA

Jeanne Liotta was born in 1960 in Brooklyn. She studied theater at New York University where she collaborated with Gargoyle Mechanique, The Living Theatre, and the Alchemical Theatre Company. From the 1985-1995 she collaborated on films and other artwork with Bradley Eros. In 1993 she founded the Firefly Cinema, which operated until 2010. She is also currently a professor of film studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.

JOYCE WIELAND

 

Joyce Wieland’s Sailboat (1967)

Joyce Wieland was born 30 June 1931, in Toronto. She studied commercial art and graphic design at Toronto’s Central Technical School and began making experimental films in the 1950s. In 1962, Wieland and her husband filmmaker Michael Snow moved to New York where they lived until 1970. She died from Alzheimer’s disease on 27 June 1998.

LARUA MULVEY

Laura Mulvey was born 15 August, 1941. She was educated at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Mulvey arose as a prominent experimental filmmaker in the 1970s, co-writing and co-directing films with her husband, Peter Wollen. Today she is professor of film and media studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

LEAH GILLIAM

Leah Gilliam was born in 1967 in Washington, DC. She studied modern culture and media at Brown University, film and twentieth century studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and interactive communication at New York University. She began making experimental films with 1992’s Now Pretend.

LESLIE THORNTON

Leslie Thornton was born in 1951 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She grew up in Cincinnati. She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo and later at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thornton began as a painter in the early 1970s and began filmmaking with Face (1974). She currently a professor of modern culture and media at Brown University and divides her time between Providence and New York City.

Lynne SachsLYNNE SACHS

Lynne Sachs was born 10 August, 1961 in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended Brown University where she majored in history and developed an interest in experimental documentary filmmaking. In 1985 she moved to San Francisco where she attended San Francisco State University and later the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1989 she made a long format experimental documentary, Sermons and Sacred Pictures. She currently teaches experimental film and video at New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

MAMA BAER

Mama Baer was born Andrea Katharina Ingeborg Gothling in 1981. She began as a post-industrial and noise musician in 1999 and began making experimental films in the 2000s. She currently lives in Flensburg, Germany where she often collaborates with her husband Kommissar Hjuler as “Kommissar Hjuler und Frau.”

MARIE EPSTEIN

Marie Epstein (née Marie-Antonine Epstein) was born 14 August 1899 in Warsaw. She collaborated with her brother Jean Epstein, director Jean Benoit-Lévy, and later worked as a film preservationist at Cinémathèque francaise. She died 24 April 1995 in Paris.

MARIE MENKEN

Marie Menken’s Lights (1964-1966)
Marie Menken (née Marie Menkevicius) was born 25 May 1909 in Brooklyn. She studied painting at the New York School of Fine and Industrial Arts and the Art Students League of New York. Menken and her husband Willard Maas co-founded the avant-garde Gryphon Group in the mid-1940s. She died 29 December 1970 in Brooklyn.

MARJORIE KELLER

Marjorie Keller was born in 1950 in Yorktown, New York. She enrolled at Tufts University but transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She began making films in 1972 and earned a degree in cinema studies at New York University in 1975. She was working on a book on experimental female filmmakers at the time of her death in 1994.

MARTHA COLBURN

Martha Colburn was born in 1972 and grew up in the country between Gettysburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1990 she enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She began making films in 1994 and around the same time formed The Dramatics (not to be confused with the famous Motown group of the same name) who scored many of Colburn’s films.

MARY ELLEN BUTE

Mary Ellen Bute’s Synchromy No. 4: Escape (1938)

Mary Ellen Bute was born 21 November 1906 in Houston, Texas. She studied stage lighting at Yale University. Bute’s her abstract animated films were widely screened in cinemas before features in from in the 1930s until 1953, and she categorized them as “visual music” and later named the Seeing Sound series. She died of heart failure at New York City’s Cabrini Medical Center on 17 October 1983.

MARY HALLOCK-GREENWALT

Mary Elizabeth Hallock-Greenewalt was born in 1871 in Beirut. She studied piano at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and with Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna. Although best known as a pianist, she was also an inventor and pioneered visual music with an invention she called Nourathar which synchronized film to musical recordings and she hand-painted films films as well. She died in 1951.

MAYA DEREN 

Maya Deren was born Eleanora Derenkowskaia (Элеоно́ра Деренко́вская) on 29 April 1917 in Ukraine. In 1922, her family emigrated to Syracuse, New York, where her father shortened their family name to Deren. In 1930, Eleanora Deren enrolled at the League of Nations International School of Geneva. She graduated from New York University with a degree in literature. She adopted the surname Maya in 1943, after she moved to Los Angeles. Her experimental collaboration with Alexander Hammid, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), is one of the most influential avant-garde films in history. She died on 13 October 1961 from a brain hemorrhage brought on by extreme malnutrition.

MIDI ONODERA

Midi Onodera was born in Toronto. She began making experimental films in the late 1970s. In 1979 she made Untitled, Contemplation, and Reality-Illusion.

NANCY SAVOCA

Nancy Laura Savoca was born 23 July 1959 in the Bronx. In 1980 she married to writer and producer Richard Guay. She graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1982 where she made two shorts, Renata and Bad Timing.

PEGGY AHWESH

Margaret “Peggy” Ahwesh was born 1954 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. She earned a degree from Antioch College. She began her film career in 1983, with the Super 8 work Pittsburgh Trilogy. She began teaching film and electronic arts at Bard College in 1990.

REBECCA HORN

Rebecca Horn’s Berlin (1974)

Rebecca Horn was born 24 March 1944, in Michelstadt, Germany. In 1963 she enrolled at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg but withdrew the following year after contracting lung poisoning. She currently divides her time between Berlin and Paris.

SADAF FOROUGHI

Sadaf Foroughi (صدف فروغی) was born 27 July 1976 in Tehran. She studied French literature and philosophy at the University of Provence in Aix-en-Provence, France. She began making film with 2004’s Une Impression.

SADIE BENNING

Sadie Benning was born 11 April 1973 in Milwaukee. She began experimenting with film as a child with a Fisher-Price Pixelvision PXL-2000 toy camera. In 1998, Benning co-founded Le Tigre with Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman. Benning left the band in 2000.

SHARON LOCKHART

Filmmaker and photographer Sharon Lockhart was born in 1964 in Norwood, Massachusetts. She received degrees from San Francisco Art institute and the Art Center College of Design. She is currently an associate professor at the University of Southern California‘s Roski School of Fine Arts, and lives in Los Angeles.

SHIRLEY CLARKE 

Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round (1958)

Shirley Clarke (née Shirley Brimberg) was born in New York City on 2 October 1919. She studied dance at Stephens College, Johns Hopkins University, Bennington College, and University of North Carolina. She began to show interest in filmmaking in the 1950s, completing Dance in the Sun in 1953. She died after a stroke in Boston on 23 September 1997.

STEPHANIE BARBER Stephanie Barber

Stephanie Barber was born in Riverhead, New York and grew up in Long Island. She studied film and poetry at Binghamton University. She is currently a resident artist in the multidisciplinary MFA program at Baltimore’s Mt. Royal School of Interdisciplinary Art.

SU FRIEDRICH

Su Friedrich was born 12 December 1954 in New Haven, Connecticut. She studied art and art history at Oberlin College. She made her first film, Hot Water, in 1978. Since 1998, has taught at the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University. Today she lives in Brooklyn.

SUZAN PITT

Suzan Pitt produces experimental animated films. She was studying painting when began experimenting with 16mm film, creating Bowl, Theatre, Garden, Marble Game in 1970. She currently teaches with the experimental animation program at California Institute of the Arts.

TRACEY MOFFATT

Tracey Moffatt was born 12 November, 1960 in Brisbane, Australia. She graduated from the Queensland College of Art in 1982 when she filmed the documentary, Guniwaya Ngigu. She’s primarily known for her photography, but has made several experimental films.

TRINH T. MINH-HA


Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Reassemblage (1983)

Trinh T. Minh-ha was born in Hanoi and raised in South Vietnam during the war. She studied piano and music composition at the National Conservatory of Music and Theater in Saigon before emigrating to the US in 1970. Her first 16mm film, Reassemblage, was filmed in Senegal and released in 1983.

VAGINAL DAVIS

Vaginal Davis was born in Los Angeles. Davis’s band The Afro Sisters released their first seven-inch EP Indigo, Sassafras & Molasses, on Amoeba Records in 1978 and later opened for The Smiths and Happy Mondays on both of their first American tours. She began making experimental films with 1994’s Designy Living. She currently lives in Berlin.

VENA KAVA

Vena Kava was born 2 November 1986, in Zakopane, Poland. When seven years old, her family emigrated to the US. Kava studied experimental filmmaking at Emerson College in Boston and later the San Francisco Art Institute. Kava currently lives in Montreal.

VIVIAN OSTROVSKY

Vivian Ostrovsky was born 17 November 1945, in New York and spent most of her childhood in Rio de Janeiro. She studied psychology at Paris’s Institut de Psychologie and later film at the Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle and by Henri Langlois and Eric Rohmer. In the 1970s, Ostrovsky and Rosine Grange co-founded Ciné-Femmes International.

VIVIENNE DICK

Vivienne Dick was born 1950 in Donegal, Ireland. She attended school there before emigrating to the US in the 1970s where she became associated with the No Wave scene. In 1982 Dick moved back to Ireland and today she teaches filmmaking at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

ZEINABU IRENE DAVIS

Zeinabu irene Davis was born in Philadelphia and began making film at Brown University. She later received an MFA in motion picture/television production at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also a professor of the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

*****

FURTHER READING

Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (by B. Ruby Rich, 1998)

Women and Experimental Filmmaking (edited by Jean Petrolle and Virginia Wright Wexman, 2005)

Women’s Experimental Cinema : Critical Frameworks (by Robin Blaetz, 2007)

If you’re in Los Angeles, check out the Los Angeles Film Forum, the “longest-running organization in Southern California dedicated exclusively to the ongoing, non-commercial exhibition of independent, experimental, and progressive media art.”


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in generating advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on various products from Cal31He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.
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