Female directors are flooding theaters more than ever, with movies as diverse as the women themselves. Yet the struggle for equality, recognition and respect continues.
The new films range from Kasi Lemmons' critical smash Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle as a sharp-tongued disc jockey, to the upcoming romance-from-hell 2 Days in Paris, the culmination of actor Julie Delpy's 20-year battle to reach the director's chair.
But the statistics for female directors remain dismal. Of about 13,400 members of the Directors Guild of America, about 1,000, or 7 percent, are female directors.
No woman has won an Academy Award for best director, and only three have been nominated: Lena Wertmuller for 1975's Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for 1993's The Piano and Sofia Coppola for 2003's Lost in Translation. A woman has never won the Directors Guild's top honor, either; six have been nominated.
So why don't female studio executives look out for female filmmakers?
"I don't believe that women studio executives are deliberately not seeking out (female) talent," said Jane Fleming, president of the nonprofit Women in Film who also runs a production company. "They're all really busy. They're doing the best they can. I think it's the job of organizations like Women in Film to get people's product in their hands, to have screenings, to get it out in the press that we've got young directors that we're supporting. It's about getting representation to fight harder for their clients."
Which brings us to the kinds of movies women have been expected to make. Mimi Leder is an anomaly for having directed the action movies Deep Impact and The Peacemaker; so is Kathryn Bigelow, who was behind Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker.
Women in Film hopes to boost the number of new directors by offering scholarships to students and funds to help women finish their films. They also match up aspiring directors with writers and crews to shoot public service announcements for charities that deal with women's issues.
Going to film school helps, says Kimberly Peirce, who directed Boys Don't Cry; she's a Columbia grad. So does starting out in the indie world, where you can get your hands on every element of the process.
Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ventured that two factors could be at work: Financiers may feel reluctant to back a woman as the director of a large-scale movie, and women generally may not be interested in such material.
"Would a woman have made The Departed? Maybe that's the next goal," said Ganis, a producer and former studio executive. "Maybe women directors will be seen as able to do Terminator 5, or some major action movie. Maybe that is breaking the next stereotype model."
Women's work behind the camera
Among the recent notable work by female directors:
Valerie Faris co-directed Little Miss Sunshine, which was nominated for four Oscars, including best picture, and won two.
Kasi Lemmons was behind the camera for Talk to Me, starring Don Cheadle as a sharp-tongued disc jockey.
Julie Delpy, an actor who worked for 20 years to reach the director's chair, has the soon-to-be-released romance from hell 2 Days in Paris.
Robin Swicord, a longtime screenwriter, directed for the first time with The Jane Austen Book Club, out Sept. 21.
Sarah Polley moved from acting to making her writing and directing debut at 28 with the Alzheimer's drama Away From Her.
Cherie Nowlan gave us the family comedy Introducing the Dwights.
Zoe Cassavetes followed in the footsteps of her late Oscar-nominated director-father John Cassavetes with her first feature, the indie Broken English.
Shari Springer Berman co-directed the The Nanny Diaries, out Aug. 24, with her husband, Robert Pulcini.
Helen Hunt moved from Oscar-winning actor to directing with the romantic comedy Then She Found Me, premiering at September's Toronto International Film Festival.
Kirsten Sheridan's musical, August Rush, is due Oct. 19.
Kimberly Peirce returns with her first film since 1999's Boys Don't Cry in March with Stop Loss, about a soldier returning from the Iraq war, which was inspired by her brother.