Sian Heder didn't necessarily set out to make a list of movies she loves directed by women. The films that have most inspired the writer and director just happen to hail from female filmmakers.
Heder made her own directorial debut with the 2016 dramedy, Tallulah, but with 2021's CODA, she cemented her cinematic voice. The drama centers on the child of deaf adults — the titular CODA — she's torn between pursuing her love of music and helping her family's struggling fishing business.
At the 94th Oscars, the movie won Best Picture, Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor, and Heder won Best Adapted Screenplay. (The movie is adapted from the 2014 French film, La Famille Bélier.) The experience of making CODA also forever changed Heder's approach to filmmaking.
"I had to change the way that I work," she says. "I was much more direct and to the point with how I communicate. That was freeing to me, and actually felt was very effective. That's something I will take forward into future directing is, honestly, saying less and being much more clear about exactly what I want."
Below, Heder shares those five films and discusses how each film has inspired her.
This article was originally published on March 23, 2022.
Directed and written by: Andrea Arnold
Fish Tank is one of my favorite movies ever. I fell in love with the subjective filmmaking in that movie. Andrea Arnold is amazing in that way. Her camera always has such a strong point of view and puts you right in there emotionally with her characters. For some reason, that film just really moved me. And the way that you lived with that girl — and saw the world through her eyes — was so specific, and something, as a filmmaker, that I took with me and try to apply to my work. That you're not shooting a scene to just tell the story of the scene. You're telling one person's story who's within the scene, and how you use the camera to do that.
Directed and written by: Greta Gerwig
I love the mother-daughter relationship in that film. There are definitely echoes of that in my work, of how you can have comedy and emotion live together in the same place, and also, total dysfunction and love, wrapped up in the same relationship. There's so much about that film that I love.
Directed and written by: Chloé Zhao
I was so struck by what Chloé did with that film and how she did it. It's so clear from the filmmaking that she took her time and waited for the exact right time of day when the light was perfect and really just crafted each moment. Also, the way that she worked with non-actors. She finds people and lets them be alive on film in who they are completely. I was just so moved by it. And Nomadland as well. But The Rider was the first thing that just grabbed me and made me realize what an insane talent she is.
Directed and written by: Marielle Heller
I love what Marielle did with that movie. I love the way it mixes magical realism right alongside naturalism. I think it has such style. And it felt the way it felt to be that age and be exploring your sexuality and exploring all these things. And again, it had humor, but also felt like a very intense experience to watch.
Directed and written by: Rungano Nyoni
I love that movie. I thought it was incredibly shot and the performances were so unexpected and beautiful. It so vividly puts you with that girl in that place in such a specific world and lets you just feel every minute of it. The way it was shot, the way the camera captured that place and that character, and the very strange story at the center, was so moving to me. Like, truly the most wild story. And you're thrust into something you've just never seen and don't understand. It's this allegory, but it looks at womanhood within this culture. It's amazing. Rungano is an amazing talent.