Every year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) holds an annual award show honouring the best and boldest in filmmaking. And every year, there is an extensive discourse on who was snubbed or overlooked or incorrectly nominated. I have those opinions each awards season but there is one snub that still gets me: Ava DuVernay. When her film “Selma” premiered in 2014, it was staggering to see the level of detail put into every aspect of that film. The history, the acting, the cinematography, the set design, and so on. But the direction and momentum of the film rested solely with DuVernay.
Director Ava DuVernay has, over this last decade, established herself as one of the most important filmmakers in the business, thanks to her incomparable body of work across mediums: from her shocking and vital documentary “13th” on the perpetuation of slavery in the US to the powerful, sensitively constructed series “When They See Us” about the wrongly convicted suspects in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case. Of all of her work over the last ten years, “Selma” is DuVernay’s very best. The film describes the events leading up to and including the 1965 marches from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery, conducted by Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and others, as part of a movement to give African American citizens the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
Documentaries present a formidable challenge. Even after meeting the significant demands of research, including excellent interview skills, the filmmaker faces a new test: how might they create a cohesive narrative that will captivate their audience? Ava DuVernay’s attention to detail and design makes “13th” sobering, enraging, and ultimately energizing documentary.
The following films surprised me, because of how they confidently upended clichés and presented new, fresh narratives with such ease that you wonder why we don’t normally get more like them. This is what happens when new voices —in this case, women who in their own league, have been given the creative control over a film as directors.