Belgian feminist film-maker, writer, artist and academic whose work was hailed by French newspaper Le Monde as 'the first masterpiece in the feminine history of the cinema".

The daughter of Polish Jewish holocaust survivors, Akerman was inspired to become a filmmaker at 15 when she first saw Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965), enthused by the prospect that filmmaking could be both personal and experimental.

Commencing studies at the Belgian film school, INSAS, she dropped out to make films. When her short, L’ Enfant Aime (The Beloved Child, 1971), won acclaim at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Paris-based Akerman went to New York.

During early visits to the US she mingled with the Andy Warhol clique, impressed by their film vocabulary of long rolling pans and lingering, hand-held near empty shots – coincidentally and simultaneously – part of her developing film aesthetic.

Akerman’s evolution as a filmmaker coincided with major socio-cultural and artistic movements of the 20th century: the rise of feminism, French New Wave, minimalism and structuralism of the avant garde New York art scene. Yet Akerman’s work is not derivative. Whilst personal immersion in all three informed and energised her films, she tended to synthesise these influences into her own original style.

Her silent documentary, Hotel Monterey (1972), about the inhabitants of the once splendid hotel on the Upper West side and the sexually graphic sound feature Je tu il elle (I, You, He, She, 1976) impressed critics.

But Akerman’s most critically acclaimed film is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1995) an intriguing study of obsessive behaviour and repressed desire, which for 200 minutes chronicles three days in the routine of a middle class housewife and prostitute, shattered when she stabs a client with scissors following an orgasm.

Many of Akerman’s films challenge the traditional male gaze and as such have become key texts in the field of feminist film theory. Stylistically they lack the conventional use of plot or drama, featuring static lingering camera, minimal dialogue, many sounds, people who leave the frame. Most have found their niche, acclaimed on the film festival circuit.

Yet Akerman’s prolific and diverse output includes also more accessible works such as A Couch in New York (Un divan a New York, 1996), part of a trilogy about love in cities, about an apartment swap scenario between a disillusioned Manhattan psychoanalyst and a zany Parisian dancer, written by Akerman and Jean-Louis Benoit, starring Juliette Binoche and William Hurt.

Other works function as cinematic essays covering a range of eclectic subjects – many semi-autobiographical – sexual politics, the displaced 20th century citizen, re-mapping of borders, racism, terrorism in the Middle East, or focus on her Jewish heritage such as American Stories/Food, Family and Philosophy a series of stories told by immigrants.
– Mary Colbert