An increasing number of female actors are calling the shots from the director's chair.
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21 Mar 2011 - 10:37 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 6:30 AM

While female directors directed just 7% of the top-grossing 250 films released in the US in 2010, the actress-director category is on a roll.

For proof, take a look at the burgeoning careers of hyphenates such as Jodie Foster (pictured), Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Vera Farmiga and Sarah Polley.

But is the rise of the actress-director happening because male directors can't bring out the best in women, as Hollywood columnist Anne Thompson apparently believes?

Thompson asserts that actresses increasingly are looking to produce, write or direct their own vehicles because these films “are bound to be more rewarding for these women than taking direction from men who tend to make movies for men.”

Portraying females as engaged in a fight with “male-centric Hollywood,” she concedes that directors such as Joe Wright and Clint Eastwood are “geniuses” with actresses but insists, “Most directors, from David Fincher to Darren Aronofsky, brilliant as they may be, require actresses to forfeit themselves to their vision.”

I don't buy that. Does anyone seriously believe that Natalie Portman could have performed even better in Black Swan if she were guided by a female director? Or that there'd have been a similarly magic enhancement for other Oscar nominees such as Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine or Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole?

It'd be fascinating to know whether Foster, Barrymore, Jolie & Co. subscribe to that theory. Foster's staunch support for her friend Mel Gibson is being rewarded with mostly positive reviews for The Beaver, which stars Mel as a troubled guy who tries to save himself from suicide by speaking with a Cockney accent through a beaver hand puppet. (Editor's note: Read the SBS Film review here)

Box Office mag's David Ehrlich hailed the film as a “dark, daft and didactic little dramedy that insists on steering its high-concept directly down the middle of the road.” Also, he predicts, “It's unlikely that Gibson will ever again enjoy the career goodwill he did before he revealed himself to be the worst human currently living, but Walter Black provides him a spookily fitting comeback.”

The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore declared, “A risky bet that pays off solidly, Jodie Foster's The Beaver survives its life/art parallels to deliver a hopeful portrait of mental illness that while quirky is serious and sensitive. Despite obvious hurdles, with smart marketing it could connect with a wide audience.”

Those reviews must be heartening for the Australian distributor, Icon, which hasn't set a release date yet; it opens May 6 in the US.

Drew Barrymore will follow her directorial debut Whip It with How to Be Single, a romantic comedy based on the 2008 novel by Liz Tuccillo, which chronicles 10 years of breakups among a group of New Yorkers. Barrymore is producing with her Flower Films partner Nancy Juvonen for Warner Bros/New Line.

Angelina Jolie is putting the finishing touches to a love story set during the 1992-95 Bosnian War, which she wrote and directed, produced and financed by GK Films. It's the story of a couple who meet on the eve of the war and the effect it has on their relationship. The cast represents various ethnicities of the former Yugoslavia and includes Zana Marjanovic, Rade Serbedzija, Nikola Djuricko and Branko Djuric.

Vera Farmiga, who starred in Up in the Air, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Departed, made the transition to director on Higher Ground, a drama in which she plays a member of a minor fundamentalist sect who slips into in a deep spiritual crisis. It was generally well received at the Sundance festival in January and was acquired by Sony for Australia, New Zealand and North America.

Canadian Sarah Polley scored positive reviews for her first directing effort, Away From Her, a romance blighted by Alzheimer's disease, in 2006. She's now in post production with her second feature Take This Waltz, which stars Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in the saga of a young woman who struggles with her infidelities and the fear that she can't get past the honeymoon period of her relationships.

(Editor's Note: Away From Her screens as part of SBS ONE's Exceptional Women season, on March 30 @ 10.05pm)