Emotional Directorial Debuts from Female Filmmakers’ Personal Stories

I recently watched two poignant films that pulled me into their intimate worlds and left me emotionally drained (in a good way) – Past Lives and Aftersun. Both movies derive from the personal histories of their talented first-time female directors, Celine Song and Charlotte Wells respectively. It’s remarkable, arguably the best movies of the last two years were made by first-time filmmakers.

Their accomplishments compelled me to look at other powerful debuts by women directors telling personal stories.

Past Lives and Aftersun:

In Past Lives, Song reflects on a formative childhood friendship marked by trauma. Aftersun explores Wells’ memories and perceptions of her own father. Both films feel raw and personal, enriched by the filmmakers’ deep connections to the material. The lead performances perfectly capture the directors’ unique voices and visions. Aftersun especially devastated me.

Greta Gerwig recently found massive success directing Barbie, but her directorial debut with one of my favorite films Lady Bird (2017) also had that personal touch. The coming-of-age story about a high school senior drew heavily from Gerwig’s own upbringing in Sacramento. There were a lot of parallels in Lady Bird that happened in my own life.

Lady Bird earned Gerwig Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, proving she had a talent for making the personal universal.  But she’s also good at telling universal stories and making them personal.   I believe Wells and Song can do that too and can’t wait to see what they do next.

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