As Santa Barbara International Film Festival head honcho Roger Durling pointed out Monday evening in his comments during the festival’s reception for Outstanding Director recipient Kathryn Bigelow, to mention Bigelow’s gender when remarking upon her immense talents is pointless. We’re talking about a director who blew contenders like Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron out of the water at the Directors Guild of America Awards just a couple of weeks ago, all but making her a lock for the Academy Award for Best Director. We’re talking about a filmmaker with almost limitless range, whose “Hurt Locker” managed to pull together the first decent film about the war in Iraq, making truly difficult material imminently watchable.
“Anatomically, she’s female,” Durling joked while introducing the director. “But she has a way with testosterone.”
The tribute, as in years past, ran through a series of clips in chronological order from Bigelow’s career, and in between snippets, Durling would interview Bigelow about what had just been shown.
Some of the funniest moments came when Bigelow would make self-deprecating cracks about her older films, like 1982’s artsy “The Loveless.”
“Be forgiving,” she asked of the audience, though for a first film, one could do far worse than this Kenneth Anger-inspired biker flick. Her edgy repertoire of films also includes 1987’s vampire-Western hybrid, “Near Dark,” her cop-thriller, “Blue Steel,” Cold War submarine film, “K19: The Widowmaker” and the surfer-action flick, “Point Break.” Her clip reel was clearly a demonstration in versatility, showcasing her talent for capturing riveting chase sequences, tense images of war and haunting melodrama.
But, coming back to the topic of gender, I couldn’t help but notice that Bigelow’s celebration was much smaller than that of last year’s award recipient, David Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac”). There was no red carpet rolled out and no crowd of tabloid journalists vying to make their questions heard. Bigelow’s award was presented by director Andy Davis rather than last year’s presenter, Jake Gyllenhaal.
It’s interesting, especially when you consider the similarities between the two: Both have garnered praise for their unusual action-packed, smart thrillers and artful eye for direction, and both are respected enough to get to make most of their own creative decisions, even while working within the confines of the studio system. They are both also interested in the tension between “law and anarchy” that Durling invoked when speaking about Bigelow’s films like “Blue Steel” and “Near Dark.”
While it is apparent that female directors have a ways to go before commanding all the attention they deserve from their peers, I’m betting that Bigelow will be more than compensated for her brave filmmaking venture, taking home the coveted gold statuette on March 7 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.