Ryan Chartrand

She may be best remembered for her baby-voiced, sex-pot roles in cult classics such as “Chasing Amy” and “Mall Rats,” but 38-year-old Joey Lauren Adams has recently added another title to her Hollywood name: writer/director.

Adams’ directorial debut “Come Early Morning” is a homespun tale about a successful, 30-something construction manager who, according to interviews with Adams, “is somewhat less successful when it comes to her romantic relationships.”

The film, which received shining reviews at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, is just one of the many complex and tightly-helmed masterpieces making quite a stir in the Independent Film Industry nowadays. However, apart from their diverse and unusual subject matter, the most interesting components about films like “Come Early Morning” and its independent counterparts such as family-oriented creations “Little Miss Sunshine” and the up-coming “Sherrybaby,” are, surprisingly, their directors.

Laurie Collyer, Valerie Faris, Karen Moncrieff and, yes, that other female director, Sofia Coppola are part of a group of gifted women filmmakers who have long since paid their dues and are finally garnering some much-deserved attention from a largely male-dominated Hollywood. This is in most part thanks to organizations such as Sundance, which have the balls/ovaries to say, “Believe it or not, women directors are talented.”

“As anyone in the industry knows, women have made great strides in so many entertainment disciplines, but the greatest disparities remain on the set, behind the camera, specifically in the field of directing,” wrote Gina McIntyre in a recent article from HollywoodReporter.com.

She added that all of the year’s major festivals showcased interesting, challenging films from female directors, several of whom are in the earliest and most promising stages of their careers.”

And the best part is that many of these films are proving to be profitable once becoming mainstream. For example, “Little Miss Sunshine,” the charming comedy collaboration between Faris and Jonathan Dayton, has racked in more than $59 million in the domestic box office and is considered a dark-horse contender for the best picture Osar.

Putting women behind the camera may have become popular just recently, but women directors have been making top-quality films for decades. Although it started off a little small with members such as Hollywood veterans Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, the women directors club has grown considerably in the last 10 years. Culturally iconic movies such as Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle” and Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” have paved the way for women filmmakers of all different backgrounds.

Then in 1995, Alicia Silverstone and her entourage of Valley Girl friends pranced onto the big screen in the Austenian inspired coming-of-age comedy “Clueless.” While it may have only grossed what seems today a meager $56 million, the movie struck a chord with moviegoers. Rich with Cher-isms (like “As If!” or “Whatever .”) Clueless became not only a sleepover party staple, but cultural phenomenon. The attention garnered by the film came as a surprise to many professionals in Hollywood, including the film’s director Amy Heckerling, who said in a 1995 interview with the American Film Institute, “Who ever thought that a movie about teenage girls called ‘Clueless’ would be taken so seriously.”

Fortunately, since then, films written, produced and directed by women are being taken more and more seriously. The trend may be due to a number of things including: support from organizations such as Sundance, the increasing number of women enrolling in film schools and entering the film industry, and the fact that more women are being placed in high-power positions at many of the industry’s top studios. However, the biggest reason women filmmakers are gaining more power and respect: the audience.

In a 2004 speech given by. Martha M. Lauzen, professor of communications at San Diego State University, she said the power an audience has to promote women in Hollywood is greater than one might think: “I intend to convince you that the decisions we make as audience members can change the kind of options we have when we go to the movie theater,” Lauzen said. “I’m talking specifically to the women here tonight, because women have to take the lead on this, but obviously we need all the guys with us too. The idea that guys won’t go to see films by women because they’re “chick flicks” – where does that come from? It’s important for guys to see films by women. In the end, we’re all just people, and movies have a lot to teach us all about each other.”

Lauzen cited popular 2002 films “Frida” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as two prime examples of the power moviegoers have in a film’s success. According to Lauzen, it was due to the popular support of countless women fans (and yes, even a few men) that “Frida” made the journey from a film opening to mixed reviews to a film nominated for six Oscars. And women fans also helped a small budget film of $5 million gross more than $240 million worldwide.

The fight to get more women behind the scenes in Hollywood is still very much an uphill battle. According to the grassroots Web site www.moviesbywomen.com, last year women comprised 17 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This is the same percentage of women employed in these roles in 1998.

Still, it is the recent success of movies such as “Come Early Morning” and “Little Miss Sunshine” that make the future more promising for women directors and their films. Whether it’s a movie about an 11-year-old pageant hopeful, an 18th century French queen, or a dysfunctional ex-junkie trying to rebuild her life, the characters in these films still have much in common with the directors who create them: they’re strong, they’re proud and they’ve got something to say.

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