Nepotism is an accepted part of the movie business, but given the gender inequality in the directorial ranks, it’s particularly pronounced with the news that Ami Caanan Mann will direct “The Fields.” A thriller starring “Avatar”‘s Sam Worthington as a Texas detective investigating a spate of murders around the state’s oil refineries, “The Fields,” Mann’s second feature, will start shooting in April. If that surname sounds familiar, it’s because Ami is the daughter of Michael, and if this entire scenario rings a bell, it’s because it seems as though one of the only reliable ways to break through as a female filmmaker is to have a notable filmmaker as a father.
Whether you love her or hate her, Sofia Coppola seems to be a trailblazer in this regard. After making “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola not only all but erased memories of her poorly received turn as an actress in her pop’s “Godfather: Part III” (in which, to be fair, she was a last minute replacement for Winona Ryder), but managed an Oscar win for writing “Lost in Translation” and scored the elusive Bill Murray for a lead, whichever of those you find more impressive. After far more successful acting careers than Coppola, Amy Redford (“The Guitar”) and Alison Eastwood (“Rails & Ties”) followed her lead, making modest directorial debuts that demonstrated their fathers’ sense for nuance and also their personal desire to tell their own stories.
Unlike those women, Mann never attempted being in front of a camera, preferring to stay behind the scenes as a second-unit director on “Heat” before helming episodes of “Robbery Homicide Division” and “Friday Night Lights.” The same is mostly true of “Broken English” director Zoe Cassavetes, who performed a few favors for friends, including a small part in Coppola’s first short “Lick the Star” while also serving as her second assistant director. Then there’s Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley and niece to Tony, who’s been working her way towards her boarding school feature “Cracks,” scheduled to come out later this year, by directing a number of shorts. Even “Please Give” director Nicole Holofcener had Woody Allen’s longtime producer Charles H. Joffe as a stepfather.
Now, this isn’t a knock on these women for taking advantage of their privileged genes — most of them have brothers who have become directors too, but as Charles Taylor lamented in his recent IFC.com piece “Hollywood’s Femme Fatale Rate,” too few female directors are allowed to develop their skills over a series of films in which they can learn as they build a body of work. So it makes sense that to a degree, these particular women are getting an even greater leg up by growing up around sets or have a parent who can explain mise-en-scène to them at an early age. It just would be nice to have that parent being a mother instead of a father one of these days.
[Photos: Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst on the set of “Marie Antoinette,” Columbia Pictures, 2005; Zoe Cassavetes in “Lick the Star,” Film Movement, 1998]