Oscar Directors: Bigelow, Kathryn (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty)

Hailed as one of the preeminent stylists of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking, Kathryn Bigelow was often too easily pigeonholed as a female director with a flair for traditionally masculine movies.

After making an unusual entrance to cinema by way of the art world, Bigelow put her distinctive stamp on standard genre films like the Western-twinged vampire flick, “Near Dark” (1987) and the feminist-themed cop thriller, “Blue Steel” (1990). With the financial success of the surfer bank heist picture, “Point Break” (1991),

Bigelow enjoyed newfound status as a mainstream director with a rather artistic bent. Following a brief marriage and creative collaboration with fellow director James Cameron, she directed one of her most challenging films, the futuristic “Strange Days” (1995), which failed to catch on at the box office, but nonetheless displayed how successfully a filmmaker could marry art with narrative.

Despite the financial disaster that was “K-12: The Widowmaker” (2002), Bigelow continued to churn out an impressive body of work, including the war drama “The Hurt Locker” (2009), that honed in on her fascination with the meaning of
violence that was once thought to be the exclusive domain of male directors.

Born on Nov. 27, 1951 in San Carlos, CA, Bigelow was raised by her paint factory manager father and librarian mother. She developed an interest in art as a child, painting giant segments taken from the masters when she was 14. After high school, she attended the San Francisco Art Institute where she studied painting and art for two years. In 1972, she won a scholarship for the Independent Study Program at the Whitney
Museum in New York, which gave her the opportunity to study and produce conceptual art that was critiqued by the likes of Richard Serra and Susan Sontag. Bigelow moved on to study film theory and criticism at
Columbia University, earning her master’s of fine arts in 1979, after having filmed backgrounds for performance artist Vito Acconci. During this time, she made her first venture into filmmaking with “Set-Up”
(1978), a 20-minute short that depicted two men beating on each other while a voiceover read an essay on the nature of violence. Though an experimental film with little narrative, “The Set Up” did lay the thematic groundwork for her later work.

After using her lanky frame to model in a Gap advertisement, Bigelow ventured into feature filmmaking in 1981 with “The Loveless,” an eccentric and often confusing art film that served as a meditation on the juvenile delinquent movies that were popular in the 1950s. Though off-putting to some, “The Loveless” did introduce the world to actor Willem Dafoe, while earning Bigelow attention from famed director Walter Hill, who helped secure a development deal for her when she moved to Los Angeles in 1983. She made her acting debut in artist and independent filmmaker Lizzie Borden’s “Born in Flames” (1983), a bizarre blend of feminism and science fiction. Bigelow became something of a cult figure with her next feature, “Near Dark” (1987), a stylish, atmospheric cross between horror movie and Western of modern-day vampires on the Great Plains that managed to avoid the heavily-mythologized trappings of other like films.

Bigelow became the third wife of director, James Cameron.
Bigelow directed her first major studio film, “Blue Steel” (1990), a tense action thriller about a rookie cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) who unwittingly becomes romantically involved with a killer (Ron Silver). Though the film was melodramatic to a fault, it nonetheless allowed Bigelow a good platform to comment on a woman’s struggle to make it in a world predominantly occupied by men. In her first collaboration with Cameron, which was released the same year the two divorced, Bigelow directed the character-driven heist thriller, “Point Break” (1991), which followed an FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) who has gone undercover to bust a group of bank robbers led by a Zen-like surfer (Patrick Swayze). While first introducing Reeves as a viable action star, “Point Break” was plagued by a rambling script that ultimately went nowhere, though the film managed to be entertaining enough to be her biggest money-maker to date.

Meanwhile, she made the jump over to television, making her directing debut in that medium with a segment of the six-hour miniseries, “Wild Palms” (ABC, 1993), a sci-fi drama about the dangers of brainwashing and technology.

Back to directing features, Bigelow teamed up with ex-husband-turned-producer Cameron for “Strange Days” (1995), a futuristic thriller about an ex-cop (Ralph Fiennes) who deals squids – digital recordings of other
people’s experiences that can be plugged directly into another’s brain. As the world awaits the new millennium, the squid dealer finds himself embroiled in the murder of a political activist killed by his former
colleagues. Though the film received some positive buzz at the 1995 New York Film Festival, it failed to gain traction upon theatrical release and died a quick death at the box office, leading to a long absence from the big screen. But Bigelow was hardly idle.

Since 1992, she had been developing a feature about the life of Joan
of Arc, and at one time had French director-producer Luc Besson involved. When Besson went on to make his version of the story, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” (1999), Bigelow cried foul and filed a lawsuit alleging fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Rather than face a protracted legal battle, Besson settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Additionally during her absence from the big screen, Bigelow saw her script for the thriller “Undertow” (1996) produced and aired on Showtime, starring Lou Diamond Phillips as a drifter who stalks a terrified woman (Mia Sara) and her lunatic husband (Charles Dance). Turning to episodic television, she helmed three episodes of
the acclaimed cop drama, “Homicide: Life on the Street” (NBC, 1993-99), including one of the series’ final episodes. The following year, she was back at the multiplexes with “The Weight of Water,” a psychological
thriller that interwove the story of a female photographer (Catherine McCormack) who investigates a 100-year-old murder that leads her to suspect that her husband (Sean Penn) is having an affair. Visually
interesting and well-acted, the film nonetheless languished for two years after its premiere at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival.

Bigelow next directed Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson in “K-19: The Widowmaker” (2002), an adaptation of a historical event where a faulty Russian nuclear submarine test-fired a missile in 1961, resulting in a leak in the reactor core that almost triggered the sub’s payload, and with it, possibly World War III. Made for over $100 million from non-studio financiers, including National Geographic, “K-19” bombed at the box office, making it the biggest independent flop to date.

Once again, Bigelow was noticeably absent from the big screen for the
next several years. But after directing episodes of the short-lived series “Karen Sisco” (ABC, 2003-04) and “The Inside” (Fox, 2005), Bigelow returned to the feature world with “The Hurt Locker” (2009), an Iraq War drama as seen through the eyes of members from the Army’s elite Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit. The powerful film would go on to garner Bigelow the most accolades of her career up until that point, as well as put her in contention for the same Best Director Golden Globe as her ex-husband, Cameron, nominated himself for “Avatar” (2009). Though Cameron won the Globe, Bigelow took home the Directors Guild Award
for Best Director in late January 2009, becoming the first woman in history to have been so honored.

Bigelow had the chance to shatter the glass ceiling for good when she was among the five filmmakers nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards. She would go on to win the Oscar, becoming the first female director to do so. In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year.

She became the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker She is the fourth woman in history to be nominated for the honor, and only the second American woman.

1971 Lived in NYC variously as a student, artist and filmmaker
1971 Had one of her first “exhibitions” at the Whitney Museum in NYC
1978 Short film writing, producing and directing debut, “Set-Up” (a 20-minute-long Columbia student project)
Posed for a Gap advertisement
1980 Served as script supervisor for “Union City”
1982 First feature as co-writer/co-director (with Monty Montgomery), “The Loveless”; feature debut for star
Willem Dafoe
1983 Feature acting debut (as Kathy Bigelow), Lizzie Borden’s “Born in Flames”
1983 Moved to Los Angeles- Landed a development deal with producer-writer-director Walter Hill (who had been impressed by “The
1987 Solo directorial debut (also co-wrote with Eric Red), “Near Dark”
1990 Directed Jamie Lee Curtis in “Blue Steel”
1991 Helmed “Point Break” with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze; first collaboration with then husband
James Cameron (executive produced)
1993 TV directing debut, helmed the second hour of the sci-fi miniseries “Wild Palms” (ABC)
1995 Directed the futuristic film, “Strange Days”; co-scripted and produced by ex-husband James Cameron
1996 Re-teamed with Eric Red to write the thriller “Undertow” (aired on Showtime)
1998 Helmed a two-part episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” (NBC); directed a third episode in 1999
2000 Directed the feature adaptation of Anita Shreve’s novel, “The Weight of Water”
2002 Directed Harrison Ford in “K-19: The Widowmaker”; also produced
2009 Directed the Iraq war thriller, “The Hurt Locker”; written by former Playboy journalist Mark Boal;
screened at festivals in 2008; earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director
2009 Nominated for the 2009 Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture (“The Hurt Locker”)
2009 Nominated for the 2009 Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in
Feature Film (“The Hurt Locker”)
2009 Nominated for the 2009 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing (“The Hurt Locker”)

Father paint store manager
Mother librarian

Husband: James Cameron, Married Aug. 17, 1989; divorced Nov. 10, 1991; Cameron produced Bigelow’s screenplay “Point Break” (1991); he also produced and scripted her film “Strange Days” (1995)

San Francisco Art Institute San Francisco, California 1970-1972 Attended for two years before transferring to the Whitney Museum Independent Study
Program Whitney Museum
Independent Study Program New York, New York, United States1972 Won a scholarship to study conceptual art


2009 Oscar Best Picture Co-Winner with Greg Shapiro/Mark Boal/ Nicolas Chartier. The Hurt Locker
2009 Oscar Directing Winner The Hurt Locker
2009 Directors Guild of America Award Feature Film Winner The Hurt Locker
2009 Golden Globe Best Director – Motion Picture Nominee The Hurt Locker

BIRTHDATE: 27 November 1951(age 60)
Birthplace: San Carlos, California, USA

BIRTH NAME: Kathryn Ann Bigelow