director STATEMENT


The radical storytelling of Fassbinder, Godard and Truffaut inspired me to write and direct. There was truthfulness and depth to their work and I had to go where that came from. Moving to Paris and then Berlin, I was determined to make cutting edge films focused on fierce, unique characters, especially women. Directing film and television has always been about truth no matter the genre; if it doesn’t ring true you lose an audience. My job is to build trust with actors to achieve authenticity. Known for staying on budget, the better I’m prepared, the smoother the crew runs with more time to get great performances and powerful visuals to tell a good story.

Currently I am in development on Guilty, a larger budget film-noir feature, and two television series: a hospital drama, The Healer, and dystopian action-adventure After The Divide. Both have been well received in Los Angeles and I am building a team to push these projects into reality. See In Development for more details and projects.

I welcome opportunities to direct diverse genres embracing complex projects. I have directed in English, French, and German, and have a US residency with Canadian and British Passports.



In television, I directed the pilot for Cold Squad which ran for seven seasons and was the only woman to direct Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, both full of stunts and complex plot lines. With Beyond Belief and Wind at my Back, I gained more experience shooting period pieces and family dramas. On Paradise Falls for Showcase, we block shot 52 half-hour episodes on location while juggling a plethora of story arcs for three seasons.

Directing close to 100 episodes of the successful comedy series Train 48 for Global TV, I worked improvisationally with actors and fell in love with the genre. I went on to co-write and direct the improvised award-winning feature A Wake with a talented cast of Canadian actors and was presented the best film prize by the legendary Clint Eastwood at the Carmel International Film Festival.

I received acclaim for the CBC produced television movie Giant Mine, a high-profile true story in Yellowknife, depicting the fatal battle between unions and management. The disaster SFX movie Killer Bees became a cult hit at Blockbuster and still sells worldwide. Directing extensively for Lifetime telling true and fictional stories about women in peril, I am known for getting strong performances while shooting under tight schedules, and work closely with writers to make production-friendly scripts with sharply focused plots.

I developed my vision in the film program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in the early 80s. Drawn to themes of revolution and the punk rock rejection of the mainstream, I created gritty narratives using experimental and dramatic elements. Living in Berlin, demonstrations, riots, and political upheaval provided endless fodder to make radical films. I co-wrote and directed Alternative Squatting and We Just Want to Live Here in London, Amsterdam and Berlin, about the squatting movement and the fight against housing speculation in cities.

By the late 80s I had written and directed 15 award winning short films including Disposable, They Shoot Pigs Don't They? and A Dream of Naming. I became known in the underground scene touring Europe, Canada, and the US.

Everything changed in 1989 with my short political rant Llaw, about the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was a hit at the Berlin Film Festival and others and led to co-writing and directing my first feature for ZDF (German TV). Trouble depicted polarizing politics and the music scene in post-wall Berlin, and received best film at numerous festivals. A 1990 retrospective of my shorts, Guns, Girls and Guerrillas followed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris.

With this success my career took a new direction and I was invited back to Canada to direct my second feature, Boulevard, about the perilous world of street workers and pimps, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Lance Henriksen and Rae Dawn Chong. After the thriller Dangerous Attraction, I directed my first horror film Hard Ride to Hell following a crazed biker gang hunting young campers, starring Miguel Ferrer. My award winning NFB documentary Tokyo Girls focused on Western women working as hostesses in Japan.

Along with directing, I write screenplays and take vast pleasure in story-telling.

Confidence and precision comes with working consistently as a director for over 30 years. I feel calmer and more assured than ever before and it’s exciting to be part of the diversification of television with more women directing and telling their stories.
— Penelope Buitenhuis