director STATEMENT


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

Currently I am in development on Guilty, a larger budget film-noir feature and two television series: The Healer, a hospital drama and After The Divide, a dystopian action-adventure. They 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 and embrace complex projects. I have directed in English, French and German, and have US residency, a Canadian and a British Passport.


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 complicated 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, juggling a plethora of story arcs and the show continued for three seasons.

Directing close to 100 episodes of the successful comedy series Train 48 for Global TV, I worked with actors in improvisation 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 award by the legendary Clint Eastwood at the Carmel International Film Festival.

In movies for television I received acclaim for the CBC produced 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. I work closely with writers to make scripts production-friendly and the plot sharply focused.

I developed my vision as a filmmaker in the film program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver in the early eighties. 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 eighties I had written and directed fifteen 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.

But in 1989, everything changed 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 the polarizing politics and music scene in post-wall Berlin, and received best film at numerous festivals. Guns, Girls and Guerrillas, a 1990 retrospective of my shorts 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. I was invited back to Canada to direct my second feature, Boulevard, about the perilous world of streetworkers 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 ward winning NFB documentary Tokyo Girls focused on western women working as hostesses in Japan. I continue to write screenplays and take great 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