director STATEMENT


It was the radical storytelling of Fassbinder, Godard and Truffaut that inspired me to become a writer and director and influenced my early work. There was a 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, honing my skills across cultures and genres. Directing films and television, for me, has always been about truth no matter what the genre. If it doesn’t ring true, you lose an audience. Actors transmit that truth and my job is to bring out their best, building trust to achieve authenticity. Known for staying on budget and time, the better I’m prepared, the smoother my crew runs and the more time I have to get those great performances and visuals needed to tell a good story.

Currently I am in early pre-production on Guilty, a larger budget film-noir feature and developing two television series: The Healer, a hospital drama and After The Divide, a dystopian action-adventure with a rebel heroine. 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.

Some highlights of my career

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 long running series full of stunts, action and complicated plot lines. Along with Beyond Belief and Wind at my Back, I gained experience shooting period pieces and family dramas. On Paradise Falls for Showcase, we block shot on location 52 half-hour episodes juggling story arcs and emotional tension and the show continued for three seasons.

Directing near to 100 episodes of the successful comedy series Train 48 for Global TV, working with actors in improvisation on a daily turnaround, I fell in love with the genre. I then co-wrote and directed the improvised award-winning feature, A Wake with a talented cast of Canadian actors including Nicholas Campbell and Martha Burns, and was presented with the best film award by the legendary Clint Eastwood at the Carmel International Film Festival.

In movies for television I received critical acclaim for the CBC produced Giant Mine, a high profile true story set in Yellowknife, depicting the tragic 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, working closely with writers to make scripts production-friendly and the plot sharply focused.

Developing my vision as a filmmaker began making shorts in the film program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Drawn to themes of revolution, alienation and the punk rock rejection of the mainstream thriving in the mid-eighties, I created gritty narratives, using experimental and dramatic elements. With the leftist movement in full swing in Berlin, the demonstrations, riots and social and political climate provided endless opportunities to make films with impact. I co-wrote and directed Alternative Squatting and We Just Want to Live Here in London, Amsterdam and Berlin, documenting the growing resistance against housing speculation in cities.

By the late eighties, I was renowned in the underground scene touring Europe, Canada and the US, having written and directed fifteen award winning short films including Disposable, They Shoot Pigs Don't They? and A Dream of Naming which screened at the Toronto Film Festival.

But everything changed in 1989, when I wrote and directed the short political rant, Llaw, about the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was a hit at the Berlin Film Festival among others and led to co-writing and directing my first feature for ZDF (German TV). Trouble depicted the tumultuous political 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 streetwalkers and pimps, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Lance Henriksen and Rae Dawn Chong. After the thriller Dangerous Attraction, I directed my first stunt filled horror film Hard Ride to Hell following a crazed biker gang hunting young campers, starring Miguel Ferrer. My NFB documentary Tokyo Girls focused on western women working as hostesses in Japan and received numerous awards.

A complete list of my work and awards can be found under resume

Confidence and precision comes with working consistently as a director over the last 30 years. I feel calmer and more assured than ever before and it is exciting to work in the ever more diverse television industry where women are finally gaining more traction and telling their stories.
— Penelope Buitenhuis