Sally Potter Maps Geographical Spaces and Historical Times

Sally Potter (right) with Joan Allen

“You can’t really divorce women’s struggles in the world from women’s [struggles] in the cinema. As long as there’s hierarchy it means that women are somehow secondary or second class or less than. That’s going to be reflected in movies because films are the most powerful medium to reflect back society’s view of itself.”

Happy Birthday to the acclaimed British director, Sally Potter! The talented filmmaker has continued to astound us throughout her career, which includes 10 feature films, several shorts, and two documentaries. She began making movies when she was 14 years old in London and dropped out of school two years later to pursue the craft full-time. Later, she trained as a dancer and choreographer and even co-founded her own dance company. 

Although she pursued her passion for song and dance on the side, she often assisted in writing and composing the music for her films. Perhaps her most famous work, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane, features her co-written music and earned two Academy Award nominations (Art Direction and Costume Design) as well as over 25 international awards. Orlando is a British period drama about a young nobleman named Orlando that was adapted from a novel by Virginia Woolf. In her spotlight piece on Sally Potter, Julia Lasker writes that “Orlando’s long life and many adventures allow Potter to explore sex and gender in the context of both geographical space and historical time.”

Her interest in sociopolitical themes began with her feminist debut, The Gold Diggers, and extends from its premiere in 1983 to the present day. One of her most recent films, The Party, is regarded as her most challenging film in this context. It follows the dinner party of the newly elected minister of health (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the ensuing series of conversations and revelations at the event. Eliana M. Levenson’s review describes how “Sally Potter’s The Party has vision and voice from the opening frame. Shot entirely in black & white, and implementing a shot vocabulary reminiscent of early cinema, Potter brings a film school vibe to the story that feels refreshing amidst Hollywood blockbuster & awards season. Potter’s dialogue flies and each character is brought to life with a unique perspective that remains consistent throughout the film.” During Lesley Coffin’s chat with The Party’s director, Potter shared, “‘I wanted to squeeze as much movement and visual excitement out of this limited canvas as I could… As a dancer, you deal with movement of the body, but filmmakers are dealing with movement of characters… I honestly believe dancers work harder than any other artist. There is a daily grind they go through that I try to apply to my work. I write in a very similar way. I get up and I write, whether tired or not, whether inspired or not. I write every single day.”

In another detail interview with Sally Potter, FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner asked Sally Potter discussed two of her most her poetic films, The Tango Lesson (in which Sally plays the lead character) and Yes (in which Joan Allen looks so much like her that they might almost be confused for twins). Their discussion of identity, pride, passion, and the fine line between autobiography and self-examination led to Potter providing insight on her creative process, explaining, “I always have the illusion I’m starting completely fresh and that each of my films has no resemblance whatsoever to anything else I’ve ever done before; I don’t like the idea of repeating myself. Nevertheless, certain things take a while to work through and certain things are worthy of being looked at again, and I think one such thing is the dynamic of what happens with the professionally successful woman of the world in her personal relationships: what happens when a woman leads and a man needs to follow.”

Celebrate her birthday by reading more about the many art forms of Sally Potter here!

© Anna Nappi (9/19/21) Special for FF2 Media

Patricia Clarkson and Sally Potter World Premiere The Party Berlinale


Featured photo of the artist and her muse: Sally Potter (right) with Joan Allen on the set of Yes. Use of Nicola Dove’s still photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Thanks to Sarah Mardock of SONY for the EPK and to Jeff Marden of Hess Newmark Owens Wolf for setting up the interview opportunity.

Bottom Photo: “File: Patricia Clarkson & Sally Potter World Premiere The Party Berlinale 2017 02.jpg” by Maximilian Bühn is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

To view a copy of this license, visit

Tags: Anna Nappi, Eliana M. Levenson, iswans, Jan Lisa Huttner, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lesley Coffin, Sally Potter, Support Women Artists Now

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Anna is currently a senior at Brandeis University studying Film, Journalism, and Psychology. At Brandeis, she writes for the student newspaper and is the undergraduate degree representative of the Journalism program. From theaters to museums to concert halls, she loves exploring the art world in Boston as well as in her Maine hometown. Anna is passionate about FF2’s mission and excited for the opportunity to work alongside a wonderful team dedicated to supporting women artists.
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