Alison Maclean

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Alison Maclean
Born (1958-07-31) July 31, 1958 (age 61)
OccupationFilm director
Years active1989-present

Alison Maclean (born July 31, 1958) is a Canadian film director of music videos, short films, television (episodes of Sex and the City, The Tudors, Homicide: Life on the Street), commercials and feature films. Her works include the music video Torn (Natalie Imbruglia, 1998), the short film Kitchen Sink (1989) and the feature films Jesus' Son (1999) (starring Billy Crudup) and Crush (1992) (starring Marcia Gay Harden). She has been the recipient of several awards (e.g. Best Short Film, Talkback (1987) and Kitchen Sink (1989), New Zealand Film Awards), and often uses themes of communication, gender roles, and power structures in her directorial and filmmaking roles.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Maclean was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, to New Zealand-born parents. As a teenager, she immigrated in 1972 to New Zealand with her parents. She later graduated from the Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts, majoring in sculpture in 1982.[1]


Maclean directed her first short film, Taunt, in 1982 and later directed the short film, Rud’s Wife, in 1985.[1] In 1987, Maclean directed Talkback, a short film centred around issues of gender and communication.[1] Kitchen Sink, debuted at Cannes in 1989 and went on to win eight international awards.[2] That same year, Maclean moved to Sydney, Australia.[1]

After Maclean moved to New York in 1992, she directed her first feature film, Crush. A female-driven psychological thriller featuring themes of female relationships, power structures, and emotions[1] at its core, the short film was entered into the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[3] Set in Rotorua, New Zealand, at an unspecified period in time, Maclean uses setting and cinematography to evoke feelings of uneasiness and distress in what initially appears to be a scenic, lighthearted film.[4]

Starring Marcia Gay Harden, Maclean’s Crush has been subject of much criticism and inquiry, particularly in feminist debate and film theory.[5] The focus of these debates has been centred around theories of gaze control and female aggression, as demonstrated by the three main female characters: Lane (Marcia Gay Harden), Christina (Donogh Rees), and Angela (Caitlin Bossley).[5][6] The film’s portrayal of female violence, friendship, and homosexual desire contrast conventional expectations of women,[7] attracting both backlash and support for the film in public and critical discussion.[5]

After several years developing various projects, including another short film, Positive (1993), she landed her second feature film, Jesus' Son (1999). Starring Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton (with Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary and Jack Black in supporting roles), the film is based on the short story collection by cult US writer Denis Johnson about drug addicts and addiction itself. The film received much critical attention and rewards, particularly at the Venice Film Festival in 2000.[7]

In more recent years, Maclean has directed The Rehearsal (2016), a book-movie adaption of New Zealand author Eleanor Catton’s novel of the same name.[8] Following Stanley (protagonist), through his time in an Auckland-based acting college, the film centres on his interactions with teachers, students, and his involvement in a dramatically inappropriate teacher-student affair.[8] Maclean’s film adaptation brings up questions of privacy, publicity, love, and emotions while trying to draw the line between real life and the stage.[8] The film, compared to Catton’s novel, highlights drama and theatre's ability to communicate.[8]

Maclean has said she draws inspiration and influence from other female filmmakers, such as Maya Deren and Australasian filmmaker Jane Campion.[4] In her research, scholar Kathleen Dieckmann grouped Maclean in with Deren and Campion, as well as with Australasian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong, for their examinations of feminism, film, and what Dieckmann describes as the characteristic darkness that undercuts many of their films.[6]

After her success with the 1989 short film, Kitchen Sink, Maclean was noticed by Touchstone Pictures and extended a development offer.[9] Despite its falling through, Maclean later went on to be represented by Park Pictures in New York, after being in talks with company owners Kelman Bisbee and Jonna Mattingly following her success with Crush (1992) in 1999. Though she was busy working on Jesus’ Son (1999) during that same year, Maclean was deemed an asset to Park Pictures for her voice, focus, direction and style of storytelling and signed that same year.[7]

In association with Scenarios USA, Alison Maclean directed the movie adaptation of the winning script of New York's "What's the REAL DEAL" contest for 12- to 22-year-olds, authored by Tiara Bennett.[10]


Short Films
Title Year Awards
Taunt 1982
Rud's Wife 1985
Talkback 1987 Best Short Film: New Zealand Film Awards, 1987;

Listener Television Awards, 1988.

Kitchen Sink 1989 Best Short Film: New Zealand Film Awards, 1989;

Sydney Film Festival, 1989; Listener Film and

Television Awards, 1989; Sitges International Film

Festival (Spain), 1989; Fantasporto-Oporto International

Film Festival (Portugal), 1990.

Certificate of Merit: Melbourne Film Festival, 1989.

Grand Prix (top prize): Tampere International Short

Film Festival (Finland).

Special Jury Award: Golden Gate Awards (U.S.A),


Positive 1993
Intolerable 2003
The Choices We Make 2007
Feature Films
Title Year Awards
Crush 1992
Jesus' Son 1999 OCIC, Little Golden Lion; Venice Film Awards, 2000.

Dorothy Anzer Prize: Director's View Film Festival (U.S.A.), 2001.

Persons of Interest 2004
The Rehearsal 2016
Television Episodes
Show Year
Homicide 1997
Sex and the City 1998
Carnivale 2003
The L Word 2005
The Tudors 2007
Music Videos
Song Title Artist Year
"Torn" Natalie Imbruglia 1997


  1. ^ a b c d e f g The St. James women filmmakers encyclopedia : women on the other side of the camera. Unterburger, Amy L. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. 1999. ISBN 1578590922. OCLC 41086659.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ a b c Screen, NZ On. "Alison Maclean | NZ On Screen". Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  3. ^ "CRUSH". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  4. ^ a b Francke, Lizzie (April 1, 1993). "Dark Side - Alison Maclean, the director of the unsettling Crush, talks with Lizzie Francke". Sight and Sound – via ProQuest.
  5. ^ a b c Gordon, Suzy (June 2007). "Female Friendship, Idealisation and the "Need" For Violence In Crush: Running the risk of Melanie Klein". Feminist Media Studies. 7 (2): 171–187. doi:10.1080/14680770701286987. ISSN 1468-0777.
  6. ^ a b Dieckmann, Katherine (September 1993). "Accident". Film Comment. 29: 4–6 – via FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals Database.
  7. ^ a b c Jacobs, Heather (September 2001). "Maclean Joins Park Pictures For Spots". SHOOT. 42.
  8. ^ a b c d Carew, Anthony (2017). "Live Performance: Acting and Adaptation in Alison Maclean's The Rehearsal". Metro. 194: 26–31.
  9. ^ Takaki, Millie (October 2007). "Alison Maclean". SHOOT. 48 – via EBSCOhost.
  10. ^ "YMDi News: "What's the Real Deal?" Winners Announced". 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2019-10-11.

External links[edit]