Director Kathryn Bigelow's small but impressive body of work has consistently dealt with issues of violence and tension. Originally trained as a painter, she attended the San Francisco Art Institute and was invited to study at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program. She worked as an assistant to the conceptual artist Vito Acconci and later joined a British collective called Art and Language. She did graduate work at Colombia, where she made her first short film, The Set-Up, a deconstruction of film violence, and Bigelow returned to this central theme throughout her unique career in the action genre. Her first feature, The Loveless, was a biker gang movie featuring the acting debut of Willem Dafoe. Teaming up with her frequent writing partner Eric Red, she made the vampire-Western Near Dark and the crime drama Blue Steel. After the mild success of Point Break, she gained some attention in 1995 for Strange Days, which she based on a story by her then-husband, Titanic-director James Cameron. After a brief stint in television (Wild Palms, Homicide: Life on the Street), she took a five-year break from Hollywood, not returning until 2000 to direct The Weight of Water and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002).
After a six-year layoff, Bigelow returned with the Iraq War thriller/character study The Hurt Locker, a project that earned her the most overwhelmingly positive notices of her career, as well as an unprecedented win from the Directors Guild for Best Director -- becoming the first woman to ever capture that prize. She also received a nominations from The Golden Globes, and took home no less than two Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (another prize that had never before gone to a woman), beating out ex-husband James Cameron, who was nominated for his CG juggernaut Avatar.