Anticipating Sundance: Using Sundance to Shift the Narrative on Women Directors

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by Melissa Silverstein
January 18, 2013 1:00 PM
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I am heading to Sundance for the first time.  I am looking forward to seeing a bunch of women directed movies over the next couple of days.  There are also several women's events including the release of the Women and Film/Sundance research on women directors.

For more regular updates on the goings on around town, please follow me on twitter: @melsil

Originally published on December 6, 2012.

The happy glow has still not worn off the news that women directors have achieved gender parity in the US dramatic and documentary competitions.  (But we must also remember that women are still not there in any of the other categories.)  Women directors became the story.  Here are some of the headlines: From USA Today: Women directors rule over Sundance Film Festival 2013.  From the LA Times: Sundance Film Festival: Female directors take dramatic step forward.

Now that this has happened it is vital that this not just be a one time thing and that moving forward that we create a new narrative so that we never again hear a sentence that starts with "there are just not enough women directed films for us to consider for our festival", or "where are the women directed films", or any other bullshit lazy excuse to not do the work to be inclusive and relevant.

The people at Sundance are proud and happy as they should be. John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival, said, “We were encouraged to see a strong showing of female filmmaking talent amongst the more than 12,000 submissions we received for our 2013 Festival.  The work by eight female filmmakers that we selected for our U.S. Dramatic Competition are diverse, original and exciting, and we look forward to audiences discovering some new voices.”

I would argue that Sundance is even more important for women filmmakers because we still live in a world where guys get vaulted into studio pictures, get agents and join the boys club.  It would be wonderful if women got the same deals and exposure following Sundance (and the trajectory of women directors is now being tracked in a major research project), but we know that is not always the case.  A big press hit at Sundance does not always get you to your second or third film.  Maybe it's time that women are more deliberate about helping women in the same fashion that guys are.  No guy shrinks back from helping another dude.  It's part of their DNA.  Women need to be that overt.  We need a girl's club.  We need sponsors, not just mentors.

Women and Hollywood reached out to some of the directors -- some first timers and some repeats -- who made it into Sundance this year to get their thoughts on this hopefully "new normal" for women directors.

Both Lynn Shelton and Cherien Dabis have had previous films at Sundance. Lynn's last film Your Sister's Sister premiered at Toronto in 2011 and recently won the best ensemble award at the Gothams. Lynn Shelton's new film Touchy Feely will premiere in competition. She talked about what she felt getting into Sundance. "Finding out that my film got into Sundance felt absolutely incredible, as incredible as it felt the first time I got in (in 2009 with HUMPDAY.) This festival is exactly where I'd hoped the film would enjoy its premiere."

Dabis' May in the Summer is also in competition. This is her second film after Amreeka. She also talks about the importance of Sundance. "It means a serious level of credibility and visibility that allows me to make a name for my film. I hope that having both of my films accepted into Sundance signifies a level of consistency - or even better growth - that will help advance my career."

A couple of other women, Jill Soloway, Francesca Gregorini and Stacie Passon are all coming to Sundance for the first time.  Soloway a veteran TV writer is moving into directing and looks to Sundance to establish her in this area.  "...being in competition will allow me to have a career after Sundance as a director. It gives validity to my voice in a way that very little else could."  For Gregorini it is all about coming out of the bubble and realizing that she made a film that resonates and that maybe it was all worth it. "You kind of go off into your own orbit for several years, cutting off from your "regular" life with no  road map, just trusting your instincts and having faith that whatever madness propelled you to do this in the first place has some glimmer of brilliance to it that will make it stand out from the others. After the intense slog that is filmmaking, getting into Sundance is that nod of acknowledgement that you're on the right track and for that I am very grateful."  And for Stacie Passon who had been recognized earlier in the week at the Gotham Awards she said she felt "relief" when she got the call.  That relief is understandable.

These directors are on the front line of change.  They might not realize it but they are.  They will be scrutinized differently being in this first class that has achieved gender parity and it will be interesting to track what happens to their films and what happens to the films of their male peers.  This time we can track it one to one.  Deal to deal.  Dollar to dollar.

They shared their thoughts on what it means to be a part of the first class with gender equity as Sundance and I will let their words speak for themselves:

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