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Sundance Institute and Women in Film Release Unprecedented Study on Women Directors

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood January 21, 2013 at 2:09PM

This morning, here in Sundance, a new ground breaking study of women directors "Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers" was released.  The study is the most comprehensive look to date examining the gender disparity women directors face in the film industry.
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From L-R Cathy Shulman, Keri Putman, Stacy Smith
From L-R Cathy Shulman, Keri Putman, Stacy Smith

This morning, here in Sundance, a new ground breaking study of women directors "Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers" was released.  The study is the most comprehensive look to date examining the gender disparity women directors face in the film industry.

We all know that things are not equal, but never before has a study been done that tracks the career trajectories of women directors as well as writers, producers, cinematographers and editors.  The research was conducted by Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., Katherine Pieper, Ph.D. and Marc Choueiti at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California.

The study assessed 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors whose movies screened in Sundance from 2002-2012.  (The films do not include the world category, shorts, and movies that did not originate whole or in part in the US.)  The also interviewed many filmmakers to assess the barriers and the opportunities.

Here are the findings:

- 29.8% of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) were female.

- Women are more likely to be producers, and as the roles become more high profile and money becomes a factor, the number of women goes down.  So women are more likely to be associate producers than producers.

- Women support women.  Films directed by women feature more women in all roles.  There is a 21% increase in women working on a narrative film when there is a female director and a 24% of women working on documentaries.

- Females direct more documentaries than narrative films - 34.5% vs 16.9%.

- 23.9% of the films in this study were directed by women.  Note: Women made up only 4.4% of directors in the top 100 box office films each year from 2002 to 2012.

- Sundance makes a difference - 41.5% of the female directors across 1,100 top-grossing movies of the past ten years have been supported by Sundance Institute.

Here are the challenges that face women:

- Almost half the women interviewed (43.1%) said that MONEY was the biggest problem.  It's about taking women directors seriously, it's about taking women's visions seriously.  It's about trusting women's visions and that is still a major problem.

- Almost 40% of the women said that "Male-dominated industry networking" is a barrier.

- Almost 20% (19.6%) say that balancing work and family is an issue.

- Getting stereotyped as a "women director" - 15.7%

- Not getting hired because they are women - 13.7%

Here are the opportunities:

- Mentor and encourage women early in their career.

- Improving access to finance

- Raising awareness of the problem

Here's the bottom line.  There is some great news here and some really sucky news.  Things are really great for women directors in documentaries but things are still really awful for women in narrative.  The men have the access to the money and they advocate for their peers.  There is still the perception that female content is not commerically viable and there is still a feeling that women directors lack the confidence to lead and are less trustworthy.

Money is still the biggest problem as researcher Stacy Smith said "there is a steep fiscal cliff for female narrative directors."  When money comes into play either in certain positions on the set or in the perception of the commericial viability of the film, women suffer.  The data also shows that male directors get more premieres and more prestige slots than women do.

Most fucked up stat: in narrative film when looking at women directors over the last decade, only 41 women have made films in the top 100 released films every year across the decade, compared to 625 men.   There are 15.24 male directors for each 1 female director.  So that means many men make multiple films and few women make any films.

Lastly, there has been NO sustained growth in women directors over the last decade in both narrative and documentaries.  Things are good some years and things are bad some years.    But things have remained constant.  So the next time someone says things are great for women directors tell them that things are not better, they have STAYED THE SAME and that we still have so much more work to do.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Women Directors, Research


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