The percentage of female directors at Sundance is significantly higher than that of the top 100 films at the box office, according to a recent study from the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles — 23.9% versus 4.4% in the last decade. Other findings in the first-of-its-kind research study into gender disparity, results from which were shared at the Sundance Film Festival, include the fact that females were half as likely to be directors of narrative films than documentaries (16.9% vs. 34.5%) and that when compared to films directed by males, those directed by females feature more women behind the camera (writers, producers, cinematographers, editors).
The study is part of a collaboration between Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles to support independent female filmmakers. It 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. According to Putnam, “The results of this research are encouraging, and we hope they will highlight the barriers and opportunities facing women behind the camera. We look forward to collaborating with Women In Film Los Angeles and other allied organizations to raise awareness and inspire action around this important issue.” Schulman added, “This data shows us that there is a higher representation of female filmmakers in independent film as compared to Hollywood – but it also highlights the work that is still to be done for women to achieve equal footing in the field.”
The study first quantitatively assessed the gender of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors in U.S. movies at Sundance between 2002 and 2012 to identify the prevalence of female filmmakers, then documented the qualitative experiences of female filmmakers through interviews with filmmakers and film industry representatives.
Among the findings, five major areas were identified as hampering women’s career development in film: Gendered financial barriers (43.1%), male-dominated industry networking (39.2%), stereotyping on set (15.7%), work and family balance (19.6%) and exclusionary hiring decisions (13.7%). The top suggestions for changing the status quo incuded mentoring and encouragement for early career women (36.7%), improving access to finance (26.5%) and raising awareness of the problem (20.4%).
The collaboration between the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles began in January 2012 with the creation of a Mentorship Program in which 17 Sundance Institute-supported women directors and producers were matched with leaders in the field. Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles also led meetings in New York and Los Angeles this fall with leading organizations working on gender in media, including AFI; Alliance of Women Directors; Women in Film New York; Athena Film Festival / Women & Hollywood; Chapman University; Chicken & Egg; Film Independent; Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; IFP; Impact Partners Women’s Fund; Loreen Arbus Foundation; Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, NYC; Paley Center for Media; PGA; Tangerine; UCLA; USC; Women Make Movies; Women Moving Millions; and Women’s Media Center.