This year’s Sundance Film Festival was hailed by many as a step forward for gender equality in the world of independent cinema. For the first time ever, the U.S. Dramatic Competition featured an equal number of male and female directors, and outlets called 2013 the year that women filmmakers were “poised to make their mark” at the festival. But a new article in The Nation by Roya Rastegar claims that the only mark to be found was a black one — on the records of film critics, who she accuses of bias against those women filmmakers. Rastergar claims that Sundance film critics “almost exclusively eviscerated” their work, and that their reviews complained about the lack of compelling male characters and the wealth of “unlikeable” female characters, were shorter in length than the reviews of movies by male directors and generally:
“Paid less sustained and thoughtful attention to the films’ craft (visual style, narrative structure, character development). Storylines were characterized as “shallow,” “naggingly lightweight” and “desperate“ — in contrast to the descriptions of male-directed films, which were lauded for their lyricism, “feminine…sensibility” and “complex symphonic framework.”
Rastegar concludes that “this highly gendered evaluation is a deeply embarrassing reflection of the current state of film criticism and bodes ill for the future of independent film and popular culture at large.”
I didn’t attend this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but I must confess this wasn’t something that caught my eye as I was reading and compiling reviews for Criticwire’s daily Sundance Review Reports. I heard a lot of good buzz about a couple of movies from women filmmakers, including the comedy “In a World…” from writer/director/producer/star Lake Bell, which was featured in one of those aforementioned Review Reports, and currently sports an impressive A- average on the Criticwire Network. All but two of Rastegar’s examples are from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter — the other two are from the website IonCinema.com — which is not exactly a wide-ranging sample of “the current state of film criticism.” Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear how critics and editors who were on the ground in Park City feel about this categorization of their work and their coverage.