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Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles Study Continues to Examine Barriers & Opportunities for Women Filmmakers

Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles Study Continues to Examine Barriers & Opportunities for Women Filmmakers

(From Sundance Institue Newsletter)

New research shows Sundance Institute lab projects helmed by women succeed at just shy of equal rates as male-helmed projects in production and top festival exhibition. Collaborative initiative now includes deepened mentorship program, financing intensives, expanded network of allied organizations and updated research. Study 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.

At a gathering of filmmakers, producers and members of the film
distribution industry, at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Keri Putnam,
Executive Director, Sundance Institute, and Cathy Schulman, President,
Women In Film Los Angeles, announced significant growth of a
collaborative initiative designed to achieve gender parity and
sustainable careers for women working in filmed entertainment.

expansions of the initiative, which launched two years ago, include a
deepened mentorship program, new financing intensives, an expanded
network of allied organizations
and new and updated research, the results of which were also released
today. The study was commissioned by Sundance Institute and Women In
Film Los Angeles and 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.

said, “Our collaborative initiative has furthered the dialogue around
the importance of women behind the camera. We are grateful to the
researchers and allied organizations
in lending their analysis and expertise to help us identify the most
productive next steps to address existing challenges.”

said of the results, “In terms of our committed course of change for
women, this year’s study is another invaluable tool in understanding how
Sundance and Women
In Film can help guide the industry to institutionalize permanent
progress through our programs and collective influence.”

research documented the gender distribution of filmmakers participating
in Sundance Institute Feature Film Program (FFP) and Documentary Film
Program (DFP) Labs between
2002 and 2013 to determine how many emerging female writers, directors
and producers receive critical artistic support as part of their
filmmaking background, and how this may affect their careers and the
pipeline overall. It also updated last year’s inaugural
study by quantitatively examining the gender of 1,163 content creators
(directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors) across 82
U.S. films selected and screened at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Lastly, the research delved deeper into the
original qualitative interviews to further explore obstructions facing
female directors and producers in the narrative space.

Key findings include:

Female storytellers compete and flourish at Sundance Institute labs.
Of the 432 lab fellows between 2002 and 2013, 42.6% were female. Women
comprised 39.3% of fellows in the Feature Film Program (FFP) and 54.5%
of fellows in the Documentary
Film Program (DFP).

Institute Lab projects helmed by women succeed at just shy of equal
rates as male-helmed projects in production and top festival exhibition
The percentage of FFP lab projects completed did not vary by gender;
roughly 41% of
male-helmed and female-helmed projects were finished. 81.3% of all
finished FFP films went on to play at the top 10 festivals worldwide,
and of these, no gender differences emerged.

The initial report revealed career obstacles that face female filmmakers, including
gendered financial barriers, male-dominated industry networks, and stereotyping on set. We analyzed a subset of the original 51 interviews with industry thought leaders and seasoned content creators.

When industry leaders think director, they think male.
Traits were gathered from 34 narrative and documentary decision-makers
and filmmakers. We explored whether attributes of successful directors
reflect stereotypical characteristics
of men or women. Nearly one-third of traits (32.1%) were coded as
masculine and 19.3% feminine. Conceiving of the directing role in
masculine terms may limit the extent to which different women are
considered for the job.

Putting female directors on studio lists is limited by stereotypes.
A group of 12 individuals working in the narrative realm were asked
specifically about hiring directors into top commercial jobs. Two-thirds
(66.7%) indicated that there
is a smaller pool of qualified female directors. Half mentioned that
stereotypically male films (i.e., action, horror) may not appeal as job
opportunities to female directors. These findings illustrate how a
reliance on stereotypes creates decision-making
biases that weaken women’s opportunities.

Of the 1,163 content creators working behind the camera on 82 U.S. films at SFF in 2013, 28.9% were women and 71.1% were men. The presence of women differed by storytelling genre: 23.8% of content creators were women in narrative films
whereas 40.4% were women in documentary films.

2013 was an extraordinary year for women in documentary filmmaking at SFF.
42.2% of documentary directors and 49.2% of documentary producers were
women at the 2013 Festival. Focusing on directors specifically by
program category, 46.4%
of U.S. documentary competition directors were female as were 30.8% of
documentary premiere helmers.

Female narrative directors saw gains and losses in 2013, but little overall change.
For the first time, gender parity was achieved in U.S. dramatic
competition movies in 2013 with 50% of all helmers being female. In
contrast, only one
of the 18 directors in the premieres section was a woman.

Narrative directors at the 2013 Festival continued to outperform directors in the top 100 box office:
Turning to the 100 top-grossing films of 2013, only 2 (1.9%) of the 108
helmers were female. This represents a 48.1% drop from the
percentage of female directors in the Festival’s U.S. Dramatic
Competition films.

Examining female participation at the Festival as directors and producers from 2002 to 2013 revealed no
meaningful change over time
. Instead, the percentages
of female participation often fluctuate but no continuous and sustained
increases or decreases were observed across the 12 years. For dramatic
features, females accounted for 24.4% of all
competition helmers and 13.9% of all non-competition helmers. In
documentaries, the percentage of female competition directors is 41.7%
and 25% of non-competition helmers.From 2002-2013 17.1% of directors of U.S. narrative films and 35.3% of directors of U.S. documentary films at SFF were female.

This year’s mentorship fellows include Producer Brenda Coughlin (Dirty Wars), Director Marta Cunningham (Valentine Road), Director Mari Heller (Diary
of a Teenage Girl
), Director Shola Lynch (Free Angela and All Political Prisoners), Producer Jordana Mollick (Life Partners) and Producer Kim Sherman (A Teacher).

The Dove short film fellow is Cynthia Wade, who directed a short film entitled
Selfie, with producer Sharon Liese.
Cynthia was mentored by Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple.

addition, this past year Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los
Angeles launched a Finance Forum in Los Angeles, where 68 female
filmmakers with 58 industry advisors
and guests participated. A second financing intensive will be presented
in April 2014 in New York.

Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles also continued to meet with
leading organizations working on gender in media. Allied Organizations
involved in and lending
counsel to the collaborative project include: AFI Conservatory;
Alliance of Women Directors; Athena Film Festival; Chapman University;
Chicken & Egg Pictures; Creative Capital; Film Independent;
Fledgling Fund; Ford Foundation; FUSION Film Festival at NYU;
GAMECHANGER FILMS; Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; IFP; IFP
New York; Impact Partners Women’s Fund; Loreen Arbus Foundation; Los
Angeles Film Festival; Loyola Marymount University; NYU; Paley Center
for Media; Producers Guild of America; Reel Image
Inc.; Tangerine; The Harnisch Foundation; Time Warner Foundation; UCLA;
USC; USC/Annenberg; Writers Guild of America; Women and Hollywood;
Women In Film NYWIFT; Women In Film; WIFV (DC); Women Make Movies; Women
Moving Millions and Women’s Media Center.

Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles collaboration is
supported by Dove, Norlien Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts,
The Gruber Family Foundation,
J. Manus Foundation, Bhakti Chai, and The Harnisch Foundation.

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