News on your favorite shows, specials & more!

Sundance Institute Examines Barriers & Opportunities for Women Filmmakers

By: Jan. 20, 2014
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Today 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.

Recent 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.

Putnam 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."

Schulman 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."

The 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).
• Sundance 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.

In 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.

Sundance 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.

The 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.

Sundance Institute
Founded by Robert Redford in 1981, Sundance Institute is a global, nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to nurturing artistic expression in film and theater, and to supporting intercultural dialogue between artists and audiences. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to unite, inform and inspire, regardless of geo-political, social, religious or cultural differences. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival and its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, film composers, playwrights and theatre artists, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fruitvale Station, Sin Nombre, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram,Twitter and YouTube.
Women In Film (WIF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women achieve their highest potential within the global entertainment, communication and media industries. WIF's fundamental belief is that entertainment created by and for women should represent 50% of all content worldwide, in sync with the voice of the population itself. WIF's mandate is to ensure gender parity for women in management positions as well as in front of and behind the camera, and to preserve the legacies of all women within the media industries. Founded in 1973, WIF and its Women In Film Foundation provide for members camaraderie, networking opportunities, educational programs, scholarships, grants, film finishing funds, access to employment opportunities and mentorships, as well as enabling members who exhibit advanced and innovative skills numerous practical services, as well as participation in the organization's film and television shadowing programs and its award-winning PSA program. In 2012, WIF and The Sundance Institute partnered in a Women Filmmakers Initiative and through various educational and mentorship programs continue to make great strides in increasing opportunities for emerging female artists. For more information visit


To post a comment, you must register and login.