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Sundance Institute and Women in Film in LA Study Examines Gender Gap in Indie Films

More women are working in independent film than in Hollywood, according to results of a new study shared today at a gathering of film and industry leaders at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The study marks the first collaboration between Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles to support independent female filmmakers. Conducted by communication professor Stacy Smith, along with researchers Katherine Pieper and Marc Choueiti, it is one of the first to examine gender disparity in American independent film.

“If you look at the data, they reveal an environment in which women are creating and exhibiting films in strong numbers, especially in documentaries. Why is this? First, Sundance Institute positions women to succeed. Second, female filmmakers support each other,” Smith said. “Sundance Institute believes that stories and characters told through film play an enormously influential role in determining audiences’ perceptions of themselves, one another and the world around us,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute.

Findings include:

  • Of U.S. films selected for the Sundance Film Festival from 2002 to 2012, 29.8 percent of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) were women.
  • Women were half as likely to be directors of narrative films than documentaries (16.9 percent vs. 34.5 percent).
  • Female directors of Sundance Film Festival movies exceeded those of the top 100 box office films: 23.9 percent of directors at the Sundance Film Festival from 2002 to 2012 were women, compared to 4.4 percent of directors across the top 100 box office films each year from 2002 to 2012 who were women.
  • Across 1,100 top-grossing movies of the past 10 years, 41.5 percent of female directors had been supported by the Sundance Institute.
  • When compared to films directed by men, those directed by women feature more female filmmakers behind the camera (writers, producers, cinematographers and editors). This is true in both narratives (21-percent increase) and documentaries (24-percent increase).
  • Across all behind-the-camera positions, women were most likely to be producers. As the prestige of the producing post increased, the percentage of female participation decreased. This trend was observed in both narrative and documentary filmmaking. Fewer than one third of all narrative producers but just over 40 percent of associate producers were women. In documentaries, 42.5 percent of producers and 59.5 percent of associate producers were women.
  • Five major areas were identified as hampering women’s career development in film: gendered financial barriers (43.1 percent); male-dominated industry networking (39.2 percent); stereotyping on set (15.7 percent); work and family balance (19.6 percent); and exclusionary hiring decisions (13.7 percent).
  • Opportunities exist to improve the situation for women in independent film. Individuals mentioned three key ways to change the status quo: mentoring and encouragement for early career women (36.7 percent); improving access to finance (26.5 percent); and raising awareness of the problem (20.4 percent).

The first initiative of the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles collaboration, which began last January, was to create a mentorship program, matching 17 Sundance Institute-supported female directors and producers with leaders in the field. They also convened meetings in New York and Los Angeles last fall with leading organizations working on gender in media.

For more info, go to http://blog.uscannenberg.org/?p=4934

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