“Exploring The Barriers and Opportunities For Independent Women Filmmakers”

On January 21st I hosted the third annual Women at Sundance event at my home which launched  Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers, a study conducted by the incredible  Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Pieper (seen in the photo), and Marc Choueiti of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California.


This study was designed to look specifically at the level of success, or lack thereof, of women filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival, and to examine the causes of the gender inequalities that exist. Using data from 820 films screened between 2002-2012, the study examined the roles of over 11,000 content creators in the positions of directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and editors. The results were both hopeful and enraging, as many areas showed progress, while others revealed a frustrating stagnation.

Perhaps this study leaves us with more questions than answers, but the biggest take-away for me is that the lead barrier that women filmmakers face is the same as women hedge fund managers and women entrepreneurs d0  – capital punishment.  We created that term to describe the gender bias  that exists when it comes to raising money.  Both men and women seem much less likely to fund women.  ( please download the full report  “Women in Fund Management: A Road-Map to Critical Mass and Why it Matters.” by the National Council for Research on Women)  We simply have to take on this issue. Big time. I will dedicate a future blog entry to this subject specifically and it is high time we get to the bottom of this issue and plan a course of action.
In the meantime I am thankful for the ongoing work of The Sundance Institute, Women in Film, The Paley Center, The Women’s Media Center and the many other groups that care passionately about breaking down the doors of opportunity for women in film and media more generally.  ( and of course my organization, Women Moving Millions)

The main findings of this landmark study, as published at www.sundance.org, are as follows:

  • Of U.S. films selected for the Sundance Film Festival from 2002-2012, 29.8% of filmmakers (directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors) were female.
  • Across all behind-the-camera positions, females 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% of associate producers were female. In documentaries, 42.5% of producers and 59.5% of associate producers were female.
  • When compared to films directed by males, those directed by females feature more women filmmakers behind the camera (writers, producers, cinematographers, editors). This is true in both narratives (21% increase) and documentaries (24% increase).
  • Females were half as likely to be directors of narrative films than documentaries (16.9% vs. 34.5%).
  • Female directors of Sundance Film Festival films exceed those of the top 100 box office films. 23.9% of directors at the Sundance Film Festival from 2002-2012 were female, compared to 4.4% of directors across the top 100 box office films each year from 2002 to 2012 that were female.
  • 41.5% of the female directors across 1,100 top-grossing movies of the past ten years had been supported by Sundance Institute.
  • 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%)
    • Exclusionary hiring decisions (13.7%)
  • 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%)
    • Improving access to finance (26.5%)
    • Raising awareness of the problem (20.4%)

Women at Sundance Party – 2013 Wrap-up

Three years ago I hosted a gathering at my house to celebrate the premiere of Miss Representation at the Sundance Film Festival. Last Monday, the third annual Women at Sundance was held, now as an officially sanctioned event of the Sundance Film Festival, and over 150 people, both men and women, packed into my house to celebrate the success of women filmmakers at this year’s festival, to discuss ways to further empower women in filmmaking, and to hear the results of a research study called “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers.” Details on that study to come.

The event was a huge success, and given the size of this year’s wait list, Women at Sundance shows no signs of slowing down for future festivals. For those in attendance, it was clear from the energy in the room that both women and men are committed to bridging the gender inequalities that exist in filmmaking, and the prevalence of female directors in this year’s slate of films in competition shows that progress is being made at the independent level. This is always about opening the doors so that talent can walk through.

To help encourage this progress to continue, and to assist female directors in breaking through to that elusive mainstream Hollywood success, it was my pleasure to announce at Women at Sundance that a new fund has been set up in partnership with Impact Partners and Chicken & Egg to directly fund films by women filmmakers. ( pictured above)  Called Gamechanger, this fund will be run by Producer Mary Jane Skalski, and will fund women directors in a variety of genres with the goal of making commercially successfully films. More to come on this topic as well!

This announcement was one of many exciting announcements at Women at Sundance, and the enthusiasm of those in attendance was infectious. Given that I hosted the event, it should come as no surprise that the theme for the day was Wonder Woman, one that was picked up on by the New York Times in their coverage of the event. However, this theme goes much deeper than the image on the napkins and plates, as one look around the room last Monday revealed that there truly are Wonder Women working in film today. The tides of change may be slowly turning, but with the support of funds like Gamechanger and the dedicated women filmmakers of Sundance, those tides could very well become a tsunami.

See below for other articles on this event.

BLOG Post by the wonderful Jess Weiner on HUFF PO





Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore

Women at Sundance












I could not be happier that on the eve of Sundance, the hottest subject of this year’s festival is WOMEN. From January 17th to 27th, the eyes of the filmmaking industry will be fixed on Park City, Utah and the over one hundred films that will be shown over the next ten days. Although I did not have any input into the selection of the films in competition, I am thrilled that the first Sundance Festival that I am attending as a Board Member of the Sundance Institute also happens to be the first time in the festival’s history that the US Dramatic Competition category features an equal number of films directed by men and women. (Click here for the full list of female directed films) This is not only groundbreaking for any film festival, but more importantly, it is creating the much needed dialogue regarding the lack of female directors working in Hollywood today. Entertainment Weekly just wrote an article on “Female directors poised to make their mark at indie Festival” addressing this issue head on, while countless other bloggers and entertainment publications have hailed the Sundance line up as a sign of true progress. Progress, that could not come soon enough, as reminders of Hollywood’s rampant inequality are everywhere. Most recently, the line up of films for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival generated a mountain of controversy with its notable absence of any female directed films. The New York Times reported that a mere 9% of the top 250 films at the domestic box office in 2012 were directed by women, a number that is up from 5% in 2011, but still below the high of 11% achieved in 2000.

It has been well documented that women who achieve success in independent filmmaking rarely go on to achieve the mainstream success of their male counterparts. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kevin Smith, and Robert Rodriguez all received their big break at Sundance, and went on to enjoy lucrative, successful, and critically acclaimed careers in mainstream Hollywood. In contrast, numerous female directors have premiered films at Sundance over the years, but almost all of them have failed to cross over into positions of true power within the filmmaking industry. In the entire 85 year history of the Academy Awards, a measly four women have scored nominations for Best Director. At this point, that is simply unacceptable.

Last year I hosted a Women at Sundance party where the Sundance Institute and Women and Film announced that they were joining forces to support independent women filmmakers working in both narrative and documentary feature film. A year later, the slate of women directed films at Sundance shows that true progress is being made, but the 9% stat from 2012 is a sober reminder that there is still much work to be done. That is why the equality of the US Dramatic category is so important. The number of women directed films at a major film festival has finally reached a critical mass, and in leading by example, Sundance could create the change needed for female directed films to reach critical mass in all festivals, and by extension force Hollywood to wake up and realize that female voices need to be heard on par with the men.

In the meantime, I am proud to be a member of the Sundance Board for this historic festival. I will be hosting the 3rd Annual Women in Sundance event, during which more exciting news regarding women in film will be announced. We are way over capacity with over 150 of industry professionals and special guest in attendance.  I am also excited to be attending the 10X10 Girl Rising celebration and preview. Additionally, I will be on hand for the premieres of what are sure to be amazing films, in particular the documentary Anita, which chronicles the story of real life hero Anita Hill, who brought national attention to the issue of workplace sexual harassment in 1991. This is the first time in over 20 years that Hill has broken her silence to tell her side of the story, and the premiere is sure to be an emotionally charged event. Sundance 2013 is truly exciting for women in film, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. Stay tuned for updates as I tweet and blog my way through this historic event. Follow the new hashtag #sundancewomen .


Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore