Jacki Zehner On Women, Money, and Changing the World  » Sundance 2015 – A Look Back and A Look Forward

April 30, 2015

Sundance 2015 – A Look Back and A Look Forward

sundance-film-festival-2015-featured-imageIt has been a few months since the closing day of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, but I am still coming down off of my Sundance high – 10 crazy days, 24 films, and what seemed like 100 parties, panels, and luncheons. Now, in the months that follow the end of the festival, it is so much fun to follow this year’s films as they make their way to theaters and other platforms for distribution.

Five years ago, when I attended my first Sundance Film Festival, I brainstormed with a few passionate women about how we could make some noise around the lack of women in film, both onscreen and behind the camera. That year, we held the inaugural Women at Sundance brunch at my home, and five years later, it has become one of the hottest tickets at the festival. This year, the amazing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin spoke with Sundance Board Chair, Pat Mitchell, about the barriers that exist for women in film. Check out this article from Women and Hollywood on the event, or you can listen to it thanks to Robin Morgan and the Women’s Media Center.

Much of what The Sundance Institute is doing programmatically to support women in film is anchored in research. In 2013, they partnered with Women and Film Los Angeles to commission a study  by Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., Katherine Pieper, Ph.D., and Marc Choueiti at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California. The study found that 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. According to available sources, this is the highest percentage of female representation at any major film festival, and it is certainly much higher than the current numbers for studio films. The following year, a second study found that female filmmakers who participated in the Sundance Institute’s feature and documentary development labs succeeded in equal numbers to male filmmakers. This was called ‘punching at their weight.’ The study concluded that gender had no impact on the likelihood of a film’s completion, as approximately 41% of all lab projects by male and female filmmakers are ultimately completed, with 80% of these going on to play at major film festivals.

Just last week, a new study was released called Exploring the Careers of Female Directors: Phase III. This was the third study in the series, and it looked specifically at the post-festival careers of female directors of narrative films. The full report can be found here, but the key findings revealed that although gender was not statistically significant in whether or not a narrative feature received domestic distribution after its run at Sundance, gender did play a part in the type of distribution these films received, with male directed narrative features outnumbering female directed narrative features almost 6 to 1 in the highest platform of theatrical distribution (over 250 screens).

At this year’s festival, 13 films directed by women won elite Sundance awards at the closing night celebration; a third of the total awards. And while we have yet to reach total gender parity, there is still reason to celebrate, as this year marked a record number of female directed films:

  • U.S. Dramatic Competition contestants: 5 of 16 directed by women;
  • U.S. Documentary Competition contestants 7 of 16 directed by women;
  • World Cinema Dramatic Competition contestants: 5 of 12 directed by women;
  • World Cinema Competition contestants: 6 of 12 directed by women.

However, the Sundance experience is about more than just films. One of the most sought after events of the festival was the “Power of Story Serious Ladies” panel, featuring Lena Dunham, Kristin Wiig, Mindy Kaling, and Jenji Kohan, with New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum serving as moderator, and it was super fun to be in the audience and listen to these amazing women. Please check out the video of the event if you want to watch.

This year also marked the 2nd annual Zions Women’s Leadership Luncheon in partnership with Geena Davis and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. This year, Zions Bank announced a contest to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film Thelma and Louise. Contestants who wish to enter the contest are asked to film a sequel or short film inspired by the original film. The winner will receive $5,000 and will have their film screened at the 2016 Sundance Women’s Leadership celebration. I am already brainstorming what my film is going to be about.


One of the most talked about films of the festival this year was The Hunting Ground, an expose on campus rape culture on US college campuses. This was the first film that I have executive produced to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and I was so thrilled that it received the recognition it deserved from the media and festival audiences. The film was produced and directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Zeiring, the same filmmakers who brought you the Sundance and Academy Award winning film, The Invisible War. The Hunting Ground has received a lot of media attention since its theatrical release on February 27th, and has been described by the LA Times as “Devastating”, with The Hollywood Reporter called it “Shocking” and “Galvanizing.” Critically acclaimed and screening in theatres and on CNN, The Hunting Ground has significantly helped open the conversation around the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in our colleges. See links below for more articles on The Hunting Ground.

maxresdefaultAnother film that made waves at the festival, as well as being one that I am also personally connected to, was The Mask you Live In, a documentary film that follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. The film is directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the same filmmaker who brought Miss Representation to the festival four years ago, and the film is supported by testimonies from experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, and media, all offering evidence to the issues facing our boys today and how we as parents can combat them. Dr. Michael Kimmel of Stoney Brook University was one of the experts featured in the film. Michael has become a good friend over the years, and he spoke here in Utah last fall, as well as at our annual Women Moving Millions Summit in New York City last September. See below for links to more reviews and articles on the film.

With another successful Sundance Film Festival in the rearview mirror, I still have a lot of catching up to do! There is no possible way to see every film at the festival in just 10 days, and therefore my task is clear…it’s time to get back to watching movies! Especially all of the award winning films that I did not get to see in January. See below for a full list of award winning films from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Hope to see you next year for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival!

The 2015 Sundance Award Winning Films and Filmmakers
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (This was one of my favorite films of the festival! Fox Searchlight purchased it, look for it in theaters on June 12th, 2015!)
Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic, Robert Eggers, The Witch
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic, Tim Talbott, The Stanford Prison Experiment
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision, Advantageous
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Editing, Lee Haugen, Dope
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography, Brandon Trost, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, The Wolfpack
Directing Award: U.S. Documentary, Matthew Heineman, Cartel Land
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography, Matthew Heineman, Cartel Land
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Break Out First Feature, Lyric R. Cabral, David Felix Sutcliffe, (T)ERROR
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking, Bill Ross, Turner Ross, Western
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact, Marc Silver, 3 1/2 MINUTES
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, The Stanford Prison Experiment
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary, The Russian Woodpecker
Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary, Kim Longinotto, Dreamcatcher (I heard this was an amazing film and I was sorry to have missed it at the festival, can’t wait to see it!)
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing, Jim Scott, How To Change The World
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact, Pervert Park
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Unparalleled Access, Pervert Park
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, Slow West
Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic, Alanté Kavaïté, The Summer of Sangaile
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting, Regina Casé and Camila Márdila, The Second Mother
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting, Jack Reynor, Glassland
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography, Germain McMicking, Partisan
Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe, James White
Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary, Dark Horse
Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic, Umrika
Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Meru
Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Short Film Grand Jury Prize, World of Tomorrow
Short Film Jury Award: US Fiction, SMILF
Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction, Oh Lucy!
Short Film Jury Award: Non-fiction, The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul
Short Film Jury Award: Animation, Storm hits jacket
Short Film Special Jury Award for Acting, Back Alley
Short Film Special Jury Award for Visual Poetry, Object



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