“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%)

2 thoughts on ““Exploring The Barriers and Opportunities For Independent Women Filmmakers”

  1. Thank you, Jacki, for your leadership on this front.
    Your investments in independent cinema and your board service at the Sundance Institute make a measurable difference.
    Together, men and women can work to change the ratio.

  2. Hey Jacki, I have a good friend, Megumi Sasaki who is an award winning documentary film maker (see Herb and Dorothy ) She has just launched her second and followup doc to Herb and Dorothy, called Herb and Dorothy 50×50, about NYC art collectors, one a librarian and the other a postal worker. Great philanthropic and human interest story. Megumi is a great resource for you!

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