Women at Sundance: Where Are They Now?

sundance2013Last January I wrote about how women were the talk of Sundance, with half of the US Dramatic and Documentary films being directed by women. When the line up was announced, Sundance became the poster child for progress in the film industry, with many commentators suggesting that the Sundance Film Festival was leading the charge for gender equality in Hollywood. Despite this success, Hollywood has just concluded one of the most male dominated summer seasons in history; a season that saw record breaking box office receipts, but was soundly criticized for its lack of women in any capacity, on screen or off. During this time several of the women directed films from Sundance premiered, and with the season recently concluding, it’s time to check in on these films to see how they fared.

Lake Bell’s In A World dealt with the misogyny of Hollywood head on, and won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for the US Dramatic category at Sundance. It was also my clear favorite! Picked up by Roadside Attractions, In A World… has grossed just over $2 million since August 9th, with its widest release reaching 144 theaters, and racked up an impressive 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess was released on August 16th, and with its widest release coming in at 274 theatres, Austenland has grossed just over $1.1 million and received a 32% critical rating. Both Afternoon Delight, by Jill Soloway, and The Lifeguard by Liz W. Garcia opened over Labour Day weekend to 58% and 13% critical ratings respectively, with Afternoon Delight grossing over $150,000 on 39 screens, while The Lifeguard has yet to release its box office receipts. Finally, Touchy Feely opened on September 6th, grossing nearly $20,000 on up to 5 screens, and reaching a 34% critical assessment. The remaining female directed films from Sundance have yet to be released (Concussion), or have yet to receive release dates (May in the Summer, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes). For those wishing to follow the progress of these films, as well as many other films written and directed by women, I suggest subscribing to Melissa Silverstein’s excellent blog Women and Hollywood for weekly updates on female fronted films.

While plenty of other Sundance films enjoyed a lot of success over the summer, including The Way, Way Back, Fruitvale Station, and The Spectacular Now, it is sad to see that the films directed by women have failed to secure the wide releases needed to achieve mainstream success. What is sad about this situation is that this appears to be the industry standard. Lower budgeted independent films are rarely given the wide releases or the extensive marketing campaigns needed to create awareness and visibility for those films, regardless of the gender of the director. Unfortunately, given that the majority of female filmmakers are these directors of low budget independent films, this puts them at a distinct disadvantage in turns of trying to break into the Hollywood studio system.

I am incredibly proud to serve as a board member of the Sundance Institute, and I applaud the work of this institution for not only supporting  more gender equality behind the camera, but also for raising the profile of independent films and their viability as mainstream investments. There are so many organizations that are doing this as well, and in fact this very second I am in a meeting in New York City with many of their key representatives talking about these very issues, sharing what each is doing, and finding ways to work TOGETHER. ( That will be another blog!!)

So what can you do right now? Go and support independent films in your local theaters!!!!!


Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore


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