Female Filmmakers Intitiative


In 2012, the Sundance Institute and Women in Film, Los Angeles launched the Female Filmmakers Initiative to foster gender parity for women behind the camera. Our first step was to understand the hard numbers and the root causes behind the paucity of American female filmmakers so we could address the problem head-on. Our landmark research over the last three years revealed key barriers and opportunities for women filmmakers that inform our collective and individual work.



Together with Sundance Institute, we commissioned groundbreaking research with Dr. Stacy Smith and her team at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism over the last three years (2013, 2014, and 2015). Before this project, an analysis of gender composition among content creators from the independent film sector had never been undertaken. We believe that by learning more about how women are faring in the independent film world, and the obstacles that are keeping women from commercial films, we gain powerful insights into ways to positively effect progress. Just below are thumbnail sketches of the research; but this is only the beginning of what we’ve learned. Click below for the entire studies.

Phase I: “Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers” examines gender differences in submissions and selections over multiple years for U.S. films in the Sundance Film Festival, and in Sundance Institute Feature Film and Documentary Film Programs. The study also delves into qualitative interviews with a targeted group of independent female directors and producers, industry executives, and thought leaders in the field.

Phase II: This new study updates Sundance Film Festival data to include 2013 numbers and delves into Sundance Institute’s Lab data, analyzing the rate at which female filmmakers enter Sundance’s artist labs and the rate at which they subsequently complete and exhibit their work. The Phase II study also continues further deep-dive qualitative inquiry, exploring gender-based perceptions among thought leaders in the field.

Phase III: “Exploring the Careers of Female Filmmakers” explores how female directors fare after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. We assess the types of films, distribution deals, and exhibition patterns of male and female U.S. Dramatic Competition directors. Then, through industry interviews with filmmakers, buyers, and sellers, we examine the unique impediments female filmmakers face.

The third phase of research garnered extensive media attention when it was published on April 21, and again in the spring of 2015, when it became part of the foundation of an ACLU action to expose and combat gender discrimination in Hollywood.

CLICK HERE for Phases I and II
CLICK HERE for a PDF of the latest press release


Resource Map

In an effort to provide U.S.-based female filmmakers a comprehensive view of available support, we created a Resource Map, surveying more than 150 programs from 50 organizations that serve female filmmakers. The result is a user-friendly, searchable database of programs, events, workshops, and services—an information storehouse where female media artists can tap into resources and opportunities.



Women In Film and Sundance Institute Financing Intensive

Six years ago, Sundance Institute and Women In Film joined together to create a special program designed to tackle barriers women filmmakers face accessing financing. With 2018 unfolding to be a touchstone year for women’s advancement in our industry, we were especially thrilled to bring 25 projects together for two days of training, feedback, and valuable connections toward getting their films made.

Following our day one pitching workshop, the evening plenary panel unveiled two case studies on how recent feature successes got to the screen. The first was for documentary, and 2016 Film Finishing Fund recipient, UNREST, with filmmaker Jennifer Brea and producer Alysa Nahmias, moderated by Sundance Institute’s Caroline Libresco. This was followed by a conversation with the financing team of Dee Rees’ MUDBOUND, including Cassian Elwes, Christopher Lemole of Armory Films, and Kim Roth of MACRO, moderated by Cathy Schulman. Day two featured a morning financing workshop with tailored project advising on how to fundraise, and concluded with a “speed dating” session with leading financiers where filmmakers had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with potential supporters of their projects.

Held again this year in Wolfgang Puck’s Spectra and SilverScreen Cinema of the Pacific Design Center, we were honored to be joined by over 55 generous advisors from the production and finance fields. We look forward to tracking the progress of all of the fellows, and gaining a deeper understanding of how the financial roadblocks women face are systemically removed.

The Financing Intensive is co-founded by the Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles. This year’s event was made possible by the support of Lancôme.


Allied Organizations

Our Female Filmmakers Initiative is led by Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles, but includes other key organizations dedicated to gender equity in media. These organizations convene intermittently to discuss progress, inspire new ideas, and plan future collaborations.


AFI Conservatory

Alliance for Women Film Composers

Alliance of Women Directors

Athena Film Festival

Chapman University

Chicken & Egg Pictures

Creative Capital

Film Fatales

Film Independent

Fledgling Fund

Ford Foundation

FUSION Film Festival at NYU

Gamechanger Films

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media


Impact Partners

International Documentary Association

Loreen Arbus Foundation

Loyola Marymount University

New York Women in Film & Television

Palix Foundation

Paley Center for Media

Producers Guild of America

Reel Image Inc.

San Francisco Film Society

Stony Brook Southampton Graduate Arts

Tangerine Films

The Harnisch Foundation

Time Warner Foundation

Tribeca Film Institute

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Women & Hollywood

Women in Film & Video, Washington DC

Women Make Movies

Women Moving Millions

Women’s Media Center

Writers Guild of America




Support for Women at Sundance and for The Female Filmmakers Initiative is provided by The Harnisch Foundation, Morgan Stanley, Southern California BMW Centers, Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy, Palix Foundation, Archer Gray, David E. Quinney III, Gruber Family Foundation, The Jacquelyn & Gregory Zehner Foundation, and LUNA.