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.
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, in collaboration with our partner Women at Sundance, produced the fourth 2017 Financing and Strategy Intensive in April as a way to increase financing knowledge and relationships for female filmmakers. Upon analyzing the obstacles and opportunities facing women in American independent film, we found the most frequent barrier cited was lack of expertise in film financing and skills related to raising capital from investors. We designed this special program to tackle financing issues head on.
Fellows received two days of training, feedback, and valuable connections toward financing their projects. Day one featured an afternoon pitching workshop and evening plenary panel with Dr. Ashok Amritraj, H.C., Chairman and CEO, Hyde Park Entertainment; Jennifer Dana, Head of Production, 3311 Productions; Rena Ronson, Partner/Head, Independent Film Group, United Talent Agency; Jenna Santoianni, SVP of TV at Sonar Entertainment; and Alex Walton, Partner at Bloom. It was moderated by Women In Film President of the Board, and CEO of Welle Entertainment, Cathy Schulman. Day two featured a morning financing workshop with tailored project advising on how to fundraise, and concluded with one-on-one sessions where filmmakers had the opportunity to meet with potential supporters of their projects.
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.
Loreen Arbus Foundation
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.