Female Filmmakers Initiative – Exploring the Careers of Female Directors: Phase III

Lulu Keating directs Lucille's Ball. Photo by Ros Norbury

Lulu Keating directs Lucille’s Ball. Photo by Ros Norbury

“Industry decision-makers perceive that there is a scarcity of female directors and a small pool to choose from in top-grossing films. Those interviewed named, on average, three female directors who might be included on consideration lists.” (From Phase III of the ongoing Female Filmmakers Initiative, sponsored by Women in Film Los Angeles and the Sundance Institute.)

The truth belies that perception. For films that debuted at the Sundance Festival, almost all of which were commercially released, “45 different women helmed one of the 100 top-grossing movies across 13 years, and over 100 different women brought a narrative film to the Sundance Film Festival from 2002 to 2014.”

The collaboration between Women in Film Los Angeles and the Sundance Institute began with the intention to foster gender parity for women behind the camera. So far 3 reports exploring the “systemic obstacles and opportunities facing women in American independent film” have been published. The reports are the work of Professor Stacy Smith and her team at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Phase I, released in 2013 at the Sundance festival, examined gender differences for U.S. films screened at the Sundance Film Festival from 2002 to 2012. It also included interviews with filmmakers and industry executives. Phase II, released in 2014, studied filmmakers supported by the Sundance Institute Lab and found that “female directors were just as likely as their male counterparts to complete their films and be accepted into the top 10 film festivals.” Phase II also continued the qualitative interview work by probing “gender-based perceptions among thought leaders in the field.”

Phase III, released April 21, 2015 and which incorporates many of the finding of Phases I and 2, looks at how female directors fare after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. To do so, the investigators assessed the “types of films, distribution deals, and exhibition patterns of male and female U.S. Dramatic Competition directors” and, through interviews with filmmakers, buyers, and sellers, looked for “the unique impediments female filmmakers face.”

One of Phase III’s many findings was that gender did not play a role in receiving theatrical distribution for films in the Sundance feature film competition. However:

“Movies with a female director (70.2%) were more likely than movies with a male director (56.9%) to be distributed by Independent companies with fewer financial resources and lower industry clout. Conversely, male-directed films (43.1%) were more likely than female-directed films (29.8%) to receive distribution from a Studio Specialty/Mini Major company. These latter companies have deeper pockets and greater reach.” And, “At the highest platform of theatrical distribution, above 250 screens, male directors outnumber female directors by a factor of 6 to 1.”

WIFTV member, editor Mary Ungerleider

WIFTV member, editor Mary Ungerleider

Is it any wonder that there’s a perception of scarcity of female directors? I urge you to have a look this interesting and detailed report. I found the investigation of specific barriers to female filmmakers, which begins with the heading “Perception of a Gendered Marketplace” on page 15, particularly interesting. The report can be found here:


by Mary Ungerleider, for the WIFTV Vancouver Advocacy Committee

For more advocacy-related news and articles, check out the advocacy page on womeninfilm.ca.

1 thought on “Female Filmmakers Initiative – Exploring the Careers of Female Directors: Phase III

  1. Pingback: Gender Parity at the Workplace Economically Beneficial: Women at Work Study | Women in Film and Television Vancouver Blog

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