Each year for the last 13 years, 25% of American directors at the Sundance Film Festival have been female. While markedly ahead of the mainstream marketplace, where only 4% of the top 100 box office films are directed by women, our commitment to achieving diversity among our storytellers is still a work in progress. For the health of our culture, the stories that frame our lives must be expanded to include the full range of storytelling voices.
Sundance Institute, together with Women in Film Los Angeles and a community of allied organizations, works to foster gender equality in American cinema by supporting female filmmakers to develop their stories, find audiences for their work, and grow and sustain their careers.The American independent film sector is ripe with opportunities to create change, and is a proven pipeline for female artists working behind the camera across the industry.
Our Sundance Institute programs and community are called Women at Sundance.
Our ground breaking research over the last three years revealed key barriers and opportunities for women filmmakers. These form the core of Women at Sundance programs:
Our research shows that the film industry must grapple with not only the paucity of female directors working at its highest ranks, but also the image industry leaders hold regarding female directors. To journey from gender inequality to parity, decision-makers and advocates must work to alter their perceptions about what women can and want to do in their careers. This requires moving away from narrow and limiting stereotypes to conceptions of women that are as open and unbounded as those surrounding men. After three years of research, the question can progress from “Why are female directors missing behind the camera in top films?’ to “What can be done to create change?”
In October 2015, Women In Film Los Angeles and Women at Sundance organized a Summit of 40 Hollywood decision-makers to do just that. The two-day meeting was devoted to designing systemic solutions to gender inequality in the film industry.
See below for press coverage on our October convening:
In an effort to provide US-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.
The Women at Sundance Fellowship program provides robust year-long support to six talented women directors and producers who have recently completed a highly-regarded feature film and are poised to take the next step in their careers.
Fellows are selected from the pool of recent alumnae from Sundance Institute’s acclaimed programs, including the Feature Film Program, Documentary Film Program, Native American and Indigenous Film Program, and Sundance Film Festival.
This bespoke fellowship includes an industry mentor, a professional coach, year-round Sundance staff support, as well as travel grants to attend the Sundance Film Festival and other key events over the course of a year.
Through the generosity of the Harnisch Foundation, in partnership with Renee Freedman & Co, each fellow is carefully matched with a distinguished professional coach. This work provides a bridge between personal and professional barriers and opportunities. Sundance program staff also work with each fellow to help them define clear and realistic goals as well as to determine who a fitting mentor might be for the fellowship year.
The Women at Sundance Fellowship is by invitation only.
Every spring, Women at Sundance and Women In Film Los Angeles present a Financing and Strategy Intensive designed to educate a large group of female filmmakers in all aspects of seeking, securing, and managing funding for their films. Women at Sundance fellows as well as a curated group of artists from Sundance Institute, Women In Film, and Allied Organizations are invited to attend. The goal is to draw on resources both within and beyond the film industry to equip filmmakers with the expertise and confidence to seek out, negotiate, structure, and close financial deals. Financing and Strategy Intensives are presented in Los Angeles and New York (alternating by year).
This year’s Intensive, held April 25th at Morgan Stanley’s Headquarters in New York, was more interactive than ever. We invited the producer-director teams behind 40 carefully selected projects – each directed by a woman – to participate. Our goal was to help them formulate stronger pitch presentations and actionable, strategic steps to advance their front-burner projects.
Together with Women In Film/LA, 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. The study looks at 11 years of the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Labs, analyzing more than 30,000 points of data and dozens of deep-dive qualitative interviews.
We believe that by learning more about how women are faring in the independent film world, and by opening our own data at Sundance Institute for this study, we gain powerful insights into ways to positively affect 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.
Research Phase 1 – From 2002-2013 17.1% of directors of U.S. narrative films at the Sundance Film Festival were female and 29.4% (2002-2012) of U.S. Narrative producers were women. Working in a male dominated industry, women must navigate gendered financial barriers and exclusionary hiring practices as they pursue movie making. These obstacles result in only 4.2% of all directors being female across the 100 top films from 2002 to 2013.
Research Phase 2 – Female-directed films brought to the Sundance Lab were just as likely to finish as male-directed films. Further, 81.3% of all finished films went on to play at one of the top 10 festivals worldwide with no differences by gender. With the support that comes through the Sundance Labs and the ensuing continuum of Sundance support, female directors were just as likely as their male counterparts to succeed. In other words support matters. When asked about the qualities of a successful narrative director, industry experts named twice as many traditionally masculine characteristics as feminine. This tendency to “think director, think male” is a form of occupational stereotyping that may bias who is considered for open directing assignments.
Research Phase 3 – From 2002 to 2014, 25.5% of U.S. Dramatic Competition directors at the Sundance Film Festival were women. Though the data tells us that women are interested in genres favored by Hollywood, female filmmakers encounter significant obstacles as they attempt to move from independent to more commercial filmmaking, and face deep-rooted presumptions from the film industry about their creative qualifications, sensibilities, tendencies, and ambitions. Just 4.1% of the 100 top-grossing films (2002-2014) are made by female directors. A view of a gendered marketplace limits the perception of women’s career potential. Industry leaders may hold an implicit association between females and less commercial stories. Following this, buyers and sellers may perceive that women lack the ambition or competence to direct the larger, commercial properties that open doors or create later opportunities, setting up an impenetrable obstacle for many female directors.
We are committed to creating touchpoints throughout the year for the community dedicated to gender equity in media.
At the annual Women at Sundance Brunch, a community of 400 artists, industry, opinion makers, activists and supporters gather to celebrate Festival films made by women and to take stock of both accomplishments and the work yet to be done. In 2015 the Brunch featured an electric conversation between Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, moderated by Pat Mitchell. In 2016, we featured a lively centerpiece conversation about working in Hollywood between Donna Langley, Chair of Universal Pictures, and actress/director/producer Elizabeth Banks, with closing remarks by producer Effie Brown.
As part of our Fellowship, we bring six fellows to the Sundance Film Festival for a robust “Fellows Track” experience. This year, our fellows joined us for four days of curated activities including group seminars, one-on-one meetings, screenings, and special events designed specifically for the fellowship cohort.
Women At Sundance partners closely with Womein in Film/LA as well as other key organizations dedicated to gender equity in media. These organizations convene intermittently to discuss progress, inspire new ideas and plan future collaborations.
Alliance for Women Film Composers
Alliance of Women Directors
Athena Film Festival
Chicken & Egg Pictures
FUSION Film Festival at NYU
Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
International Documentary Association
Loreen Arbus Foundation
Loyola Marymount University
New York Women in Film & Television
Paley Center for Media
Producers Guild of America
Reel Image Inc.
San Francisco Film Society
Stony Brook Southampton Graduate Arts
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
Women at Sundance is made possible by leadership support from The Harnisch Foundation and Refinery29.
Additional support is provided by Kering, The Jacquelyn & Gregory Zehner Foundation, Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment, Southern California BMW Centers, Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy, IMDbPro, Abigail Disney and Pierre Hauser, Ann Lovell, Barbara Bridges, LUNA, Gruber Family Foundation, Ruth Mutch, Women In Film Los Angeles, Vimeo, EPIX, Sam Slater and Paul Bernon (Burn Later Productions), Mark and Melanie Greenberg, Lorna Auerbach (Chasca Films, LLC), Tom Warne, and Claire Best.
To Support Women at Sundance with a donation, please email Rachel Denny, Director, Individual Giving.