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, while our ongoing joint work with Women in Film Los Angeles to create broader industry change is called the Female Filmmakers Initiative.
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 and the Female Filmmakers Initiative:
Artist Support - Resource Map, Fellowships, Career Sustainability
Financing - Expanding Knowledge and Access for Female Filmmakers
Raising Awareness - Research, Public Programs
Networking and Collective Impact - Change requires a collective, field-wide approach
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 and Harnisch Coaching Program provides six women fellows with an industry mentor, a professional coach, year-round Sundance Institute support, as well as travel grants to attend the Sundance Film Festival and other key events over the course of a year, from September through August.
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 allows fellows to address who works to provide a bridge between personal and professional barriers and opportunities.
Fellows are selected from the pool of recent alumnae from Sundance Institute’s acclaimed programs. This includes women directors and producers who have participated in Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program, Documentary Film Program, Native American and Indigenous Film Program, or who have presented a film at the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance program staff 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.
Each April in collaboration with Women In Film/LA, we present a Financing Intensive designed to educate approximately 100 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 programs and collaborating organizations are invited to attend. The goal is to draw on resources both within and beyond the film arena to equip women filmmakers with the expertise and confidence to seek out, negotiate, structure, and close financial deals. Financing Intensives are presented in Los Angeles and New York (alternating by year). The most recent Intensive was presented at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills on April 22, 2015 and included a morning strategy clinic for 50 filmmakers followed by an afternoon session of panels, keynotes, and discussion for 100 filmmakers.
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.
Each year at the Festival, Women at Sundance Fellows participate in a robust “Festival Track,” including one-on-one industry meetings to advance their projects, group seminars with industry experts, sessions with professional coaches, as well as screenings and events.
Our Female Filmmakers Initiative is led by Sundance Institute and Women in Film/LA, 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.
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
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.