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Women Filmmakers Initiative

Click here to read the full study: “Exploring Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers”

In January 2012, Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles began an active collaboration to assess and address the role of women directors and producers within the film industry. At this year’s 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute and Women in Film presented a new research study by Professor Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D. and her team at USC Annenberg School focusing on the barriers and opportunities for women in independent film. We are very pleased to report that the initial release of the study at the Sundance Film Festival generated 460 stories, which translated to an estimated 305 million impressions. The full press release is below.

We commissioned the research from USC Annenberg to help us create programs that respond to specific needs research would reveal.   The study focused on three key opportunities for advancing women behind the camera: Mentorship, Finance Education, Training, and Access and Raising Awareness of the nature and scope of the problem itself. To this list, we have added one more priority: Facilitating Collaboration among organizations dedicated to this purpose.  Our proposed activities for the next year fit into these four categories.

We all agree that women telling stories in film and television bring valuable perspectives to the culture and that the current representation of women in key storytelling roles leaves significant room for improvement. We welcome any thoughts and ideas you can lend to the conversation as we move forward.


Activities in the first year of the Women Filmmaker Initiative include a mentoring fellowship program. Eighteen Fellows were selected from 2012 Sundance Institute programs (Feature Film, Documentary Film, Native, and the Sundance Film Festival)  with an emphasis on women feature film directors and producers working in the United States.

The Fellowship is individualized, featuring one-on-one mentoring relationships over the course of a year with high level industry leaders. Areas of focus for mentorship are carefully tailored to artists’ goals but generally include finance/capital, getting films made, and career development and sustainability. The goal of the project is to nurture the Fellows career growth within the industry.

The Women Filmmakers Initiative continues to grow based on the priorities uncovered from our research. We’d like to thank Dove, Daniel J. Edlman Inc., Norlien Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., National Endowment for the Arts, Clif Bar & Company, The Gruber Family Foundation, J. Manus Foundation, Bakhti Chai, and The Harnisch Foundation for their generous support.

Press Release: January 21, 2013

Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles Study Examines Gender Disparity in Independent Film

Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute, and Cathy Schulman, President, Women In Film Los Angeles, announced the results of a first-of-its-kind research study examining gender disparity in American independent film. The study is part of a collaboration between Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles to support independent female filmmakers.

The study was commissioned by Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles and was conducted by Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., Katherine Pieper, Ph.D. and Marc Choueiti at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California.
The research was conducted with a two-prong approach. First, it quantitatively assessed the gender of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors in U.S. movies programmed for the Sundance Film Festival between 2002 and 2012 to identify the prevalence of female filmmakers. Second, researchers documented the qualitative experiences of female filmmakers through interviews with filmmakers and film industry representatives.

The first initiative of the collaboration was to create a Mentorship Program, matching 17 Sundance Institute-supported women directors and producers with leaders in the field. Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles also convened meetings in New York and Los Angeles this fall with leading organizations working on gender in media. These Allied Organizations will be involved in and lend counsel to the project, and include: AFI; Alliance of Women Directors; Women in Film New York; Athena Film Festival / Women & Hollywood; Chapman University; Chicken & Egg; Film Independent; Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; IFP; Impact Partners Women’s Fund; Loreen Arbus Foundation; Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, NYC; Paley Center for Media; PGA; Tangerine; UCLA; USC; Women Make Movies; Women Moving Millions; and Women’s Media Center.

The Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles collaboration is supported by LUNA and JPMorgan Chase Foundation.