Female Directors Better Represented in Festival Films Than Blockbusters (Study)

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
Leslye Headland's 'Sleeping With Other People' played at both Sundance and Tribeca this year.

Only 7 percent of the highest-grossing films in 2014 may have been directed by women, but a new study shows that women accounted for 23 percent of directors of feature-films screened at film festivals over the past 12 months.

Female directors were better represented at film festivals last year than they were among the highest-grossing films of 2014, according to a new study from San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Only 7 percent of the 250 highest-grossing movies of 2014 had female directors, according to another study by SDSU's center, a figure cited by the ACLU in its letters to state and federal agencies last month asking them to investigate what it called discriminatory hiring practices in Hollywood. The statistic was also referenced by Beyond the Lights director Gina Prince-Bythewood as she expressed her support to The Hollywood Reporter for the ACLU's initiative.

But women accounted for 23 percent of the directors of domestically and independently-produced feature-length films screening at 23 high-profile U.S. film festivals over the past 12 months, including Sundance, Telluride, SXSW, Tribeca, the New York Film Festival, the L.A. Film Festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and Slamdance.

These findings come from a new study released Wednesday by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of SDSU's female-focused center, which is titled, "Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on Independent Films in 2014-15."

The study calculated the percentage of female producers, executive producers, directors, writers, editors and cinematographers working on films playing at those 23 festivals. The study also breaks down that data by documentary and narrative features, finding that women made up 29 percent of doc directors and 18 percent of narrative directors.

“The findings drive home the point that women who direct are much more plentiful than the numbers from the mainstream film industry would lead us to believe,” Lauzen said in a statement. “Claims that qualified women directors don’t exist or are in short supply are at odds with the data.”

Across all behind-the-scenes jobs, women accounted for 26 percent of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on those festival-selected films. By position, women were most represented as producers (33 percent), followed by executive producers (27 percent), directors (23 percent), writers (23 percent), editors (22 percent) and cinematographers.

The percentages of female writers, editors and cinematographers working on festival films increased slightly from the year prior, while the percentages of directors, producers and executive producers remained the same. Compared to the 2008-09 period, the percentages of female directors, writers and executive producers on festival films last year are up, but the percentage of producers is even with the 2008-09 figure, and the percentage of editors is down slightly from 2008-2009.

Check out the full study here.

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