Study: Percentage of Women Working Behind the Camera in Indie Films Is "Stagnant"

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From left: Liz Garbus, Rebecca Miller, Marielle Heller

Although women directors fared better in the independent arena than when working for the studios, their numbers haven't increased above the record set in 2011-2012.

The good news is that women accounted for 28 percent of all directors working in independent film during the past year  — a percentage that's higher than the number of women, 9 percent, who directed the top-grossing films of 2015. Women comprised 35 percent of the helmers working on documentaries and 19 percent of the directors working on narrative indie features.

The bad news is that the 2015-2016 number of 28 percent represents just a five-point increase over 2014-2015 and is slightly below the recent historical high of 29 percent set in 2011-2012. "The findings indicate that while women fare better in independent films, particularly documentaries, than in studio features, they are not close to achieving parity in the independent realm," said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Looking beyond just directors, women accounted for 25 percent of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the indie films screened at U.S. festivals in 2015-2016. But that number represented little change in women's employment since 2008-09, when women accounted for 25 percent of individuals in those roles.

Commented Lauzen, "Women's representation in independent film is stagnant. In spite of the increasing dialogue about this issue, the numbers have yet to move. We are not seeing year-to-year growth."

The new numbers were presented Thursday in a study headed by Lauzen, "Women in Independent Film," that looked at domestically and independently produced feature-length documentaries and narrative films screening from May 2015 through April 2016 at 23 prominent festivals, including Sundance, Telluride, Tribeca, SXSW and AFI Fest. 

Looking at the festival lineups, the study noted that the events screened three times as many narrative films directed by men as by women. In the festivals, there was an average of five narrative features directed by at least one woman versus an average of 18 features directed exclusively by men. And they screened twice as many documentaries directed by men compared to those directed by women.

The study found that when a woman is acting as a director, the film is more likely employ women in other behind-the-scenes roles. 

In movies with at least one female helmer, women comprised 77 percent of writers versus 6 percent on films directed exclusively by men, while women accounted for 43 percent of editors (15 percent on films directed exclusively by men) and 20 percent of cinematographers (8 percent on films directed exclusively by men) on projects with a female director.  

Still, while there is a large disparity between behind-the-camera male and female representation, indie film has proved to be a better place for female filmmakers than studio features.  

According to the 2016 "Celluloid Ceiling" report, also conducted by Lauzen, women comprised 19 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2015, with women accounting for 9 percent of directors.