Women Directed Just One-Third of Festival Short Films, Study Finds

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Ava DuVernay

Looking at major festivals, the USC study discovered that career inequality for female directors starts early on.

A study from the University of Southern California finds that of the short films running in the world's top film festivals, 68 percent were helmed by males, while the remaining 32 percent were headed by women directors. From the start of their careers, female directors are on uneven footing compared with their male counterparts, as short films are a big way young directors make their artistic mark and garner attention from Hollywood.

The study was conducted by Stacy L. Smith under the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School of Communication in partnership with the LUNAFESTfilm festival. The report looked at 3,933 short film directors at 10 top worldwide festivals, including Cannes, Sundance, the Toronto International Film Festival, South by Southwest and the Venice Film Festival, among others.

Smith's study found that there are 2.13 male directors for every 1 female director for festival-accepted short films. 

Not all short film genres saw equal numbers of female talent in the director's chair. Documentary shorts were more likely to have female directors, as compared with narrative or animated shorts. Thirty-seven percent of doc directors were women, versus 31 percent of animated directors and 28 percent of narrative directors. 

Selma director Ava Duvernay started her directorial career with short films: the documentary short Compton in C Minor and the narrative short Saturday Night Life.

The USC's MDSC study comes as Women in Film Los Angeles started a social media campaign, #52FilmsByWomen, where the nonprofit partnered with Turner Classic Movies to challenge the public to take a pledge to watch a film directed by a woman every week for one year.

The percentage of women directors at Hollywood studios reached a high in 2010, with 8.1 percent, and hit a recent low last year, with 4.6 percent. In 2014, of the movies coming out of the six majors studios (Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros), six were directed by women and 124 were directed by men. This means major studios hire one female for every 20.6 male directors — a far cry from the one to 2.13 ratio for festival short films.