Women directed only one-fourth of the feature films and one-third of the documentaries that screened at the nation’s major film festivals in 2016-17, according to the latest report from Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.
You wouldn’t know it from the report, but that’s actually the good news for women directors. A report Lauzen released in January found that women directed only 7% of the 250 top-grossing domestic films last year. So for lower-budget indie films shown on the festival circuit, women are more than three-times as likely to land directing gigs as they are on the bigger-budget films shown at the nation’s cineplexes.
“The marketplace capital these high-profile festivals bestow on filmmakers and their films cannot be overstated,” Lauzen said. “They are an effective and proven apparatus for generating attention. Inclusion in these festivals provides the vital first step in the public life cycle of films with limited marketing resources, and can boost the reputation of their directors.”
The report found that women’s representation as directors on independent films screened at the festivals – features and documentaries – increased slightly from 28% in 2015-16 to 29% in 2016-17 – an increase of 3.6%. And this was 7 percentage points higher than in 2008-2009, representing an increase of 32%.
The report also found that films helmed by women were much more likely to employ females in other key posts. “On a positive note,” Lauzen said, “films directed by at least one woman also had dramatically higher percentages of women working as writers, editors, and cinematographers. For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 74% of writers, compared to just 7% on films with exclusively male directors. On films with women directors, women accounted for 36% of editors compared with 17% on films directed exclusively by men. On films with women directors, women comprised 23% of cinematographers versus 6% on films directed exclusively by men.”
The study looked at 1,472 films screened at 23 major festivals, including AFI Fest, Los Angeles Film Festival, New York Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival, and Tribeca Film Festival.