Why the Rest of the World Needs to Take a Cue from the Women at Sundance|
Something very exciting is happening at the Sundance Film Festival this year: For the first time ever, women directors have caught up to men in the main category, the U.S. Dramatic Competition, which this year features 16 titles, eight by women. As a result of these women who are either writing, directing or producing these films, we are seeing movies focusing on beautifully complex women, a subject we don’t usually see come out of the big studios. Films that are getting a ton of buzz at the festival this year, made by women, focus on such diverse topics as housewives trying to help strippers, Jane Austen-philes, troubled teens and a stressed out 30-something woman trying to recreate her adolescence.
Unfortunately, we are only seeing this game of catch-up happen in the independent film world. The rest of Hollywood, (e.g. the big studios) still have not caught on to this trend. In fact, many industries, from finance and law to architecture and medicine, haven’t caught on to the fact that when women are supported, good things happen.
In a new study commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, women have made huge strides behind the camera, directing 24 percent of the films at Sundance between 2002 and 2012. Still, that progress is not reflected in the industry as a whole. Women directed just 4.4 percent of the top 100 films at the box office from 2002 to 2012. The research shows that women have far more success with low-profile projects made outside the studio system. Women are more likely to be associate producers than producers, more likely to make documentaries than narrative films, and less likely to be hired for big budget films than those with small ones.
“It is my impression that women are still viewed as ‘riskier hires’ and, as a result, are not considered for the big-budget, high-profile films and/or films in genres other than romantic comedy and romantic drama,” said Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D. and director of the Center of The Study Of Women In Television and Film in an interview last year. Being viewed as a “risky” hire is a plight many women, not just those in the film industry, face as many employers fear that women will drop out of the workforce once they have families.
Women in film also identified raising money for films to be one of the most challenging barriers in the industry and the male-dominated social environment. “What happens after women make their first film and have their Sundance experience that prevents them from continuing to work in the movie business?” Academy Award winning producer Cathy Schulman told TheWrap, “Women having children is not an obstacle. The barrier is asking for money and financing.” Though we do see women like Kathryn Bigelow, they are really considered an outlier in Hollywood.
But studies show that when more women are seated on boards and in executive roles, companies, across industries, do better. According to a study by Catalyst and The Harvard Business School, having more women in power positions at companies may not only help financial performance but can equal big sustainable wins for the company as well as society. Simply put, more women leaders is correlated with higher levels of philanthropy as well as increases in corporate social responsibility.
And yet both women in finance, female entrepreneurs and women in film have to fight harder than their male colleagues to gain investor trust. Liz M. Garcia, who wrote a film at Sundance called The Lifeguard starring Kristen Bell as a woman having a pre-mid-life crisis, has been outspoken about the glass ceiling in the film industry. In a Forbes op-ed, she wrote, “no legislation, no government incentives, no influx of female-centered films, no female studio execs . . . can change a basic fact that haunts me: women don’t look like directors. Equality in Hollywood will not arrive until we admit that we have ideas of what a leader looks like. And he doesn’t look like me.”
Basically it seems that when women are in a bubble, like the independent film world, they can thrive because they have more support, both financial and emotional. Industry insider Anne Thompson told Public Radio International, “The new indie model that is emerging is much more collaborative — barter talent, share roles,” she said. “All these filmmakers are sort of roaming the country helping each other make films in all these different locations and all these different ranges of experiences and it works. Women are really good at that kind of thing.”
But we need that bubble to expand into every industry so eventually we don’t need to call them bubbles. If only the real world could be more like a movie, an independent movie that is.
Photo courtesy of Resorts West.