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April 01, 2013

Study Finds More Women in Independent Films

by Elizabeth Lee

Independent films made history this year.  For the first time, women made half of the U.S. competition dramas at the Sundance Film Festival, the most important venue for American independent films.  A recent study on women in American independent films reveals that there are more female content creators in independent films than in big Hollywood movies.  But it also finds there are still barriers many women filmmakers face.  
 
Ava DuVernay loves making movies, especially from the perspective of a black woman.  She has directed three documentaries and two features also known as narrative films, all independently produced. She says finding funding for feature films is often a challenge for women. 
 
"In some cases male-run institutions or male-run organizations or companies find it challenging to wrap their arms about 'I’m giving all this money to a woman to make our thing," she said. 
 
DuVernay’s experience reflects the findings of a University of Southern California study on women in independent film.   It looked at films at the Sundance Film Festival between 2002 and 2012 and found that close to 40 percent of documentary content creators were female.  
 
But only about 25 percent of feature films had women in key positions. Stacy Smith co-authored the study.
 
“Females were perceived to be not as trustworthy leading a crew. They were perceived to be not as confident handling not only financial matters but also leading the production of the set," she said. 
 
There have been exceptions, like Kathryn Bigelow, who, in 2010, won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture for her independent movie, The Hurt Locker, about US soldiers in Iraq.
 
And Zoe Kazan who wrote Ruby Sparks, a romantic comedy released last year, and managed to get funding for it. 
 
USC surveyed about 50 mostly female industry leaders and content creators who detailed the obstacles women face.
 
“One of their chief obstacles is convincing male dominated financiers and male dominated decision makers of their ability to helm a project and carry it through to commercial viability," said Smith. 
 
Narrative films depend on funding from producers or investment funds that are looking to make profits. Documentaries often get funding from non-profit groups and investors who care about the topic. Women are more successful in getting funds for documentaries. 
 
To encourage women filmmakers, Keri Putnam, at the Sundance Institute, says there are plans to train women in finance.
 
“Understanding the financing models, understanding how to ask for money, having the courage, the familiarity and the experience going in and teeing up funding, that’s something training can provide," she said. 
 
The study also suggests more mentoring programs for women, so more female filmmakers can reach the heights of success and the accolades of Kathryn Bigelow.