Skip to main content

At Film Festivals Last Year, Men Directed Three Times as Many Films as Women

And that's actually an improvement over recent years.

Despite an influx of grants for women filmmakers and new production houses devoted to films made by women, major film festivals still screened three times as many films directed by men as by women between 2016 and 2017, a new study has found.

In its annual "Women in Independent Film" study, released on Wednesday, researchers at the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego University found that 23 high-profile film festivals between June of 2016 and May of 2017 screened an average of 18 narrative films directed by men, compared to an average of just six directed by women. Of the 1,472 films studied, women comprised 28 percent of "key behind-the-scenes roles"—that is, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers. Men made up 72 percent of such roles.

This represents a sight improvement from past figures the Center has collected: Between 2008 and 2015, the previous high of women working in key roles was 26 percent, which was achieved in 2011–12, 2013–14, and 2014–15. In the 2016–17 data set, women also comprised 29 percent of directors, tied with 2011–12 as a recent historical high.

Those details matter, because the film festivals that the Center studied—including Sundance, Telluride, South by Southwest, and New York film festivals—provide crucial platforms for directors seeking distribution and awards attention for their films. Representation at one of these festivals can transform a film's fate upon release. Sundance has long served as a stage for lucrative distribution deals for films like Manchester by the Sea and Little Miss Sunshine; while Telluride has premiered seven of the last nine Best Picture Oscar winners, including this year's Moonlight.

"The marketplace capital these high-profile festivals bestow on filmmakers and their films cannot be overstated," Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center, said in a statement. "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 2017 Cannes and Sundance festivals were lauded by entertainment journalists for including more female directors—34 percent of directors were female at Sundance the year, as opposed to a nine-year historic average of 27.3 percent; and women directed 16 percent of films at this year's Cannes, a 2 percent increase from 2016.

These marginal increases, though surely welcome, will do little to bolster women's involvement on film sets, particularly in lesser roles: The Center's study found (as others researchers have similarly concluded) that films with at least one female director tended to have higher percentages of female editors, cinematographers, and writers.