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Telling women’s stories will change the world, Sundance filmmakers say
Actress Rosario Dawson is interviewed in the documentary "Miss Representation," by director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, part of the Sundance Film Festival 2011. Courtesy Image
(Scott Sommerdorf  l  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Geralyn Dreyfous (lower left) listens intently as Gloria Steinem (right) addresses a gathering of 100-or so women Jan. 23 connected to the movie industry.
A film still showing USS Kirk crew members in "Last Days in Vietnam."
Courtesy Hugh Doyle  |  Sundance Institute
Mitch (Paul Eenhoorn), a tourist from Australia, enjoys a trip to Iceland, in the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
Tourists Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson, left) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) vacation in Iceland, in the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Tourists Colin (Paul Eenhoorn, left) and (Earl Lynn Nelson, center) meet a hip local (Emmsjé Gauti) in Reykjavik, Iceland, in a scene from the comedy "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics
The wreckage in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon after the Americans evacuated in 1975, seen in a moment from Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS

Crew members aboard the USS Kirk signal passengers in a Chinook  helicopter to jump onto the ship's deck on April 29, 1975, during the final evacuation of Americans and their Vietnamese colleagues from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. The moment is described in Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Hugh Doyle  |  Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS

Stuart Herrington, one of the military men who witnessed the final days in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, one of the interview subjects of Rory Kennedy's documentary "Last Days in Vietnam." Courtesy Moxie Firecracker Films / PBS
Medical photos of Deanna Walters, a victim of domestic violence whose case is featured in the documentary "Private Violence." Courtesy HBO Documentary Films
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute

A scene from "Private Violence." Courtesy Sundance Institute
(Kim Raff  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  
Director Jill Soloway accepts the Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic for her film "Afternoon Delight" during the Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony at Snyderville Basin Fieldhouse Recreation Center in Park City on January 26, 2013.
Director Martha Stephens, of the narrative film "Land Ho!" Courtesy Sundance Institute
Director Rory Kennedy, of the documentary "Last Days of Vietnam" Courtesy Sundance Institute
Cynthia Hill, director of the documentary "Private Violence" Courtesy Sundance Institute

Last year, the Sundance Institute released an important study confirming what every female filmmaker already knew: If you want to direct a Hollywood film, don’t be a woman.

The odds are slightly better for women who want to direct indie films. A second installment of the study, released this week, shows that 35 percent of American-made documentaries screened at the Sundance Film Festival from 2002-13 were directed by women, in comparison to 17 percent of U.S. narrative films at the festival that were directed by women.

That’s a marked contrast to Hollywood, where about 4.4 percent of the 100 top-grossing Hollywood films during the same 12-year period were directed by women.

“Indie film is doing a lot better, but we have a long way to go,” says Caroline Libresco, senior programmer and director of special programs for the Sundance Institute.

Doing better, but still: There’s been “no meaningful change over time” of the number of female directors and producers leading Sundance films, according to the report, commissioned by Sundance and Women in Film Los Angeles, and conducted by a team led by Stacy L. Smith at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Story continues below

‘Having this conversation constantly’ » “The statistics are a scandal,” said director Lucy Walker, at Sundance to promote her short documentary “The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” speaking at a panel spotlighting female filmmakers.

“Until we get to an equal playing field, we’ve got to keep doing panels like this,” agreed panelmate Rory Kennedy, at the festival to promote “Last Days in Vietnam,” which she directed and produced.

The film world is changing, “simply by the fact we’re all having this conversation constantly,” said Jill Soloway, who won the best director award for her 2013 Sundance film “Afternoon Delight.” It was, at first, difficult to find a distributor for her sexually bold film — the movie played in 25 American cities in August and September, and currently is available on iTunes — and she grew tired of hearing there wasn’t an audience for female-centered films about women over 35.

Why does the number of female directors matter? Supporting female directors and storytellers will help viewers see a full range of authentic and original stories in the media, said Utah filmmaker Geralyn Dreyfous, the Salt Lake City-based film producer who founded the Utah Film Center.

Dreyfous is a partner in Impact Partners, which has funded more than 45 documentary films in the past six years, including Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s 2011 Sundance documentary “Miss Representation.” “You can’t be what you can’t see,” says Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, as the documentary reveals how female characters on TV or in movies are most often represented as wives or girlfriends, looking for love.

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Sundance Film Festival » There’s a scandal in the low numbers of women directing movies, which has led to an emerging network to change the field.

At a glance

Women behind the camera

A study commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival and Women in Film Los Angeles identified gender issues beyond the low number of female directors. When interviewed about directors, industry leaders were likely to use stereotypical male attributes or to make claims that women wouldn’t be interested or able to direct horror or action or other genre films. “When industry leaders think director, they think male,” the report states.

At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, of the 1,163 content creators working behind the camera on 82 American films, nearly 30 percent were women. In narrative films, 24 percent of content creators were women, while 40 percent of documentary directors were women.

In another bright spot, female filmmakers who participate in Sundance filmmaking labs are as likely as their male colleagues to finish their films and have them accepted at the country’s top 10 film festivals.

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