Women short changed at film festivals

Discrimination starts early for female directors.

by Jennie Kermode

Last year, only 17 of the 250 biggest films released were directed by women and women had only a third of speaking parts, so it's no secret that there's discrimination in the industry, but a new study has now emerged that has shocked many by revealing how early in their careers the problem can start. Stacy Smith looked at the short film selections at ten major film festivals and found that only a third of films included were directed by women.

Gender & Short Films: Emerging Female Filmmakers And The Barriers Surrounding Their Careers, published by the University of Southern California, looked at Cannes, Sundance, the Toronto International Film Festival, South By Southwest, the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, the Venice Film Festival, the Berlinale, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the New York Film Festival and Telluride. Smith examined their short film programmes between 2010 and 2014, totalling 3,933 films.

The study found that US festivals were significantly less likely to choose films by female directors, and that women were most successful in documentary categories. When women were interviewed about the problem, 61% said that finding finance had been a problem in their careers, and that this was still more difficult when their films focused on female characters or on subjects considered feminine.

Suzy Starke German of Lunafest, which partnered Smith on the study, said that the data could make it easier to identify ways of redressing the imbalance. Short films are particularly important because they are where most directors get started, and festival success with a short film can make it much easier to raise finance for a feature. Nevertheless, the disparity in figures reveals that even when women do get their short films noticed at festivals, they are six times less likely than their male counterparts to progress from there to directing big budget films.

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