UIP launches plan to boost femme helmers

Only eight of 350 films made in Britain in the past two years were directed by women. In the U.S., just 6% of the 250 top-grossing pics of 2001 had women at the helm, down from 11% the previous year. Only two women, Jane Campion and Lina Wertmuller, have ever been nominated for a director Oscar. Neither won.

Women have made such great strides in so many areas of the movie biz (46% of the U.K.’s film workforce is female) that it’s shocking to be reminded how excluded they still are from the very heart of the creative process. And if anything, the “celluloid ceiling” is getting harder to breach.

Now United Intl. Pictures, the foreign distrib arm of Universal and Paramount, has joined forces with British org Women in Film & Television, to do something about it. They are launching “Directing Change,” a U.K. initiative to give wannabe femme helmers a foot in the door of big-budget filmmaking.

Two candidates a year will be selected to shadow a big-name director through every stage of making a movie. Among potential mentors who have already volunteered to take part are Anthony Minghella, Stephen Daldry, John Madden, Mike Newell, Alan Parker, Stephen Frears, Campion, Gurinder Chadha, Michael Winterbottom, Michael Apted, Richard Loncraine and Iain Softley.

Also, several production companies have committed their support, including Working Title, DNA Films, Merchant Ivory, Mission Pictures, Revolution Films and the Recorded Picture Co.

The theory is that by finding women directors with outstanding potential, and allowing them to experience vicariously the ups and down of a major movie shoot, they will be better equipped to make the step up in their own right. Simply being selected for the scheme will boost the profile of the candidates and bring them to the attention of the most powerful players in the British biz.

“Ideally, ‘Directing Change’ will become the first small but very significant step toward redressing the imbalance of female film directors working in our industry today,” comments Stewart Till, UIP’s chairman-CEO. “Two people a year will get an incredible injection of experience that they wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Till hopes it will prove successful enough to export the idea to other countries where UIP operates.

Applications are being invited from British women with some experience of directing shorts, low-budget features, theater, commercials, TV or musicvideos. A shortlist of four will be chosen, and when a participating director gets a film greenlit, he or she will pick the most compatible candidate as a shadow.

Momentum goes to the races

Brit distrib Momentum Pictures has made its biggest acquisition ever, picking up all U.K. rights to the $60 million talking-zebra movie “Racing Stripes” from Summit. The live-action/CGI pic about a zebra who wants to be a racehorse, produced by Alcon Entertainment, has now sold out worldwide, long before it starts shooting in October.

For Momentum, this marks a significant breakthrough into the big-budget league, dominated in Blighty by Entertainment Film Distributors. The 3-year-old company, owned by Alliance Atlantis, has been scouting for bigger movies for some time, signing up in 2000 as a partner in Sony-based Escape Artists, which has yet to yield a single pic. ” ‘Racing Stripes’ is a wonderful, universal story that can play to all ages. Kids will love it, but there’s enough humor for adults as well,” said Momentum topper David Kosse.

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