You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Women and Minority Cinematographers Still Face Challenges

Elen Lotman: There are still very few women cinematographers working on bigger-budget pics

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — The struggle for diversity among cinematographers won’t be over any time soon, say women and minority DPs — but a strong focus on breaking down myths and building up opportunities early is moving the needle, however slowly.

Industry figures show that film schools now have student bodies that are about equal in gender, says Estonian DP Elen Lotman. But when you look at percentages for big-budget feature films, women still make up about 3%, she says, with numbers a bit better for lower-budget work and better still, around 21%, for publicly funded film.

“Under-representation occurs at a certain point,” says Lotman.

Progress is hardly to the level where “next year we can have a bunch of white men sitting here whining about not finding work,” she joked to a group of colleagues and students at Poland’s Camerimage fest this week.

A talk organized by the U.K.-based lensers’ platform Illuminatrix and Imago, the European Federation of Cinematographers, prompted 10 DPs to share experiences and expertise in battling deeply entrenched stereotypes and institutions that have remained largely unbudged despite widely held knowledge that filmmaking remains deeply unequal.

Veteran DP Nancy Schreiber (“Blair Witch,” “The Celluloid Closet” and “The Nines”) says women still face particular hurdles in one of the areas where there is also the most opportunity: television.

“Not much has changed,” she says, with “extremely demanding” production schedules, few resources for women camera operators with small children and a wall of myths still widely held: That women don’t have the physique to shoot handheld, for one.

“That’s bullshit,” she says.

And, as Lotman points out, in an industry where there’s already substantial risk, “risk-averse” producers are not inclined to try working with new kinds of DPs.

The reality is that women cinematographers sometimes offer unique abilities over male counterparts, says Ed Lachman, one of Hollywood’s top lensers, who shot last year’s Camerimage grand prize winner “Carol.”

“I prefer working with women in many ways,” he says, “because I find there’s less of an ego problem.”

Mexico-based DP Maria Secco says the situation is a bit better there, perhaps because 75% of film output is supported by the state.

Not surprisingly, it often takes a woman in charge of hiring to affect real change, says black cinematographer Bradford Young (“Selma,” “A Most Violent Year”), who says he still encounters suspicion on the set regularly.

“Ninety-nine percent of my opportunities have come from women,” he says.

If Schreiber has learned anything, she says, it’s that confronting prejudices “quickly and publicly” when they’re encountered is crucial.

That’s never easy, of course, for emerging filmmakers concerned about building their career. But, as DP Catherine Goldschmidt puts it, there’s no other option than persisting and raising the profile for minorities. “We should have a public face.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content