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

  • Tuva-Novotny

    Tuva Novotny Questions Monogamy in 'Diorama' Pic (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Actress-turned-helmer Tuva Novotny thrives on big challenges. Her feature debut “Blindspot,” Norway’s entry for the 2019 Nordic Council Prize, was shot in real-time in one take and illuminates mental health issues. Her sophomore mainstream Swedish pic “Britt Marie Was Here” –slated for a Sept. 20 U.S. release via Cohen Media Group –  [...]

  • Seizure

    Writer Megan Gallagher On Her Viaplay Supernatural Nordic-Noir 'Seizure'

    With outposts in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, Miso Film has become one of the most influential film and TV outfits in Scandinavia. On August 19, the company’s Norwegian arm lifted the curtain on its series venture, the supernatural police drama “Seizure” by premiering the show’s first two episodes at the Haugesund Film Festival ahead of [...]

  • Thoma-Robsahm

    World Partners Board “a-ha The Movie” as Helmer Tells It All (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Pitched at Haugesund’s New Nordic Films confab, Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s doc “a-ha -The Movie” won’t hit screens before November 2020, but an array of new production and distribution partners have already boarded the project. Clementina Hegewisch of Neue Impuls and Matthias Greving of Kinescope Film in Germany are now co-producing [...]

  • “@Chica-Chile-Norway”

    Miso Film Norway Unveils ‘Tainted’ Details, Drive to Target Youth Audiences (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Miso Film Norge, the Oslo-based arm of one of the most prominent of Scandinavian production outfits whose credits include “1864,” Warrior“ and Netflix’s “The Rain,” has part lifted the curtain on its latest scripted venture, the teen revenge-thriller “Tainted.” The TV outfit produced the 8×30 series in collaboration with Norwegian public broadcaster [...]

  • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

    Film News Roundup: Stephen King's 'Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon' Movie in the Works

    In today’s film news roundup, a Stephen King horror movie is in the works, “Downton Abbey” is seeing strong sales and a project about Revolutionary War soldier Deborah Sampson is in development. KING ADAPTATION Stephen King’s “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” has been set up as a movie at George A. Romero’s Sanibel Films, [...]

  • Moviepass

    MoviePass Confirms Security Issue With Customer Records

    MoviePass, the struggling movie ticket subscription service, has confirmed a security issue may have exposed customers’ records. In a statement, MoviePass said Wednesday that the security lapse was recently discovered and its system was immediately secured. Reports of the data breach first surfaced Tuesday through the Tech Crunch site, which alleged that tens of thousands [...]

  • Matthew Modine

    Matthew Modine Accused of Violating Labor Laws With Campaign Videos

    Matthew Modine has been accused by SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris of violating federal laws in his campaign to unseat Carteris. The production of three campaign videos for Modine by the for-profit New York Film Academy — on whose board Modine sits — has been blasted by Carteris for alleged violations of federal labor law prohibiting [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content