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Sundance Reports Gains for Women Directors in Submitted Movies

The Sundance Film Festival has seen an increase in women directors in submissions and acceptances to the 2019 line-up, according to reports unveiled Friday.

The Sundance Institute reported that 31% of feature-length submissions this year had at least one woman director, as did 35% of episodic and shorts content. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2019, 41% had a woman director while 52% of shorts did.

Those numbers represent gains from 2017 and 2018. An analysis issued Friday in partnership with Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that 28% of feature-length and episodic projects submitted to the Sundance Film Festival across 2017 and 2018 had at least one woman director, as did 34.1% of shorts. Of feature films and episodic content accepted in 2017 and 2018, 35% had a woman director, while 51.4% of short films did.

“This study shows us where the pipeline for women and people of color is robust and where more support is needed,” said Smith. “The gains we saw for women over the past decade reveal that change is possible and where more support is needed.”

The Sundance Institute also said women and people of color were “well represented” in the Institute’s labs and artist support programs. More than half of the participants in the Sundance Institute’s Directors Lab were women (55%) and people of color (60%).

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“It’s clear from this data that there is a robust and exciting talent pool including women and people of color,” said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute. “We are proud of the investments the Institute has made in identifying and supporting underrepresented artists, and we are even prouder of the results those investments have catalyzed, over the two years captured here.”

The reports also showed gains in representation for directors of color. During 2017 and 2018, 45.5% of U.S. short films and 24.3% of U.S. dramatic features accepted to the Sundance Film Festival had a director of color. Less than 15% of directors of submitted projects within each festival category analyzed were women of color. Only 7.4% of U.S. dramatic feature directors accepted to the festival in 2017-18 were women of color.

For the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, 55% of accepted short films and 38% of accepted dramatic features had a director of color. Additionally, 18% of accepted projects, across features, episodics, and shorts, were directed by one or more woman of color.

The announcement also noted that gains in representation drop off dramatically as filmmakers advance in their careers. People of color directed 22.3%, and women only 4%, of the country’s top grossing films in 2018. Only nine out of 1,335 directors of the most popular 1,200 films across 12 years were women of color, according to another recent report from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

“Good stories depend on diverse perspectives,” said Lena Waithe. “Those perspectives will only be supported with intentional outreach and support for intersectional voices across the spectrum. The audience is there to support good stories but we have to work harder to see those stories brought to light.”

The findings of the study will be discussed at a panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. The event will be moderated by Franklin Leonard and include Smith, Nina Jacobson, Waithe, and Sundance Institute’s director of outreach and inclusion Karim Ahmad.

Read the full report here.

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