Challenges & Successes of Women in Film: A Pre-Panel Primer

Film critic and festival programmer Deirdre Crimmins, host of this weekend’s panel, on the state of equal representation behind the camera

On Sunday May 7th, at 2:30pm in Harvard Square the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival organization will be hosting a free panel at the Democracy Center in Cambridge on the subject of women in film. Deirdre Crimmins, Boston-area film critic and MassIFF programmer, will moderate the panel. This article brings a little context to the greater issues the panel will address.

As feminists in the greater film community, it is simultaneously important and frustrating for us to continue having dialogues about women in film production. Education and discussion can be on the front line of not only raising awareness of the underrepresentation of women in filmmaking, but we can also support female filmmakers who have the talent to break through the glass ceiling.

Though there continue to be issues in female representation on screen (a quick Bechdel test can reveal these pervasive problems), it can be more difficult to see the ongoing issue of women’s presence behind the camera.

One pervasive symptom of this gender disparity in filmmaking is the astronomically quick elevation of selected independent male directors. The textbook example of this ascension is Gareth Edwards. After working in television and short films, Edwards wrote and directed 2010’s Monsters. The film was critically loved and easily profitable. Edward’s next film was 2014’s Godzilla. After creating a single indie darling film, this director was then given a budget 320 times greater for his next film. Aside from Monsters, Edwards was an essentially unknown director, which would make him a big gamble for the studio. This gamble did pay off, and Edwards went on to direct last year’s Rogue One with a budget of $200 million.This example is not to disparage Edwards, or any of his films, but it is effective to highlight an inequality in filmmaking. There are no similarly elevated female independent directors in contemporary cinema.

It is not an irregular occurrence for a male director to have an independently produced feature film turn a great profit and then he quickly gets entrusted with the next big Hollywood production. However, this risk is only ever taken with male directors. There are plenty of female directors— like Ana Lily Amirpour, writer-director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and the upcoming The Bad Batch — who are just as talented, and have similarly successful small films, but they are not given the same opportunities as men even after having proven themselves just as capable.

Clearly this single case study is not the whole story. To paint a broader picture of the current state of women in film, here are the numbers:

· In 2016, 7% is films were directed by women (down from 9% in 2015)
· In other roles, women comprised 13% of writers, 17% of executive producers, 24% of producers, 17% of editors, and 5% of cinematographers.
· Only 3% of cinematic composers were women in 2016 (Source)

Given that women make up roughly half of the world’s population, and are just over half of portion of movie theater tickets are purchased by women, it is perplexing why the presence of women in film production is so low.

Women are major film consumers, but why not film creators? Other than simple misogyny, what might be the root of these divides, and are they getting better?

Questions like this will be used as a starting point for discussion at Sunday’s panel. Yet rather than solely focusing on the doom and gloom of the statistics and their projected downward trajectory, we will also discuss the positive experiences and trends our panelists have encountered throughout their careers. The less-corporate nature of filmmaking in Massachusetts can be incredibly supportive to female filmmakers and this smaller community can aid in collaboration among filmmakers here.


On the panel will be three local filmmakers who have years of professional experience. These women are:

· Alecia Jean Orsini Lebeda, the President of Women in Film & Video New England and CEO of Good Natured Dog Productions
· Stacy Buchanan, co-founder of Wicked Bird Media and Senior Producer at WGBH
· Jess Barnthouse, co-founder and director of video production at Wicked Bird Media

Prior to the discussion of women in film, we will be screening three short films by local female filmmakers:

· “Winter Hill” by Melissa Bruno
· “You’re Just Projecting” by Marinah Janello
· “Fractal” by Anna Gravél

Challenges & Successes of Women in Film — A MassIFF Panel is free and open to the public. For more information, go to the official Facebook event.

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