Director Jane Campion headed this year’s Cannes Film Festival jury, which was largely comprised of women.

Credit: Reza Vaziri on Flickr, under Creative Commons


(WOMENSENEWS)–The Cannes Film Festival has just come and gone and, even though two female directors, Naomi Kawase and Alice Rohrwacher, were among those vying for the prestigious Palme d’Or, neither won.

As disappointed as I was with the results at Cannes, it simply fuels my desire to help create change.
Join me in offering talented female directors support, whether it’s by spreading the word about their work or by directly investing in their movies. Anyone who can help financially and has the desire to make a difference can promote female directors either directly or through an organization.
For example, Chicken and Egg Pictures is a nonprofit film fund supporting female documentary directors through both funding and mentorship. The organization focuses on women whose work can evoke change in social justice, environmental and human rights. This year, five of the films they supported were accepted at the Sundance Film Festival.
While Chicken and Egg Pictures is making a difference, its focus is narrow. What about narrative film, those big Hollywood blockbusters?
One way to promote female directors of narrative films is through a capital investment company such as Gamechanger Films. This for-profit investment fund launched last fall to exclusively finance features directed and co-directed by women. Because I believe in gender parity, I invested in this fund, and immediately saw results.
Gamechanger’s first film, the comedy “Land Ho,” co-written and co-directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz, was chosen out of more than 4,000 submissions to premier at Sundance this past January. Barely three days later, Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film’s worldwide rights in one of those all-night negotiations that filmmakers dream of. That spring-boarded a talented female director forward in her career – and quickly. In April, Stephens signed with United Talent Agency, or UTA, one of the top global talent and literary agencies. 

Not an Exception

While “Land Ho” may seem like an exceptional example of a film success, I don’t believe it has to be. After 30 years in both the philanthropy and business worlds, I have seen the power of social impact investments over and over. I believe this model can make a difference for many talented female directors who simply need more investment funds to advance their work. And it can change the tiresome statistics.
Since the Cannes Film Festival began in the 1930s, only one woman has ever received the coveted prize, Jane Campion for “The Piano” in 1993, and male directors dominate the top films each year. In 2012, the French daily Le Monde published an open letter signed by fed-up female directors and actors decrying the double standard of the film industry. “At Cannes, women show their breasts, men show their films,” they wrote.
Due to mounting pressure, this year the Cannes Film Festival’s jury was largely comprised of women, headed by Campion, only the 10th woman to ever chair the jury. But this change does not make up for the lack of women nominated for the Palme d’Or prize, nor does it change the larger gender problem in the film industry.
Female directors are often missing from the list of nominees of all high-profile awards. This year at the Academy Awards, for example, not a single woman was nominated in the Best Director category. In the Academy Awards’ 86 years, only four women have ever been nominated in that category and only one has won, Kathryn Bigelow for “Hurt Locker” in 2010. In the 70 years of the Golden Globes, only six female directors have been nominated in the category of Best Director of a Motion Picture. The only woman to ever win was Barbra Streisand in 1984 for her direction of “Yentl.” 

Driving a Film

Beyond the matter of simple fairness, these awards are important. They help drive a film’s viewership, distribution and the future star power of its cast. Without nominations for these prestigious awards, women may have a more difficult time building the high profile portfolio that leads to offers for more and larger productions.
We see the results every year. In 2011, only 5 percent of the top-grossing 250 films were directed by women, finds the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In 2012, it crept up to 9 percent. Only two of the top-grossing 100 movies from 2013 were directed by women.
Some argue that the problem is that women do not have an interest in directing films, but that is not true. Women played a key role in the development of narrative film. Alice Guy Blanche, for example, was the world’s first female filmmaker and directed hundreds of short films and produced hundreds more, even running her own studio. Today, women are about 50 percent of film school graduates.
But if they are going to make great films, they need financial backing.
In 2013, the Sundance Institute’s Women Filmmakers Initiative found that access to financing is a major barrier for women who want to direct and for female directors who want to direct larger films.
As Campion recently pointed out, “It’s when business and commerce and art come together; somehow men trust men more.” Earlier this year, director Lexi Alexander wrote about gender discrimination in Hollywood and said that it includes movie budgets, the size of distribution deals and mentorship opportunities.
To try to eliminate the financial barrier in particular, the Sundance Institute’s Women Filmmakers Initiative recently developed research-based initiatives like financial education seminars, a one-year mentorship for six documentary and feature film producers and directors and networking events.
While more education and mentorship can’t hurt, since funding is such a big barrier, I believe investing in films directed by women can do even more good.
Ann Lovell is a founding director and vice president of Women Moving Millions, a member of the Women’s Leadership Board at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Tucson Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.


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