For the first time in Academy Awards history, two women were nominated for Best Director at the 2021 ceremony, with Chole Zhao taking home the statue for “Nomadland.” Only seven women filmmakers have ever been nominated in this category, with Kathryn Bigelow being the only other female to earn the title in the ceremony’s nearly 100-year history.
Despite being underrepresented in these awards programs, the percentage of women working as film directors on independent movies has doubled since 2008, rising to 38 percent in 2020. And, women directed 16 percent of the top 100 most profitable films in 2020—the highest recorded—up from 12 percent in 2019.
While there is much ground to cover on the road to equality, the increasing momentum, along with the growing number of resources and champions supporting women filmmakers, is inspiring.
Shift has compiled a list of some of the top resources, women filmmaker associations and collectives, networking and mentoring opportunities, film festivals, and more to help change the ratios by increasing the number of women in film.
Professional and Membership Organizations
The Alliance of Women Directors (AWD) provides hands-on craft enrichment, mentorship, and education to women and gender nonbinary directors who directed at least one long- or short-form narrative film, television program, documentary, commercial, or new media program aired publicly by an established film festival or distribution company.
“Although the current statistics show that women make up a small percentage of working directors, we are hopeful about the future of the industry because we know firsthand the tenacity and dedication of our members. Change is inevitable,” Nikki Braendlin, vice president of AWD, wrote in an email. “We are also encouraged because of companies like NBC, CBS, Disney, Canon, and Fotokem who have partnered with AWD and understand and respect the intrinsic value of the voices of our members.”
Mary Lou Belli, honorary board member of the Alliance of Women Directors, teaches “How to Prep: Television Directing.” Credit: AWD
New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) advocates for equality and supports women at every stage of their film and TV careers. It offers training and professional development programs, scholarships and grants, and a supportive community of peers. It also has a group called The Writers Lab that helps develop narrative feature screenplays written by women over the age of 40. NYWIFT is part of a network of 50 Women in Film chapters across North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Check each chapter to see which services and programs it offers.
The Couch Film Collective also offers grants, workshops, mentorship, and social events for women filmmakers. The organization works to get women and nonbinary people in front of and behind the camera at all levels of production. It’s an intersectional group that produces and supports equitable and inclusive projects that hire at least 51 percent of people who self-identify as women or non-binary, 35 percent people of color, and are LGBT inclusive.
Opportunities and Funding
Women in Film (WIF) offers funding, scholarships, a screening series, mentoring, workshops, and more.
“The industry is in a moment of genuine transition, finally beginning to understand that the media we create must reflect the world we live in and that its current structures and systems also need to transform to accommodate that,” Maikiko James, WIF’s director of programs, wrote in an email. “WIF is excited to be at the frontlines of this movement. We’re committed to these transformations at both the structural level and through elevating the incredible talent of the community we support.”
Women Make Movies supports women producers and directors through all phases of their careers, planting the seeds for a diverse and inclusive filmmaking landscape. In addition to being the world’s leading distributor of independent films by and about women, it offers a production assistance program for women working in independent media. Verizon also continues to support its Future Fund, setting aside $5 million to support female-led entertainment projects. Those who receive funding will also get access to Verizon 5G Labs across the United States and the Verizon Media RYOT 5G Studio in Los Angeles.
From L to R, Kimberly Cooper, Catherine Day, and Evette Vargas speak at the VR pioneers panel. Credit: Women In Film
Chicken and Egg Pictures supports women nonfiction filmmakers at various stages in their careers. Since 2005, it has awarded $8 million in grants and thousands of hours of creative mentorship to more than 300 filmmakers.
The Sundance Institute offers the excellent Inclusion Resource Map, a searchable database of opportunities and programs available to U.S.-based artists from underrepresented communities.
More locally, New York City-based women working in film or theater can turn to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, which offers grants, speed funding, and a screenwriting competition. For members of Women in Film & Video Washington, D.C., Carolyn’s First Decade Fund has a professional development grant designed to help advance the careers of women in their first decade of working as media professionals and provide them with access to a larger film community and continuing skills development.
Female-Focused Film Publications
Women and Hollywood highlights women filmmakers and agitates for increased opportunities for them. CherryPicks compiles film reviews written by women from across the web, creating a score based on their reviews.
Women Under the Influence shares the stories of cinema directed by women through events and media. Check out their fantastic watchlists of female-directed films, such as “Sweet Dance Movies” and “Films of Resistance.”
There are many festivals that cater to women filmmakers. Here’s a small sample:
- Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, the longest-running women’s film festival in North America, showcases documentary, narrative, shorts, and animated films.
- St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, established in 1989, is more than a festival. It offers film screenings and forums, workshops and master classes, youth filmmaking camps, mentorship programs, and advocacy work throughout the year.
- LUNAFEST, a 20-year-old festival by and for women, presented by LUNA Bars, raises funds for women’s causes while providing a global stage for female filmmakers.
A few female-focused, genre-specific festivals include:
- Reel Sisters of the Diaspora, an annual two-day film festival showcases movies directed, produced, and written by women of color.
- Ax Wound Film Festival, the official film festival of Women in Horror Month, features a diverse selection of horror films written and directed by women from around the world.
- Broad Humor Film Festival screens “smart, sexy, and unapologetically funny” short films, web series, and features written and directed by women.
Inclusion Research and Advocacy
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University houses the longest-running and most comprehensive studies of women in film and television. Dedicated to producing extensive and timely research, its studies provide the foundation for a realistic and meaningful discussion of women’s on-screen representation and behind-the-scenes employment.
Need statistics and reports on diversity and inclusion in entertainment? Turn to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It produces insightful research papers and reports and develops targeted, research-based solutions for tackling inequality.
The Queen Collective program, developed in partnership with Procter & Gamble, Tribeca Studios, and Queen Latifah, seeks to accelerate gender and racial equality behind the camera. Its first act was funding short films by two directors whose work premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and streamed exclusively on Hulu. One of the directors, B. Monet, said at a press conference for her film, “It’s not that [women] are not amazing, and dope, and all these kinds of stuff. We need the opportunities. We need people to take chances on us.”
While the last couple of years have been tumultuous for the creative community on several fronts, the years ahead look strong for not only female directors and creators but also others looking to introduce more equality and diversity in the industry.
With diversity comes more relevant content, vibrant stories, and unique perspectives that capture the essence of our world today and the experiences of those around us.
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