Fe­male direc­tors gain equal split at Sun­dance

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By David Ger­main

PARK CITY, Utah — For the first time, the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val could do a boy-girl, boy-girl seat­ing ar­range­ment of direc­tors in its U.S. dra­matic com­pe­ti­tion — and not run out of girls.

The fes­ti­val has 50-50 par­ity — eight women, eight men — among the 16 films in the com­pe­ti­tion, a record that fe­male film­mak­ers con­sider to be a hope­ful sign they are mak­ing progress to­ward equal time with males.

“It just feels like jus­tice. Like, OK, this is the way it’s sup­posed to be. This re­flects the pop­u­la­tion of the Earth. There’s no rea­son why there shouldn’t be as many women mak­ing movies as men,” said Lynn Shel­ton, a Sun­dance reg­u­lar whose film Touchy Feely, star­ring Rose­marie DeWitt as a mas­sage ther­a­pist sud­denly averse to touch­ing peo­ple, is play­ing in the dra­matic com­pe­ti­tion. “But I’m also wait­ing for the day when I’m not treated as an odd­ity as a woman. I’m just treated as an­other film­maker.”

Other dra­matic en­tries di­rected by women in­clude Liz W. Gar­cia’s The Life­guard, star­ring Kris­ten Bell as a life­guard who en­ters a risky re­la­tion­ship with a teen; Sta­cie Pas­son’s Con­cus­sion, a midlife-cri­sis tale star­ring Robin Weigert; Francesca Gre­gorini’s Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, with Jes­sica Biel and Kaya Scode­lario in the story of a trou­bled teen; and Jerusha Hess’s Austen­land, fea­tur­ing Keri Rus­sell as a woman search­ing for her own Jane Austen-style per­fect man.

Sarah Pol­ley has been coming to Sun­dance with short films and features since 2000 and has seen a steady rise in the pres­ence of women.

“I feel like there’s been a seis­mic shift since I had my first short film at Sun­dance when I was 20 and now go­ing back to­day at 34,” said Pol­ley, who re­turns this time with Sto­ries We Tell, a doc­u­men­tary ex­am­in­ing the se­cret life of her late mother — and just who Pol­ley’s real fa­ther is. “My first time at Sun­dance, I spent the whole time just try­ing to find other fe­male film­mak­ers. Now you see there’s been huge progress.”

This year’s lineup is not an all-out cel­e­bra­tion, though, as women con­tinue to worry about ca­reer longevity and whether they can ex­tend their gains in low-bud­get in­de­pen­dent films to big-money Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions — work that goes pre­dom­i­nantly to men.

Equal time at Sun­dance to­day does not nec­es­sar­ily mean those women will have a smoother time find­ing back­ers for fu­ture films, said Cathy Schul­man, pres­i­dent of Women in Film, which pro­motes work by fe­male film­mak­ers.

“One would hope that those women would go on to get agents and rep­re­sen­ta­tion and be put up for jobs to lead to their next movie,” Schul­man said. “My guess is it won’t be that sim­ple.”

The Sun­dance lineup bears out that guess. Only three of 18 en­tries were di­rected by women in the fes­ti­val’s dra­matic pre­mieres sec­tion, which tend to fea­ture higher-pro­file casts and more-es­tab­lished film­mak­ers. One of those is a six-hour TV se­ries codi­rected by Jane Cam­pion, one of only four women ever nom­i­nated for best di­rec­tor at the Academy Awards, for 1993’s The Pi­ano.

Women have been do­ing well for years in Sun­dance’s short-film pro­grams and doc­u­men­tary line­ups. Like the U.S. dra­matic com­pe­ti­tion, the U.S. doc­u­men­tary com­pe­ti­tion is an even split, with half of the 16 films di­rected or co-di­rected by women.

Yet the pre­miere sec­tion is a sign that women still are a long way from equal op­por­tu­nity in higher-end in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing. And when it comes to stu­dio films, only a hand­ful of women have made steady in­roads as direc­tors.

“Some­one was jok­ing with me, ‘Oh, you’ve had four films at Sun­dance.’ But is any­body go­ing to hire me to do a Hol­ly­wood movie?” said Lucy Walker, a doc­u­men­tary film­maker whose dan­gers-of-snow­board­ing chron­i­cle The Crash Reel pre­mieres at the fes­ti­val.

Walker has a dra­matic film in the works and won­ders about the prospects for her and other women in Hol­ly­wood, where movie bud­gets dwarf the shoe­string fi­nanc­ing with which in­die direc­tors of­ten have to make do.

“Who is go­ing to be pro­moted to get the next film and get to have a full ca­reer and get paid?” Walker said. “This next gen­er­a­tion of women, I really hope that a lot of them will be.”

On Mon­day, Women in Film and Sun­dance or­ga­niz­ers plan to re­lease the re­sults of a study trac­ing how well fe­male film­mak­ers have fared in the last decade af­ter show­ing films at the fes­ti­val.


Ellen Page, left, and Scoot McNairy, in Touchy Feely, di­rected by Lynn Shel­ton.

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