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Women Are on the Rise at Sundance – When Will Studios Take Note?

A new study comissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles finds women are getting more opportunities in independent film but can't break through to bigger budget projects

Female directors, producers and writers have reached new heights in the world of independent film, but now the Hollywood studios need to catch up.

According to a new study commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles, women have made huge strides behind the camera, directing 24 percent of the films at Sundance between 2002 and 2012. The numbers grew when all behind-the-camera positions were considered, as 29 percent of directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors of those films were women.

Women in Film and Sundance commissioned the study, carried out by three professors at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications, because they wanted to evaluate how far women have come in what has long been a male-dominated industry.

“We hear so much about the lack of gender equity in terms of people behind the camera and we wanted to think about how we could support women,” the Sundance Institute’s Executive Director Keri Putnam, pictured above with Cathy Schulman and Stacy Smith, told TheWrap at a brunch for the study on Monday. “Before we went about and started a new program, we said why don’t we get a better sense of what’s going on?”

This positive trend for female filmmakers accelerated this year, as women directed 50 percent of the films in competition this year — a development TheWrap wrote about on Sunday.

“This is a great year for women at Sundance,” Putnam said.

However, both Putnam and Schulman, president of Women in Film L.A., took the study as a call for action rather than reason to celebrate.

Despite the growing number of female filmmakers at Sundance, women directed just 4.4 percent of the top 100 films at the box office from 2002 to 2012.

According to the study, women have far more success with low-profile projects made outside the studio system. Women are more likely to be associate producers than producers, more likely to make documentaries than narrative films and less likely to be hired for big budget films than those with small ones.

The study was not just quantitative, as the professors also asked female filmmakers about their work experiences.  The most prominent barriers they identified were financial – asking financiers for money – and the male-dominated social environment.

“What happens after women make their first film and have their Sundance experience that prevents them from continuing to work in the movie business?,” Schulman told TheWrap. “Women having children is not an obstacle. The barrier is asking for money and financing.”

Though one could blame the status quo of the industry for those problems, that didn’t interest Schulman or Putnam.

“We need to focus less on what opportunities need to be given to women and more on what women can do to get the opportunities,” she said.