Documentary films employ more women than narrative films: SDSU report

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Documentary films continued to employ higher percentages of women in behind-the-scenes roles than independent narrative features in 2020-21, according to a report released Tuesday by the head of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

According to the findings of Martha M. Lauzen’s “Indie Women” report, women accounted for 42% of individuals working as directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on documentaries versus 35% of those working on narrative features streaming/screening at 20 high-profile film festivals in the U.S.

The study also showed that the fests streamed/screened almost equal numbers of documentaries directed by women — an average of seven — as by men – – an average of eight. Festivals screened an average of six narrative features directed by at least one woman versus an average of nine narrative features directed exclusively by men.

“The findings confirm that women continue to enjoy higher rates of employment on documentaries than narrative features,” Lauzen said. “Every iteration of this study since 2008 has found that women fare better in the world of documentary films.”

In every behind-the-scenes role but one, documentaries employed higher percentages of women than narrative features. Women comprised 41% of directors on documentaries versus 37% on narrative features; 45% of executive producers on documentaries versus 31% on narrative features; 50% of producers on docs versus 40% on narrative features; 40% of editors on docs versus 34% on narrative features; and 26% of cinematographers on docs versus 19% on narrative features.

Only as writers did the percentage of women working in narrative films narrowly surpass that of women working on documentaries — 37% vs. 35%, respectively.

Films with at least one woman director had substantially higher percentages of women working as writers, editors and cinematographers. The percentages of women working in other key behind-the-scenes roles more than doubled. For example, on films with at least one woman director, women comprised 33% of cinematographers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 12% of cinematographers.

First conducted in 2008, the Indie Women report considers women’s employment on domestically and independently produced feature-length films streaming/screening at 20 high-profile U.S. festivals, including AFI Fest, the SXSW Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. This year’s report examined 7,452 credits on 582 films.

Lauzen has conducted research for more than two decades on the representation and employment of women on screen and behind the scenes in film and television. She is the founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at SDSU.

The most current reports can be found on the center’s website at: http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu.

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