Women win 50 percent of feature-length awards at Sundance

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Image from The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo

Great news from Women Make Movies: “Although only 25 percent of the films in the festival’s four feature-length Documentary and Dramatic competition categories were directed by women, they won 50 percent of the top prizes.”

The full press release:

New York, NY – Lisa F. Jackson’s extraordinary film, THE GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO, has won the Special Jury Prize: Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. A recent acquisition of Women Make Movies (WMM) and a project from the WMM Production Assistance Program, this intimate and piercing film explores the epidemic of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Produced in association with HBO Documentary Films and the Fledgling Fund, THE GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO will have its broadcast premiere on HBO in April 2008.

Shot in the war zones of the DRC, THE GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO documents the shocking plight of the many tens of thousands of women and girls being systematically kidnapped, raped, mutilated and tortured by soldiers from both foreign militias and the Congolese army. Until now, the stories of these women have never been told to the rest of the world. A survivor of gang rape herself, Emmy-Award® winning filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson traveled through the DRC to understand what is happening and why. Heart-wrenching in its portrayal of the grotesque realities of life in Congo, this powerful film also provides inspiring examples of resiliency, resistance, courage and grace.

This is the second consecutive year that a WMM release has won an award at the Sundance Film Festival. ENEMIES OF HAPPINESS by Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem won the World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary in 2007. This inspiring film is a powerful portrait of Malalai Joya – a courageous, extraordinary woman who was elected to the newly formed democratic parliament in Afghanistan.

“We are so thrilled that the jury chose to honor such an important film on a critical subject,” said Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director, Women Make Movies. “It’s also exciting to see the success of women filmmakers at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.”

Although only 25 percent of the films in the festival’s four feature-length Documentary and Dramatic competition categories were directed by women, they won 50 percent of the top prizes. Courtney Hunt’s FROZEN RIVER garnered the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and TROUBLE THE WATER by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal took the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary. In addition, two of the festival’s four directing awards went to films by women: AMERICAN TEEN by Nanette Burstein (Directing Award: Documentary) and MERMAID by Anna Melikyan (World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic).



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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Feminism, Gender, Movies, Sexual Assault and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Women win 50 percent of feature-length awards at Sundance

  1. Tricia says:

    I’ll take any ray of sunshine I can get today. This kind of rocks.

  2. Ginger says:

    Awesome. That is all.

  3. Umm, wouldn’t this be categorized under “bad things?”

    [[This is just an off the cuff observations &
    a) I have not seen any of the movies in question
    b) I do not know the how the juding exactly works
    (but I assume rightly or wrongly that you don’t know 100% about either of those either) ]]

    But here is my point:

    -If we assume that film-making is one of the many many areas in which women & men start on equal footing in terms of natural talent… which seems a safe assumption (unlike say football where men have an edge, or swimming where women are inherently better)

    -and if we assume that there are no external cultural factors that make women 2x as talented as men are (I can think of plenty of cultural variables, but none that should make that much difference either direction).

    -and if we assume that the number of movies submitted to Sundance is an approriate sample size to judge the industry on (which I’m pretty sure it is)

    —then shouldn’t films directed by women make up roughly 25% of all winners, if they also make up 25% of all submissions to Sundance?

    — —————————-

    Now if the percentages had been a bit fuzzier (35% of winners were directed by women or 20%) then I would assume a simple margin of error.

    If the percenteges had been more disproportionate (e.g., 75% of winners were directed by women) then I would assume outside cultural influences make women into better directors. (This very well might be true. Many of the best film students I know are women).

    But with exactly even percentages in the winning category, doesn’t this reak of gender discrimination?

    Now I’m not a big “reverse-discrimination” guy (not in discussions of race or gender), but it’s worth pointing out that when decisions are made for objectivley wrong reasons, and those reasons are based in gender, that is gender discrimination. Moreover, overly-zealous PC types are a big part of the reason people like Rush Limbaugh are able to pigeon hole feminism in the minds of so many people across the country.

    I know that whether a film is good or bad (or deserving of a win) is mostly subjective. Still, the gentialia of the director is not one of the many subjective criteria that any film should be judged on.

    Finally, I don’t know nearly enough about the circumstances of Sundance or the films to say whether or not so called “reverse discrimination” is what happened here. Very likely, it is not. Very likely one of my assumptions at the start of this comment (probably the one about sample size) is wrong.

    But I still think it’s worth pointing out that the logic of this post is inherently off.

    If the sample size is large enough, and the contest is even enough, then when 25% of submissions are made by women, then 25% of winners should be women- in every field. That’s gender equality.

    As a feminist, it’s my job to fight to level the playing field before the contest (so that more than 25% of submissions are from women!) and to make sure discrimination isn’t a part of the judging criteria (so that 25% of submittors doesn’t equal 5% of winners).

    Anything other than that, most especially if it is the band-aid solution of gender-based affirmative action gone awry, is a false pancea that exacerbates problems through marginalization, rather than solving them.

  4. Pingback: Reverse Gender Discrimination At Sundance? « Men Doing Feminism

  5. John says:

    That last comment was way too long to be a comment. So I turned it into a post at my blog
    Men Doing Feminism

    Here’s the exact post url
    http://mendoingfeminism.wordpress.com/?p=3

  6. Mnemosyne says:

    But with exactly even percentages in the winning category, doesn’t this reak of gender discrimination?

    Only if you ignore the biggest outside influence: it’s pretty much impossible for women to get work in mainstream films unless (a) their name is Coppola or (b) they have a major success with an independent film. Because independent film is pretty much the only avenue open to women, you get a much higher quality of director, because the really good male directors can go straight to mainstream film without having to stop off and prove their chops with an indie.

    So, on average, the female directors submitting films to Sundance are going to be better than the male directors since the comparable male directors get cherry-picked into studio films and don’t submit to Sundance.

  7. John says:

    I like that idea. Now, I’m not 100% convinced that having incredible amounts of directing talent + a Penis makes you a shoe-in for convincing a big studio to let you make a movie. In fact, I’m sure that is not the case

    However, I think it’s entirely possible that a penis makes you *more likely* to get that chance (along with lots of great connections, etc), and thus there are more great indie film makers who are women.

    But, as much as I like that explanation,
    a) It’s probably not true.

    Reason 1.
    There is are simply not enough major film studio releases for enough great talent (no matter the gender) to be sucked up into making non-indie films. When you’re talking about a talent pool of literally tens of thousands of amazing directors and aspiring directors across the world– it couldn’t matter less whether a couple hundred of them get pulled up into the “big leagues.” Even if 100% of all studio directors were male (which they aren’t), it still wouldn’t affect the percentages enough to account for the discrepency.

    Reason 2.
    If it were true that the best male directors go up to the big leagues, leaving oh so many great female directors to submit to sundance, then more than 25% of all submissions to sundance would have been from Women. The only way for that not to be true would for the field of directing to scew so incredibly male, that 80-85% of all aspiring directors are men. That seems unlikely (even if film degrees scew somewhat male in college).

    b) Even if it were true that female directors submitting films to Sundance are going to be better than the male directors since the comparable male directors get cherry-picked into studio films and don’t submit to Sundance.
    that would still not validate the premise of this post (or the post it linked to), which seemed to check gender-equality at the door, and trade it in for a “ra ra women” version of feminism which is a bit sexist in its own way.

  8. John says:

    I like that idea. Now, I’m not 100% convinced that having incredible amounts of directing talent + a Penis makes you a shoe-in for convincing a big studio to let you make a movie. In fact, I’m sure that is not the case

    However, I think it’s entirely possible that a penis makes you *more likely* to get that chance (along with lots of great connections, etc), and thus there are more great indie film makers who are women.

    But, as much as I like that explanation,
    a) It’s probably not true.

    Reason 1.
    There is are simply not enough major film studio releases for enough great talent (no matter the gender) to be sucked up into making non-indie films. When you’re talking about a talent pool of literally tens of thousands of amazing directors and aspiring directors across the world– it couldn’t matter less whether a couple hundred of them get pulled up into the “big leagues.” Even if 100% of all studio directors were male (which they aren’t), it still wouldn’t affect the percentages enough to account for the discrepency.

    Reason 2.
    If it were true that the best male directors go up to the big leagues, leaving oh so many great female directors to submit to sundance, then more than 25% of all submissions to sundance would have been from Women. The only way for that not to be true would for the field of directing to scew so incredibly male, that 80-85% of all aspiring directors are men. That seems unlikely (even if film degrees scew somewhat male in college).

    b) Even if it were true that female directors submitting films to Sundance are going to be better than the male directors since the comparable male directors get cherry-picked into studio films and don’t submit to Sundance.
    that would still not validate the premise of this post (or the post it linked to), which seemed to check gender-equality at the door, and trade it in for a “ra ra women” version of feminism which is a bit sexist in its own way.

    I think my original critique, for what it was worth, stands.

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