When it comes to the minuscule percentage of women directing films, the numbers are less depressing within the independent film scene.
But a new study shows that little progress was made in 2015, and that a disturbing disparity between men and women directors in the space has continued in the past year.
Women accounted for 28 percent of directors whose films screened at top U.S. film festivals last year, according to the annual study “Women in Independent Film” released on Thursday. While still far from reflecting 50-50 parity, the number is markedly better than the 9 percent of women directors who helmed major-studio films in 2015.
Led by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the study focuses on women’s representation at 23 U.S. festivals, including AFI Fest, SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival.
“The findings indicate that while women fare better in independent films, particularly documentaries, than in studio features, they are not close to achieving parity in the independent realm,” Lauzen said in a statement.
Indeed, 35 percent of documentary directors working the festival circuit last year were women. Compare that with the mere 19 percent of women directors who worked on narrative features.
When crunching the numbers on directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers as a group, women made up 25 percent of those working on U.S. festival circuit films — a figure that has not changed significantly since 2008-09, when Lauzen’s team began its study.
“Women’s representation on independent films is stagnant,” Lauzen said. “In spite of the increasing dialogue about this issue, the numbers have yet to move. We are not seeing year-to-year growth.”
Going into Monday night’s Gotham Awards, “Carol” is the most celebrated, raved-about and nominated independent film of the year.
So why does it still feel like something of an underdog this awards season, particularly when it comes to the Oscars?
You can partly chalk it up to the film’s subtlety and understatement, which are sadly not qualities that register with voters very often. And you can add a sobering and surprising statistic about two of the indie icons who helped make the exquisite, ’50s-set romance: Todd Haynes has never been nominated for an Oscar for directing, and Christine Vachon has never been nominated in any category.
At a time when independent films routinely dominate the Oscars, when “Birdman” can go from the Gothams to the Spirit Awards to the Oscars and win all three, it’s unfortunate that two of the most respected figures in the indie world could have been shut out by the Academy — and troubling that they shouldn’t be slam-dunk contenders for a film as elegant and moving as “Carol.”
The film is up for three Gothams, including Best Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Cate Blanchett). It led all films in nominations for the other major independent-film award, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, with six nods that included feature, director and actress for both Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
It is also one of the best-reviewed films of the year, with a score of 94 on Metacritic, topping every narrative film except the animated “Anomalisa.” And in the recent Sight and Sound listing of the year’s 20 best movies, it came in at No. 2, behind only Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “The Assassin.”
The raves have been steady since the Weinstein Company film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival — but in a year with a surprising abundance of films built around female protagonists (“Brooklyn,” “Joy,” “Room”), the quietest and subtlest film of the batch is also a quiet voice during awards season, with fellow indies “Spotlight” and “Room” landing higher in most pundits’ predictions.
“It’s not going to be for every filmgoer — especially today, when people’s attentions are easily diverted,” Haynes admitted to TheWrap in a recent interview. “And when there is consensus around something, people want to take it down a peg. That’ll happen, if it hasn’t already.”
Still, “Carol” has done well under the Weinstein Company’s quiet rollout strategy, which is similar to the way the company launched Oscar winners “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.” It opened on Nov. 20 in four theaters to a strong $63,378 per-screen average, and dropped less than 20 percent in its second weekend. It will not expand to additional theaters until Dec. 11.
The film is likely to figure in critics’ awards, which will begin to be announced this week with the New York Film Critics Circle on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, among others, on Sunday. (The National Board of Review, which is not a critics’ group, will make its announcement on Tuesday.)
But first come the New York-based Gotham Awards, where “Spotlight” is a formidable competitor and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” led all films in nominations with four in the seven competitive categories.
Haynes has never received an award at the Gothams, and “I’m Not There” is the only one of his films to get a nomination.
To be fair, though the Gothams concentrated on breakthrough performances and films for most of its 24 years, so Haynes was too established to be in the running for many of those years. This year he will be the recipient of a Gothams tribute to his entire career.
He has also won the Sundance jury prize for “Poison,” a Cannes jury award for “Velvet Goldmine,” an Oscar screenplay nomination for “Far From Heaven,” three Emmy nominations for “Mildred Pierce” and Spirit Award directing nominations for every film he’s ever released — as well as a reputation as one of the true auteurs of the indie movement, which has drawn actresses like Blanchett to work with him.
“[‘Carol’] was made on a shoestring, with no artistic compromises made,” said the Oscar-winning actress, who previously worked with Haynes on “I’m Not There.” “Somehow Todd makes these extraordinary beasts of films, unusual and particular. I marvel at how he does that.”
Vachon, meanwhile, has produced all of Haynes’ films, as well as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Still Alice,” “Kids,” “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “Happiness” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” — and she’s received honors from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, as well as a special Gotham Award in 1999.
Both she and Haynes should end up at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 28. But first they have to navigate the rocky roads of awards season, starting with the Gothams tonight and the critics’ awards later in the week.
Nena Rodrigue has been chosen as head of programming for Sundance Channel, Sarah Barnett, the network's new president and general manager, said Tuesday.
In her new capacity, Rodrigue will develop and oversee Sundance's original productions, a slate that currently includes the network's first wholly-owned original scripted series "Rectify," which premieres April 22, and the miniseries "Top of the Lake," which kicks off March 28.
Rodrigue — whose official title will be senior vice president of original production and development — will report to Barnett, and will be based in New York.
In her most recent position as executive vice president and executive producer at Wolf Films, Rodrigue was responsible for growing the "Law and Order" franchise, and oversaw development for "Conviction," "Trial by Jury," "Lost and Found" and "Law and Order: Los Angeles." Her career also includes a stint as the executive vice president of Imagine Television, supervising development and productions on series such as "Felicity" and Sports Night."
“Nena is a huge talent and I couldn't be more thrilled to welcome her to Sundance Channel,” Barnett said. “Her deep experience, especially in dramatic television, will serve us well as we continue our strategy of bringing audiences scripted series of the highest quality as well as fresh, unscripted worlds.”
Relativity Media announced on Tuesday that it has picked up the rights to "Silver or Lead," a screenplay by Piers Ashworth, which tracks the manhunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Enrique Urbizu is attached to direct the story of how General Hugo Martinez risked his life as the head of the elite task force responsible for bringing the godfather of the Medellín cartel to justice for his crimes. The film's title is derived from the antagonist's famous phrase, "Plata o Plomo," meaning take his silver or take his lead.
Relativity, which will produce in partnership with Atmosphere Entertainment MM, has already secured Martinez's life rights, as well as those of DEA agent Joe Toft, who was also involved in the pursuit, capture and death of Escobar in 1993.
Simon Strong's award-winning book “Whitewash: Pablo Escobar and the Cocaine Wars" was acquired by Relativity to provide the source material for Ashworth's script, which he developed from an original draft by Michael Kane.
Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh and president Tucker Tooley will serve as producers on their project with Mark Canton, Donald Kushner and Leigh Ann Burton. Atmosphere’s David Hopwood will co-produce.
“Relativity is proud to attract such a dynamic team to help tell Pablo Escobar’s life story. We have been fans of Enrique’s award-winning work and Piers’ powerful script and are thrilled to have them on board," Tooley said in a statement. "This has been a long coveted project and we look forward to working with people who are as passionate about the story as Mark, Donald, and Leigh Ann.”
This is the second Escobar-related feature film of late to come to fruition. Benicio Del Toro is attached to play portray the infamous criminal in writer/director Andrea di Stefano's "Paradise Lost," which stars Josh Hutcherson as a young surfer who falls for Escobar's niece.
Sundance Selects has acquired the North American and Latin American rights to Alexandre Moors’ "Blue Caprice," the company announced on Tuesday.
Moors' directorial debut investigates the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the two killers, John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.
Isaiah Washington stars as Muhammad; Tequan Richmond plays Malvo.
The drama, set to open Film Society of Lincoln Center and MOMA’s 2013 New Directors/New Films Festival later this month, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
April Yvette Thompson, who has a brief part as Malvo’s mother, summarized the film's hypothesis by telling the audience at Sundance that "killers aren’t born, they’re made."
R.F.I. Porto wrote the screenplay for the film; it was produced by Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O’Carroll, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham.
"Alexandre Moors has made one of the most distinct and haunting American independent films of the year featuring unforgettable performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond," Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to be able to release this and look forward to working with the producers and Cinetic to make this a big success.”