A new study shows that high-profile American film festivals that screen independent films are behind in showcasing films made by women versus men — way behind.

The new study by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film shows that it’s not just the big Hollywood studios that have a gender diversity problem: Other parts of the sprawling behind-the-cameras Hollywood film industry also are dominated by men, with fewer women directors, producers, writers, editors, and cinematographers getting a chance to shine.

Women in Independent Film 2016-17examined women’s representation on domestically and independently produced feature-length films screening at 23 festivals, including such prestige showcases as Los Angeles Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival and Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s the most comprehensive study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment on independent films available, according to study author Martha Lauzen, director of the San Diego State center, which produces reports on gender diversity in films and TV annually.

“The market-place capital these high-profile festivals bestow on filmmakers and their films cannot be overstated. They are an effective and proven apparatus for generating attention,” Lauzen said in a statement accompanying her report. “Inclusion in these festivals provides the vital first step in the public life cycle of films with limited marketing resources, and can boost the reputation of their directors.”

Her findings were sobering:

  • Festivals “screened three times as many narrative films directed by men as by women in 2016-2017,” showing an average of six films directed by at least one woman compared with an average of 18 directed by men. 
  • Festivals “screened almost twice as many documentaries directed by men as by women — seven directed by at least one woman versus an average of 13 directed by men. This is despite the fact women are more likely to direct documentaries than narrative films: Women accounted for 33% of documentary directors vs 25% of narrative film directors.  
  • Employment of men vs women in key behind-the-cameras jobs is at a recent historical high for women: 28%. “It is an increase of three percentage points in 2015-16, and four  percentage points in 2008-09,” the report says. And yet: Men still outnumber women by more than two-to-one: 72% men vs 28% women in these key behind-scenes jobs.  
  • Of all the jobs, women fared best as producers (32%) and worst as cinematographers (11%). 

There were some positive findings: The percentage of women directors of indie films, now at 29%, has increased seven  percentage points since 2008-09. Women continue to be employed at higher rates on documentaries than on narrative films.

“And films with at least one women director also had substantially higher percentages of women writers, editors and cinematographers,” the study said. “For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 74% of writers, compared to just 7% on films with exclusively male directors.”

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