How Is Sundance Working To Promote Gender Equality in American Cinema?

We've said it before but it bears repeating. Despite recent strides, female directors made up only six percent of the total number of directors who worked on the top 250 grossing films of 2013.

What's worse, that figure is actually down from the previous year. According to Rolling Stone, nine percent of 2012's 250 top-grossing films were directed by women.

And so we can't help but wonder why women continue to lag behind their male counterparts. One theory won't surprise you. It's money. "Women are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to raising financing because financing is controlled by men," said Mynette Louie, the president of Gamechanger, a new company whose mission is to fund narrative fiction films by women. "That is the number one cited reason why women directors' careers get stalled."

In response, various foundations and groups are working to create conditions to make it easier for women to get an equal shot at financing. Some of their efforts are direct while others work to address the structural barriers to success. Take the Sundance Institute, who together with Women in Film Los Angeles and a community of allied organizations, works to foster gender equality in American cinema by supporting female filmmakers to develop their stories, find audiences for their work, and grow and sustain their careers.

This Women at Sundance program offers various avenues of support, including financing, research and public programming, and networking. This brings us to the Sundance Institute-Women in Film/LA Mentorship and Coaching Program. Created in tandem with the Harnisch Foundation and Renee Freedman and Company, this initiative matches fellows with an industry leader in a year-long mentorship tailored to meet the mentee's specific goals.

Here's how it works. Mentees are selected from a pool of recent alumni from Sundance's various programs. Sundance staff interviews mentees to diagnose areas for greatest development and place them with an appropriate mentor. Mentees are then on the hook for setting quarterly meetings with mentors while providing written progress reports three times a year.

And what are some of the specific areas where mentees may need help? Possibilities include career strategy advice, project feedback, shadowing, "brand review," networking, and of course, financing advice.

Mentees also get stipends to travel to the Sundance Film Festival in January. While at the festival, they'll partake in one-on-one meetings, group check-ins, and roundtable discussions.

The program acknowledges that the gender disparity in film won't disappear overnight, nor will a magic wand suddenly unlock existing funding discrepancies. Instead, the program seeks to break down barriers for female filmmakers, thereby creating an environment in which, over time, female directors can excel.

Followers of the Harnisch Foundation won't be surprised by their involvement in this program. Its primary philosophical tenet is breaking the professional and societal barriers that hold women back. For more analysis on their work in tackling the challenge of gender inequality, click here.