Magazine article Variety

Breaking Down Gender Barriers

Magazine article Variety

Breaking Down Gender Barriers

Article excerpt

It's been well documented that Hollywood is no picnic for women. But when it comes to documentaries, females thrive.

When Laura Poitras won the Academy Award for "Citizenfour" last year, she joined a group of 10 female nonfiction directors who have also won an Oscar. In the past decade alone 17 female directors have been nominated in the category. Compare that to the feature-directing race where in the last 10 years the only femme nominee was Kathryn Bigelow (who went on to make history by being the first woman to win).

Perhaps it's no coincidence that female representation in the doc world isn't limited to the director's chair. Whether they work as producers, editors, television distributers, fest programmers or funders, women make up a majority of the doc world's gatekeepers.

So it wasn't a surprise when the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State U. revealed last June that women made up 29% of directors working on documentaries. That is in stark contrast to the 7% of female directors for the 250 top-grossing narrative films of 2014.

An even more encouraging stat: a third of the 124 eligible docs were directed or co-directed by women, including critically acclaimed titles like Laurie Anderson's "Heart of a Dog" and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schockeris "Song of Lahore."

Director Amy Berg had three docus pre-

miere in the past 12 months - "An Open Secret," "Prophet's Prey" and "Janis: Little Girl Blue" (the latter two are Oscar eligible). She partially attributes the branch's female domination to a strong nonfiction film community.

"We are all so supportive of each other," Berg says. "We also have such a strong support group of philanthropists and independent financiers that don't use gender as criteria (when financing)."

While studios demonstrate an inexplicable fear of hiring female helmers, the doc world doesn't have the same barriers.

"To get a documentary started - I'm not saying to finish it - it doesn't take a whole lot of capital," says "Winter's Bone" director Debra Granik, who ventured into doc filmmaking with this year's "Stray Dog." "You don't need anyone to greenlight that idea. That's the salient difference (between narratives and docs)."

Granik describes the making of her first doc as a "gender-free fiesta."

"The gender thing gets removed for me when it comes to the documentary world," she says. …

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