Sundance Film Festival is revered as an epicenter for cinephile tastemakers, with thousands flocking to the snow-capped scape of Park City opening weekend to get a first look into this year’s most buzzworthy flicks and the larger industry trends that are propelling them. There was one overarching theme that transcended every panel, carpet, and fireside conversation: Risk in storytelling reaps rewaThis theme was front and center at Refinery29 and Sundance Institute’s annual Women’s Celebration, sponsored by Oui by Yoplait. On Sunday, January 27, over 800 guests flooded Utah’s Film Center to listen to a stellar lineup of speakers tackling risk-taking as a catalyst of changing the omnipresent issue of gender parity in Hollywood. With recent reports showing that only 4% of top directors in 2018 were women, it’s clear that the movement for equal representation behind the camera remains an uphill battle, but the mood in the room was anything but somber. It was especially buoyed by the fact that women directors helmed 53% of films at this year's festival.
Fiery speeches lit up the house. Powerful women including Gurinder Chadha (director, Blinded by the Light), Zora Howard (co-writer and actor, Premature), Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (subject of Knock Down the House), Tayarisha Poe (writer/director, Selah and the Spades), Dr. Ruth (sex therapist and subject of Ask Dr. Ruth), Jessica Williams (comedian and actor in Corporate Animals), andAmy Emmerich (Refinery29 Chief Creative Officer) delivered rousing calls to action.
“What we considered a risk four years ago is now a mandate today,” Emmerich said. “And that’s powerful. It demonstrates the ripple effects of risk taking.”
Sundance Institute also highlighted its efforts in equaling the playing field for indie filmmakers and the critics who influence their audiences. According to Putnam, as of 2019, women represent 40% of accredited press at the festival, the result of a concerted effort to broaden perspective and voices in coverage. This year, Sundance boasts an overall competitive slate of programming, 53% of which is directed by women, in stark contrast to sister festivals, some of which — like the Venice Film Festival in September — showcased only one woman director in the competition.
Risk-taking in supporting women directors extends beyond Hollywood to the advertising world as well, as seen by Oui by Yoplait, a French-style yogurt from General Mills, which selected Gia Coppola to helm its national advertising campaign in addition to supporting the Sundance Women’s Celebration this year.
Bottom line: There’s great business to be had in taking a risk on woman storytellers, and we’re excited to see Park City’s movement snowball into other major industry events throughout 2019.