henever short film is discussed, words like “launchpad” and “stepping-stone” are used to describe the way in which filmmakers can use the format to further their careers. But is that all short film is to cinema? An instrument of progression that is quickly disposed of once a filmmaker has “moved on”?
Here at Short of the Week, we’re firmly in the camp who believe it’s much more than that. We believe it has an influence over cinema beyond just introducing new and exciting talent. If short film is where most filmmakers start their careers, then the importance of diversity and representation in this arena is vital for the filmmaking industry as a whole.
As many prominent film festivals around the globe have begun to share anonymous submissions and selection data in a bid for transparency and accountability over issues of representation, it is important that, as the leading online platform for short film, we hold ourselves to that same scrutiny.
In the hopes of informing and establishing a baseline that we can track against, we’ve examined our own submissions and selection data from 2021 and compared it to other available statistics published online, in the hope of shedding light on the current situation and encouraging others to do the same.
- We begin with gender, and hope to provide reports on other identity categories in the future.
- We’re focusing on directors, so other positions on a production are not covered here.
Female Directors in Short Film
With San Diego State University’s The Celluloid Ceiling report, which tracks women’s employment on the top 250 grossing films in the US, finding that only 17% of directors for these titles identify as female, we felt this was the perfect place to start our examination of the short film landscape. Providing us with a baseline figure from the world of feature filmmaking, we can take a look at how this compares to data from the short film world.
Gender statistics in S/W Submissions & Selections in 2021
As you can see from the data above, with 64% of our submissions in 2021 from directors who identify as male and only 23% female, though this a more positive figure compared to the one from The Celluloid Ceiling, this data does initially point to a lack of female directors in the short films we see submitted to S/W.
Figures from the Gender Representation in the Short Film Industry survey, an initiative from Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur and the Short Film Conference, suggest this figure to be closer to the 40% mark and with 7% of our responders leaving this field blank (unspecified), their numbers are hopefully providing a more accurate view of the landscape.
Indeed, if you examine the information in the Selections pie-chart above, you’ll notice the male/female divide is much closer to that 60/40 model represented in their survey. While these figures suggest that the short film arena is moving towards parity, there’s obviously still some way to go.
Gender statistics in S/W Selections 2018-2021
Here at Short of the Week, we’ve been moving closer to that 60/40 split over the last few years and as you can see from the data above, the percentage of filmmakers featured on our site who identify as Female has averaged out at 35% over the last four years. With 2021 showing the closest to this split at 59/37 (2% non-binary & 2% prefer not to say), things certainly seem to be improving when it comes to the number of female directors featured on S/W. The statistics for 2022 show another increase, with the number of featured filmmakers who identify as female currently standing at 44%.
Gender identity isn’t binary though, so it’d be neglectful to only focus on the male/female divide. The unfortunate truth though, is that there isn’t a lot of data available to explore the full range of gender identities working in short film. The Gender Representation in the Short Film Industry survey does show statistics for filmmakers who identity as non-binary however, reporting 0.17% of submitting directors were non-binary, while those selected made up 1.19% of the programme. While the S/W statistics, for both Submissions and Selections, shows that 2% of our filmmakers identify as non-binary, a figure which has been consistent for the last three years. We hope to be able to capture a better picture of the current situation when more data is available.
To get a thorough overview of the short film industry as a whole, it’s important to compare the statistics we’ve collected on S/W, with any existing data to see how they match up.
Female directors in short film: S/W Stats vs Other Surveys
As mentioned earlier, the data from both S/W (37%) and The Gender Representation in the Short Film Industry survey (38%) suggest similar results for the percentage of directors who identify as female working in short film. Stephen Follows’ How well are women represented among short filmmakers? investigation paints a slightly different picture, with his figures showing that number to be around 29%.
However, it’s worth noting that Follows’ data tracks around 19-years worth of films, with the most recent year examined being 2018 – the 29% we reference – and only looks at live-action. Even so, you can see from his information that this number was on the rise, increasing from around 26% in 2017, and with a spotlight rightly shone on the lack of parity in this industry in recent times, you would have expected this number to have grown more significantly over the following years.
Female Directors: Shorts vs Features
With the results from both the S/W data and The Gender Representation in the Short Film Industry survey pointing to a figure of around 37%, for the amount of directors working in short film who identify as female, how does this number compare to the world of feature films?
The 2021 Celluloid Ceiling report, carried out by Dr. Martha Lauzen at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, found that just 17% of the directors on the 250 highest grossing films (our data comes from the 276 filmmakers featured on our site in 2021, so the pool is similar) in the US were women, down from 18% in 2020. If short film really is where a lot of feature filmmakers are starting off, we need to question why this percentage isn’t higher? It’s quite the gulf between the two figures.
Short film can definitely be pushing harder to reach and maintain a more equal gender balance in its filmmakers, as this should in turn influence the world of features, but are there some other factors causing problems in the pipeline? (something that’s also addressed on p.6 of the 2022 Inclusion in the Director’s Chair report)
For reference, I’ve also included the 2018 figure (13%) from Stephen Follows’ What percentage of film directors are women? chart, which was part of his Are women less likely to direct a second movie than men? investigation. While this figure is a few years out of date, much like his previously mentioned How well are women represented among short filmmakers? data, the period he explores (dating all the way back to 1949) provides a fascinating history into how things have changed over the years and let us make a prediction for the future. Again, from his numbers, you can see how we’ve reached the figure of 17% in the Celluloid Ceiling report.
Percentage of Female Directors in Oscar Short Film Winners
Another important place to look at gender representation is in short film awards and where better to point our focus than the Oscars. The lack of female filmmakers nominated for the Best Director award is already well-documented, but does this imbalance translate to the short film categories as well?
As you can see from the chart above, it unfortunately does. Of the 10-years we examined (2013-2022), half of them had no filmmakers that identify as female in the winners at all, while only one year (2018) saw women filmmakers make up over 50% of the award recipients. Overall, out of the 37 filmmakers who won awards over this time period, only 16% were female, all but one of these (Domee Shi, Bao) coming from the Best Documentary Short Film category.
Percentage of Female Directors in S/W’s Short Awards 2022
For our 2022 Short Awards, an annual prize-giving for the best films featured on S/W over the past year, data shows that 48% of the winning filmmakers identifying as female, 48% male and 4% non-binary. This aligns with our previous awards in 2021, where the split was 50/50 and is an improvement on our 2020 awards which saw female directors make up 41% of the winners.
We talked back in 2016, in our Women Filmmaker’s Guide, about our commitment to “celebrating female creativity” and that desire hasn’t diminished over the last six-years, it’s grown and expanded to ensure we’re supporting filmmaker of all gender identities. The balance in gender representation in short film directors isn’t quite where it should be yet, but it’s certainly making strides to find that perfect equilibrium.
If short film can get this right, it can play a huge role in laying the foundations for the rest of the film industry to follow suit and give filmmakers of all genders the opportunities (and awards) they deserve. It needs everyone involved in the world of short film – funders, distributors, festivals, juries, online platforms etc – to all share the same vision and drive to make this happen. It shouldn’t be difficult. It shouldn’t even be something that needs discussing, but here we are, so lets continue to strive for gender parity in short film and set the benchmarks for the industry as a whole.
We’ll continue to do our part here at Short of the Week and continue to try to encourage others through transparency and sharing insight into our process and our data. If you’re an underrepresented filmmaker and want us to consider your film, please submit your short to us whenever you’re ready. We can’t wait to watch it.