Nashville Film Fest helps female filmmakers find audience

When it comes to the gender gap in filmmaking, the numbers speak for themselves.

According to the New York Film Academy, only 9 percent of all film directors are women, while a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University indicated that between 2012 and 2014, the number actually fell to 7 percent.

Only four women — Lina Wertmuller (“Seven Beauties,” 1976); Jane Campion (“The Piano,” 1993); Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation,” 2003); and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) — have ever been nominated for best director. Bigelow is the lone woman to have won a directing Oscar.


That disparity makes this year’s Nashville Film Festival, taking place April 16-25, all the more interesting.

Just this week, NaFF announced that 32 of its feature films are directed or co-directed by women.

Female directors and co-directors are behind 75 percent of the documentaries screening at the festival, and at the helm of 45 percent of the feature films in the competition.

“When that came together, I thought, ‘That is really fantastic,’ ” said Brian Owens, artistic director for the festival. “That just boggled my mind.”

Leah Meyerhoff, who directed “I Believe in Unicorns,” which screened last year, said, “Festivals like Nashville are really doing their part to increase the presence of female directors.”

Meyerhoff, who also founded Film Fatales, a female filmmaker collective based in New York ( with 12 chapters around the world, is hosting a panel discussion at 2 p.m. April 19.

“That was something we talked about before any of these numbers ever arose,” said Owens, of the panel discussion regarding women in film.

Owens had talked with Meyerhoff last year about returning to the festival as a jury member, and from that discussion, the idea of hosting a panel was tossed around.

Meyerhoff will discuss the importance of having more women behind the camera and at the center of their own stories.

“Filmmaking can be a lonely endeavor, whether you’re male or female,” said Meyerhoff, whose

“Unicorn” feature will be released theatrically on May 29, “but especially if you’re a woman.

“The mission behind Film Fatales is to create a space for female directors to support each other and collaborate on projects and really lift each other up as they continue to make their films.”

With so few women as mentors, it wasn’t until Meyerhoff was in college that she realized she could pursue a career as a director.

She initially emailed Allison Anders, who directed “Gas Food Lodging,” and the two became friends.

Anders later became an executive producer on “I Believe in Unicorns.”

Meyerhoff said women need a support system, “so they’re not the only one in the room.”

“There’s starting to be an awareness that we’re not even seeing a representation of actors on screen that reflect gender in our society,” said Meyerhoff, who is admittedly skeptical that the Nashville festival is an indication Hollywood could be changing over the next five to 10 years. “I don’t know if we can say Hollywood is changing, but definitely in the independent film world, it’s changing.”

“I think festivals, especially ones like Nashville, are really important in helping (female-directed) films find an audience.”

Coincidentally the NaFF comes on the heels of what was a disappointing Oscar season for women.

Ava DuVernay, who directed “Selma,” which was among the eight nominees for Best Picture, was surprisingly not nominated for an Oscar as Best Director.

Not only would she have been only the fifth woman to be nominated, but she also would have been the first black woman to have earned an Academy Award nomination for her directing efforts.

Angelina Jolie, who won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in 1999 for her work in “Girl, Interrupted,” also was passed over for her work directing the emotional holiday blockbuster “Unbroken.”

In 2012, the L.A. Times reported that 5,765 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are white males and that an alarming 94 percent are Caucasian men and women.

“Every Oscar season is disappointing,” Meyerhoff said. “Everyone was hoping Ava would be nominated for an Oscar, but no one was surprised when she wasn’t.”

Meyerhoff and Owens both believe that for more women to continue getting opportunities behind the camera, it’s equally important for the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon — both of whom have Nashville ties — to continue producing projects as well.

It’s about women positioning themselves to provide other women with opportunities.

“As more women start … breaking more glass ceilings,” said Owens, who hopes the Nashville numbers prove to be a trend as opposed to an anomaly or one-year oddity, “it sure as heck better happen in my lifetime.”

“I really do hope that Hollywood opens up in my lifetime,” said Meyerhoff, who noted it’s easier for women to find funding for independent films and documentaries. “I have a bit of skepticism towards it because it’s been so, so slow towards progress.”