Advancing representation and creating space for women in the film industry is critical to ensuring that the stories on the screen reflect the world we live in – of which, women make up at least half (50.8 percent) of the population.
In 2021, not only did men outnumber women in onscreen film roles 2-to-1, but women accounted for only 25 percent of people working in key behind-the-scenes functions for the top 250 grossing films. There was a very small increase (two percent) in women working as executive producers and producers. And women were far less represented in creative roles. Female directors made up just 12 percent of the overall film industry in 2021 (down from 16 percent in 2020). Women in other creative positions, such as writers (17 percent both years), editors (22 percent in both years) and cinematographers (6 percent in both years) are very much in the minority.
In this article
- Emilana Ammirata empowers women filmmakers in Venezuela and beyond
- From Germany to Ghana with Naëmi Buchtemann
- The work has only just begun
Beginning in 2015, Adobe partnered with the Sundance Film Institute to launch The Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship, a program that awards emerging filmmakers from ages 18 to 25 with a year of mentorship and artist development opportunities. The fellowship prioritizes filmmakers from underrepresented communities and has provided support to a high proportion of women filmmakers around in the world as they launched their creative careers. Since its inception over 90 fellows (comprised of 67 percent people of color and 51 percent female) have participated in the program, spanning 15 different countries.
Below we get to know two of the filmmakers and what they are doing to advance women in film, beyond their own careers.
Emilana Ammirata empowers women filmmakers in Venezuela and beyond
Even more powerfully, many of these previous Sundance Ignite x Adobe fellows have taken what they’ve learned and are now paying it forward, investing their time and talent by empowering other women around the world.
“Identifying and supporting new voices and talent in film— particularly women—is vital for the sustainability of the medium,” says filmmaker Emiliana Ammirata, a 2017 Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellow. “This industry is patriarchal. Women have been involved in the medium for years but often our work remains in the shadows. The more involved we become as decision makers, the more we will see ourselves reflected in story.”
Ammirata grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. “I never knew that film was an option for work,” she explains. She left at 18 to study film at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in California. She was beginning her final year when she was awarded the Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellowship.
“The fellowship came at such a crucial point in my life. I was very raw, having moved to new country by myself. I knew in my heart what I wanted to do but did not have the language for how to do it. I needed to find a way to nurture that,” she explains. “Having [the support] of Sundance and Adobe behind me helped me find my voice.” Once the fellowship was complete, Ammirata knew she wanted to devote her career to independent filmmaking.
Community is critical for nascent filmmakers, according to Ammirata, who has since co-founded a film production company called Discordia and moved to London to work with Mexican director and producer Alfonso Cuarón.
“It’s very easy for new filmmakers with hopes and dreams to be intimidated early on,” Ammirata says. “It’s hard to do it alone.” Building her own community, she wanted other Venezuelan women to have that same feeling of support. In 2020, she and group of fellow filmmakers launched JEVA (Juntas en Venezuela y Afuera or Venezuelan Association of Women Filmmakers)— an empowering take on the Spanish slang word for an attractive woman.
JEVA provides community, education, and career development for female filmmakers. “I came from a privileged background and was able to go to school abroad to study film. I feel very indebted to my country, and want to bring those opportunities closer to home,” Ammirata says. “Our country has no film institutions, grants. or educational opportunities so we decided to create that for ourselves.” JEVA now has more than 800 active members taking part in its workshops, round tables, conferences, and mentorships. “We’ve been surprised by level of engagement given that we were a non-profit with no way to communicate beyond Instagram” Ammirata says.
From Germany to Ghana with Naëmi Buchtemann
2019 Sundance Ignite x Adobe Fellow Naëmi Buchtemann was steeped in the arts from an early age. Her parents ran a contemporary dance company, and she grew up on stage. She earned a Bachelor’s of Performing Arts degree from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, UK (in part, to prove to her mother that she’d explored the option fully). Then she studied film and directing at the German Film Academy.
Buchtemann had just begun her film education when she was awarded the Sundance Ignite x Adobe fellowship. The program gave her the opportunity to develop her skills as a storyteller working with screenwriter and director Desiree Akhavan.
“It was an extremely exciting experience, being surrounded by a lot of really talented voices in film and gaining some insight into their creative process,” Buchtemann says. “Everyone behind Sundance Ignite was incredibly supportive and gave me the ability to believe in myself when I lacked that.”
More than anything, Buchtemann says, the experience made her feel seen. Now, she wants to offer that to others. “As important as it is for anyone to be in charge of their own narratives, identifying and supporting the voices that can bring new perspectives to the screen is critical,” Buchtemann says. “Not everyone grows up in a space where imagining yourself as a filmmaker or a storyteller is encouraged.”
Buchtemann is particularly interested in empowering women filmmakers. “It’s usually been the women around me, whose input and opinions have strengthened me,” she says.
“Whenever female voices are strengthened, it contributes to a world that is a little more made for us.”
For the past five years, Buchtemann has split her time between Germany and Ghana, working on film productions in both countries. In Ghana’s capital city of Accra, she helped launch the non-profit Oroko, which offers radio and artist residencies and operates an independent internet radio station. Oroko’s initial focus has been offering music production and DJ workshops for female-identifying participants.
Buchtemann also plans to offer writing and film opportunities through Oroko. She is currently creating a writer’s room for Ghanaians and Germans, with the goal of pitching film and television scripts to streaming platforms. “I hope that we can give people the chance to create together without any hierarchy getting in the way,” Buchtemann says.
The work has only just begun
While both Ammirata and Buchtemann devote their own time and talent to increasing film education, opportunity, and community for women, they both agree that this is just the start of the work required to make changes that better support women in film.
“A shift needs to happen to enable women to work in this industry without sacrificing either their families or their careers,” says Ammirata, who would like to see more benefits like on-set daycares or flexible schedules. “We need to normalize women working in these roles,” agrees Buchtemann.
Women require support not only to fund their projects, but also to be able to do the work. Buchtemann explains that often women must put their creative ambitions to the side, particularly if they have families and children. “Restructuring how one should or can be as a filmmaker, is essential so everyone can see themselves represented on film,” she says.
Read more about how Adobe supports diverse emerging filmmakers here.