Initiative Documents Hundreds of Previously Unrecorded Female Filmmakers for Film History
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 6, 2023, Los Angeles, CA – The American Film Institute (AFI) today released the results of their groundbreaking gender study focused on silent era films. The project, titled Women They Talk About after the 1928 feature film, is an initiative documenting the widely unrecorded contributions of female filmmakers in the silent film era and uncovering the true story of women’s pioneering role in the creation of American cinema. Women They Talk About was led by the research team at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, the world’s most authoritative, freely accessible database of every American film released in the first 100 years of the art form and funded by The David and Lura Lovell Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In addition to the study, the Women They Talk About initiative also features a newly launched microsite on AFI.com which includes curricular resources for grades 9-12, accessible to all, and a comprehensive index of over 800 women film pioneers which combines the work of Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project and AFI’s research. The study and resources can be viewed here: aficatalog.afi.com/wtta/.
“The AFI Catalog – used all over the world by academics and film fans alike as the document of record for American film history – directly informs the way the story of film history is being told and spotlights the women who played foundational roles in the art form,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “We hope these new discoveries through the Women They Talk About project will provide inspiration to the next generation of filmmakers who can continue their pioneering work in film.”
As part of the three-year study, AFI documented 6,000 feature films released in the silent era—many of which were written, directed and produced by women—that previously had little or no record in any book or online database. Through this process, AFI captured information about hundreds of women who had yet to be included in the historical canon and added their credits to the AFI Catalog, ensuring they will be part of film history. AFI was then able to discover that women represented a higher percentage of writers, directors and producers in the silent era than at any other time in the first century of American filmmaking. The study reports that from 1910-1930, 10.9% of feature film credits were attributed to women writers, directors and producers.
AFI was also able to establish that from 1910-1930, women were credited as writers or co-writers in 27.5% of feature film productions; 19.6% of features films were based on source material written by women; and films directed by women during this time period were 31% more likely to have female writers. The study also documented the most common genres of features films written by women as well as subject matter.
AFI also developed and launched new advanced search functions within the AFI Catalog to support future studies of women storytellers and to help identify their contributions to the creation of the industry. Researchers can now select gender as search criteria to explore the role of women in the first century of American cinema, advancing awareness and knowledge of how female filmmakers worked during this time.
“The AFI Catalog’s uniquely comprehensive and scholarly data on American film history provides an unprecedented opportunity to illuminate women’s contributions to the creation of cinema and to make fresh discoveries, providing the groundwork for researchers and educators to tell an authentic story of women’s inclusion,” said Sarah Blankfort Clothier, Manager, AFI Catalog.
AFI has already begun expanding upon the work of Women They Talk About with its next study, “Behind the Veil,” named after a short film by pioneer filmmaker Lois Weber. The initiative, supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, will document 6,000 short films from the silent and early sound eras to uncover the innovative contributions of female and BIPOC storytellers.
Learn more about the AFI Catalog at AFI.com.
About the American Film Institute (AFI)
The American Film Institute (AFI) is a nonprofit organization with a mandate to champion the moving image as an art form. Established in 1967, AFI launched the first comprehensive history of American film and sparked the movement for film preservation in the United States. In 1969, AFI opened the doors of the AFI Conservatory, a graduate-level program to train narrative filmmakers. The Conservatory, which counts Deniese Davis, Affonso Gonçalves, Susannah Grant, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas and Rachel Morrison as Alumni, is ranked the #1 film school in America. AFI’s enduring traditions include the AFI Life Achievement Award, which honors the masters for work that has stood the test of time; AFI AWARDS, which celebrates the creative ensembles of the most outstanding screen stories of the year; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and the AFI Archive that preserve film history for future generations. AFI exhibition programs include AFI FEST, AFI DOCS and year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Maryland. AFI Movie Club is a destination for movie lovers from around the world to celebrate and engage with the art form every day. Other pioneering programs include workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community, including AFI DWW+ and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
American Film Institute
Shari Mesulam, [email protected]