6.03 Numbers of Women in Exploding Cinema

Introduction: I intend to track the number of women who showed work and those who were part of the collective, making a comparison with the proportion of women in other parts of the film industry. This may reveal if the open access policy of Exploding Cinema has any practical effect in making film production more accessible to women.

Method: Numbers of filmmakers who have shown in Exploding Cinema since 1992, who have female names were counted and compared with those with male names. This ratio was also calculated through my intensity tables. I.e. for the filmmakers showing most work at Exploding Cinema. These figures were compared with figures supplied by Women in Film & TV (UK).[1] The relative number of women in the collective was also tracked over time.

Unitisation: A number of names cannot be gendered for various reasons such as: no first name supplied; foreign names and others of unknown gendering; ambiguous names (e.g. Sam), group names....  However the percentage of names which is uncountable or dubious seems to be low at less than 15%. It is also well known that women can sometimes use a male alias to avoid discrimination or pre-judgement. I have not found any guidance on this question but I will assume the number is too low to be significant in this case.

These figures do not account the average length of male films compared with female. Each film work is taken to be of similar average value. This may not be tenable as one of the most fundamental material effects of sexism is the lower average wages, and less money that women have and so we might assume there will be less funds to make self-funded longer films. On the other hand Exploding Cinema has a bias towards low-cost short films so it could be a relatively good environment for women. I will assume these two considerations cancel each other out.

With a list of 643 filmmakers and 1039 works shown in Exploding Cinema between 1992 - 1997 the sample is large enough to make major anomalies statistically unlikely.

It is possible that more women work in groups and so avoid being counted.

Results: a. Filmmakers.

Overall the number of women who have shown:                 197

                                                                   Men                              353                 

                                Ambiguous or opaque                               93

A ration of about 4:7 in favour of men.

Women filmmakers were 35% of gendered total.

The unknowns were 14% of the total, which in view of the discussion above could give a slight bonus to women, but not enough to effect the ratio when rounded to single figures.

b. Works shown.

The number of works by          women:                                                295

                                                       men:                                                    607

                               ambiguous or opaque:                                            136

A ratio of about 1:2 in favour of male authored works.

Women's films were 32% of gendered total.

Amongst the 64 filmmakers who showed more than two works at Exploding Cinema between 1992 - 1997, 16 or 25% were women (compared with 35% of the gendered total). Giving these a weighting for number of films shown and repeats, the percentage is 27% (compared with 32% of the total gendered works shown.)

c. Meeting attendance. The total number of meetings attendances recorded by the most dedicated collective members:

In 1992 female /male ratio was      28/39 or:      41% female

   1993                                                     73/68              51%

   1994                                                     35/47              42%

   1995                                                     25/28              47%

   1996                                                     23/18              56%

   1997                                                     46/58              44%

This list includes a total of 28 people of whom 10 were women.

Analysis & interpretation: The figures show clearly that women participants number 35% of the filmmakers shown and average 35% of the collective in number. The steady core of the collective in the four years 1995 to 1998 has however been three women and two men. Also the attendances at meetings show women claiming around 50% of meetings attended. This means that, on average, the women were putting in more meeting hours. Or, put another way, the women were more consistent in coming to meetings. This could suggest an equal power balance in spite of the numerical advantage given to men.

In terms of works shown, women's works were 32% of the gendered total but when we look at the people showing more than two films with Exploding Cinema the percentage of works drops to 27%. This difference could be within the error factor we might expect but probably indicates that at the more intense end of production women are beginning to drop out. This fall is sharper when we look at the numbers of filmmakers where there are only 25% of women in the most productive 64 compared with being 35% of the total filmmakers shown.

But how does this compare to women in the professional industry? Insync, the house magazine of Women in Film & TV (autumn 1996) had an article by Helen Baehr reporting that there was no legal obligation for equal opportunity reporting in the Independent sector. However a report she quotes, without reference, commissioned by the European Commission does give some figures:

Men occupied the greater share of the senior production jobs, accounting for 63% of executive producers and 76% of directors. (as quoted by Insync, Autumn 1996, p5)

Seeing these as a positive value of 37% women executive producers and 24% directors these figure roughly parallel those in Exploding Cinema. Women moving from the underground into mainstream independent production can expect about the same gender ratio as they experienced in the underground. However figures for the public funded sector from 1993 show:

BBC1 had the highest proportion of women in credits: 24% compared to 18% in BBC2 and Channel 4 and just 17% in ITV. (Her Point of View, BECTU, 1993, p18)

This would show the situation in Exploding Cinema in a more favourable light, showing a 50% improvement on the best of these figures. (More up-to-date figures do not seem to be available). The fact that women put equal hours into running the collective (meetings at least) could be interpreted to show that women have an equal interest in film production even though they end up authoring less. Put more militantly the women are doing more administration and less authoring.

 This might show that the underground doesn't effectively give better access to women than the mainstream. Of course the direction and production of feature films is still almost entirely male dominated. It may be unrealistic to compare this high finance operation with underground filmmaking.

Conclusion: This is a very quick analysis of a complex situation. It may be unrealistic to expect that a micro culture can make a difference to something as deeply and broadly embedded as sexism. But it does suggest that on the most functional level open access without positive discrimination may not be able to dramatically change the basic social patterns of exclusion. The underground as a subculture still seems to be imbued with machismo, be it an 'alternative' machismo.[2] A more optimistic conclusion may be that in the seven years covered by my study more than 200 women made and showed more that 300 short films - a considerable body of women's work that deserves more attention.


Tables (unpaginated) to be included as JPEGs 6.04 & 6.05

Tables 1 to 8: Meeting attendance 1992 to 1997

Number of films shown by collective members (Table 9)



[1] The British Film Institute has a gateway to 'women in film' internationally at its website.


[2] The situation is if anything worse for black and disabled filmmakers. There were no black members of the collective during the period of my participation and very often venues of shows are not accessible. This situation is simply not as easy to measure empirically as the counting of gendered names. Class is of course even more difficult to measure in this way.