PARK CITY, Utah - For the first time, the Sundance Film Festival could do a boy-girl, boy-girl seating arrangement of directors in its U.S. dramatic competition - and not run out of girls.
The festival has 50-50 parity - eight women, eight men - among the 16 films in the competition, a record that female filmmakers consider to be a hopeful sign they are making progress toward equal time with males.
"It just feels like justice. Like, OK, this is the way it's supposed to be. This reflects the population of the Earth. There's no reason why there shouldn't be as many women making movies as men," said Lynn Shelton, a Sundance regular whose film "Touchy Feely," starring Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist suddenly averse to touching people, is playing in the dramatic competition. "But I'm also waiting for the day when I'm not treated as an oddity as a woman. I'm just treated as another filmmaker."
Other dramatic entries directed by women include Liz W. Garcia's "The Lifeguard," starring Kristen Bell as a lifeguard who enters a risky relationship with a teen; Stacie Passon's "Concussion," a midlife-crisis tale starring Robin Weigert; Francesca Gregorini's "E-manuel and the Truth About Fishes," with Jessica Biel and Kaya Scodelario in the story of a troubled teen; and Jerusha Hess' "Austenland," featuring Keri Russell as a woman searching for her own Jane Austen-style perfect man.
Women have been doing well for years in Sundance's short-film programs and documentary lineups.
Yet the premiere section is a sign that women still are a long way from equal opportunity in higher-end independent filmmaking. And when it comes to studio films, only a handful of women have made steady inroads as directors.
Women have made promising directing debuts at past festivals only to drop out of sight, unable to get a second project off the ground.