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Name: Alan Morton

PhD: Film Studies

Thesis Title: Women directors in American independent cinema in the first decade of the 21st century


Thesis Description:

The aim of my research is to assess the reasons for the low participation of women directors in the American film industry by examining the careers of women directors in American independent cinema in the first decade of the 21st century. I have chosen to focus on American independent cinema as it is a sector which according to scholars such as Yannis Tzioumakis and Geoff King, represents an alternative to American commercial cinema in terms of both style and accessibility. However, as recent data from the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University shows, the figures of women directors working in independent film remains low, with just 23% of the top feature films at prominent US film festivals being directed by women. Whilst this figure is higher than the number of women directors working in commercial cinema, it is still below gender parity, casting doubt on the degree to which American independent cinema does offer greater access to filmmaking opportunities. If women directors in the independent sector still struggle to build up a body of work, this suggest that the problem of inequality lies in larger industrial structures as well as the social perception of the value of women’s cultural output. To assess this therefore, my project will look at the funding opportunities offered to women directors in American independent cinema, as well as the marketing and reception of their films and their working practices.


My research will focus on the years 2000 to 2010, as these years were bookended by notable events for women directors working in or associated with American independent cinema. 2000 saw Karyn Kusama win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance film festival for her debut feature film Girlfight (2000), whilst in 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first women director to win the best picture Oscar for The Hurt Locker (2008). The progression from Kusama’s Sundance win to Bigelow’s Oscar could be said to mark an advancement in the reception of women’s filmmaking from the niche appeal of independent festival accolades to mainstream success. Given this progression, coupled with Emanuel Levy terming the year 2000 a ‘year of the woman’, it would not be unreasonable to predict a sharp upturn within the figures of women participating in the film industry. Yet, the reports cited above contest this conclusion, providing evidence for systemic problems within the American film industry.


Supervisors and Institution(s):

Dr Claire Jenkins (University of Leicester)

Ms. Laraine Porter (De Montfort University)



  • Forthcoming


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • Peter Baxter Prize - Awarded for the best dissertation in Film Studies (University of Leicester)
  • R M Banks Prize - Awarded to the Film Studies student graduating with the highest overall mark (University of Leicester)
  • Arthur Humphreys Memorial Prize - Awarded for outstanding performance in the final undergraduate examinations in the College of Arts, Humanities and Law (University of Leicester)


Other Research Interests:

  • Music and Sound
  • Art Cinema
  • Quality Television


University email address:


Twitter: @OrganisedCrisis


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