Sunday, January 10, 2016

Yes! #gendermatters at Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board


In late December, the Irish Film Board, or Bord Scannán na hÉireann (IFB/BSE), announced its six-point Gender Equality Plan (Information; Funding; Training and Mentorship; Education; Enterprise; and Partnership). The plan includes a target of achieving 50/50 gender parity in funding over the next three years.

The IFB/BSE is the national development agency for Irish filmmaking and the Irish film, television and animation industry, the Irish version of Screen Australia and the New Zealand Film Commission, although there are some differences. For instance, IFB/BSE is responsible for Screen Training Ireland, the national screen training and development resource and the New Zealand Film Commission isn't involved in television – that's New Zealand on Air's responsibility.

For those of you not familiar with how these agencies work, the respective Acts of Parliament that established each organisation also established their boards, equivalent to boards of directors, appointed by their respective Ministers. These boards are responsible for policies and strategy. The organisation's staff are the public servants who implement the policies and are responsible to the board, which in turn is responsible to its Minister. IFB/BSE's board is half women and half men, with a higher proportion of them practitioners than among those on the Australian and New Zealand boards. Screen Australia's board is also half women and half men (with two women's terms about to expire). The New Zealand Film Commission's board has three women (including the Chair) and five men.

When I gathered together all the information about the IFB/BSE Gender Equality Plan, to post, I was especially intrigued by the role of the Equality Action Committee (EAC), four women (Lauren MacKenzie, Liz Gill, Marian Quinn and Susan Liddy) who represented the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland in discussions with the IFB/BSE.

Lauren MacKenzie is a widely produced screen writer, producer and script consultant, whose work I haven't seen – one of the sadnesses of discrimination against women filmmakers is that we don't see enough of one another's work, though that's changing a little. Liz Gill (I loved her Goldfish Memory) is a writer, director and producer. Marian Quinn (whose 32A I also loved) is an actor, writer and director.  And Dr Susan Liddy is an academic. I asked her some questions. Many thanks for responding so fully, Susan!

Susan Liddy & Marian Quinn photo: Demotix.com
WW After the IFB/BSE announced its policy, the Writers Guild of Ireland (WGI) and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland (SDGI) issued a press release to welcome it. It congratulated the IFB/BSE on its commitment to achieving 50/50 gender parity for writers and directors in feature film production within three years and added–
We have been pressing the Board on this important issue for a number of years.
But from here, it seems that the board hadn't listened to the writers and the screen directors, until  the extraordinary, powerful #wakingthefeminists campaign that followed Dublin's Abbey Theatre's announcement of its 2016 Waking The Nation ten-play programme, with just one by a woman. The campaign began with a huge public meeting, in November. The size of the meeting and the reach of the campaign, for a country of 4.8m people (vs 4.6m in Aotearoa New Zealand, 23.9m Australia, almost 5m in Sydney) was really impressive. And the level of support that came in from around the world was, I think unprecedented.

Onstage at the November meeting photo: Fiona Morgan

The audience photo: Fiona Morgan

Outside the Abbey Theatre photo: Fiona Morgan

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Highlights

I'm delighted that Jane Campion's now Dame Jane. Here are my other local highlights from 2015. What have I missed?


Those who spoke out in support of gender equity in allocation of film funding



Karin Williams, Briar Grace-Smith, Libby Hakaraia, Chelsea Winstanley at the Big Screen Symposium (photo: @multinesia on tumblr)
This is undoubtedly the highlight of my ten years' thinking and writing about this issue, as well as of 2015. First, at the annual Big Screen Symposium, producer/director  Chelsea Winstanley made  unequivocal statements about the need for gender equity in New Zealand Film Commission's allocation of taxpayer funding.


Huge respect to Chelsea, the first high-flying New Zealand woman director/ producer to speak up publicly and staunchly on this issue, except for Dame Jane. May others join her in 2016.

Then two men directors spoke out, writer/director Jonathan King and actor/writer/director Jemaine Clement. The first I noticed was Jemaine, in support of the Australian Directors Guild's call for gender equity.
And then Jonathan King let me know that he supported gender equity too–


Niki Caro



On set: The Zookeeper's Wife
Best known as director of Whale Rider and North Country, 'our' Niki Caro directed this year's McFarland, USA (not yet released in New Zealand). It is 57 on Box Office Mojo's 2015 Box Office Results, has grossed almost $45m and is one of only five women-directed films this high on the list. The others are Fifty Shades of Grey (16); Pitch Perfect 2 (12); The Intern (57); and Jupiter Ascending (54).  That's pretty amazing.

Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board's Gender Equality Plan

Annie  Equality for Women, Acting Chair of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board

It seems to have happened so quickly. In early November, Dr Susan Liddy sent a letter to The Irish Times–

Women and the Irish Film Industry

Sir, – I write in response to Una Mullally’s article ('A century on, Abbey [Theatre] still gives women a bit part', Opinion & Analysis, November 2nd) which highlights the woeful under-representation of female playwrights in the Abbey’s centenary programme.
Unfortunately, this dismal picture of exclusion is not the exclusive preserve of the theatre. It is also echoed in the Irish Film Industry, which is overwhelmingly male-dominated and lacking a strong female voice and vision. My own research suggests a mere 13 per cent of produced screenplays in the period 1993 to 2013 were written by Irish women. 
When women are missing behind the camera there is often a knock-on effect in front of the camera. So only 24 per cent of all produced films from 1993 to 2011 with a male writer had a female character at the heart of the narrative. In comparison, 63 per cent of produced films with a female writer lead with a female protagonist. 
Having more women writers and directors increases the likelihood of more female-centred stories. And, importantly, it sends out a strong signal to girls and young women that there is a place for them in Irish cinema – that their vision and their stories are valued.

Dame Jane Campion – A Celebration



Warmest congratulations to Dame Jane Campion. At last. A beautiful moment.

This is a special addition to her other New Zealand honours, like her honorary Doctorate of Literature from Victoria University, back in 1999.

The announcement I read didn't say much. So here are some of the things I celebrate about Dame Jane Campion.

I celebrate her global reach as a teller of powerful onscreen stories, of course. From her first short film Peel (1982), which won the Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. To Sweetie, one of my all-time faves. To The Piano, which won many awards, including – the only woman winner to date – the Palme d’Or in 1994 and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, one of only seven ever won by women. Dame Jane – doesn't it sound perfect (partly because adding 'dame' in this context carries a teeny Raymond Chandler-type suggestion?) – was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director for The Piano, the second of only four women ever. To all those features after that. To her most recent work, Top of The Lake, which she wrote with Gerard Lee, directed with Garth Davis and executive produced.

I also celebrate because Dame Jane's work provides us with a consistent inquiry into women’s lives. It always embodies her well-known question… "Women may be 50% of the population but they gave birth to the whole world, why wouldn't we want to know what they think and feel?", and is absolutely about much more than women-as-mothers. I celebrate that her inquiry is so wide-ranging. Not long ago, I saw her After Hours (1984) for the first time, when it was briefly online, the most nuanced short film about sexual harassment I've ever seen.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shashat: Palestinian Women Make Images


This interview is a cross-post from African Women in Cinema's Special Dossier on Women in Cinema in the Arab World. It's here through the kindness of interviewer Patricia Caillé (of the Université de Strasbourg) and of Beti Ellerson of African Women in Cinema, whose ongoing hard work, published in French and in English, ensures that there's a rich archive of information about women filmmakers whose lives and work are locally and globally oriented, but often created outside European or Hollywood systems. That's essential information, for all of us. 

Although there are many reasons to appreciate this interview, for me it's especially illuminating because of its accounts of Shashat ['screens', in Arabic] Women Cinema's active research into the best practices for advancing the work of women filmmakers. I'm inspired by Shashat Women Cinema's ideas and its implementation and evaluation of programmes that work in highly testing circumstances. They provide, I believe, a vital reference point in #womeninfilm/ #gendermatters discussions and programmes, from Sweden to Ireland to Australasia to North America. A big thank you to Patricia, to Alia and the other Shashat women and to Beti. 

by Patricia Caillé

Alia Arasoughly
Alia Arasoughly is the current Director General of Shashat Women Cinema, an independent women’s cinema NGO she founded in 2005 in Palestine. She is curator of the annual Shashat Women Film Festival in Palestine. She works both as a film producer and a director. She has produced 76 short films, fiction and documentary, by young Palestinian women filmmakers, as well as 15 one-hour documentary TV programmes. Her directing credits include The Clothesline (14 mins., 2006), Ba`d As-Sama’ Al-Akhirah [After the Last Sky] (55 mins. 2007), Hay mish Eishi [This is not Living] (2001, shown in over 100 international film festivals and translated into 6 languages. Hayat Mumazzaqah [Torn Living], 23 mins. 1993. She is editor of  Eye on Palestinian Women’s Cinema (2013) (Arabic) and of Screens of Life – Critical Film Writing from the Arab World (1996)


Alia's first book. (WW: I've been unable to find an image for Eye on Palestinian Women's Cinema)
Alia has received many awards for her work. In this interview, she describes the activities of Shashat, the training of women filmmakers, as well as the festival that showcases their films.

Patricia Caillé: There are a few cinemas in the West Bank that show mostly Hollywood and Egyptian genre films. There are no cinemas left in Gaza. There are a few festivals as well whose programmes depend largely on the international organisations supporting them. Apart from rare premieres, there are little opportunities for dissemination of Palestinian films to Palestinian audiences. Shashat stands out as the longest running and most extensive film festival in Palestine, touring for nearly three months. Can you describe the context when Shashat Film Festival was created and how it was created?

Alia Arasoughly: It was created by Shashat Women Cinema, an independent women’s cinema organisation. The festival is part of the Films for All Screening Programme, one of four programmes, which has a yearlong screening programme. It is not a traditional film festival, but a cultural community empowerment intervention which takes place in seven universities, seven refugee camps and seventeen cities in collaboration with twenty-three cultural and community organisations. It was important to have a specialized women’s cinema NGO whose mission was to have women become producers of Palestinian culture, more specifically cinema. Most of the projects that addressed women in media, women’s cinema or women’s audiovisual creativity were and are seasonal. One donor would sponsor an activity for six months one year, and then another donor will sponsor the same type of activity for six months another year, etc. These activities did not build on one another to provide continuity and sustainability to their objective and thus failed to result in the emergence of a new generation of young women filmmakers and failed to have a cumulative impact on culture.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Japanese #womeninfilm & Cathy Munroe Hotes

Cathy Munroe Hotes
I've wanted to know more about Japanese women filmmakers and women's film festivals, for ages. Like Korean women filmmakers and women's festivals, they're just across the Pacific/ Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. So I was delighted to find Cathy Munroe Hotes' Japanese Women Behind the Scenes wiki. This rich, fascinating resource offers information about Japanese women writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, art directors, continuity editors, animators, editors, experimental filmmakers and more. I was even more delighted when Cathy agreed to answer some questions.

Where I can, I've linked each woman she mentions to her page on Cathy's website. For the few who don't have a page there, I've linked to their website or another online resource.

How did your study of Japanese women directors begin? 

I have always had an interest in women directors.  In my native Canada, I was drawn to directors like Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaid Singing, Mansfield Park, Into the Forest) and the documentary director Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, People of the Kattawapiskak River, Trick or Treaty?).  

I started Nishikata Film Review when I was living in Tokyo in 2006.  The blog initially did not have any focus at all, but over the years I have become known for my reviews of independent animators and women filmmakers.  The focus on animation came about because I discovered that really amazing alternative animation films were being made in Japan and no one was writing about them in English.  The focus on women came about because of Nippon Connection.  I first began going to the festival as a blogger in 2008, a year after my family and I moved to Germany [where Cathy teaches at the University of Marburg].  As it is the largest Japanese film festival in the world, the choice of films there is overwhelming, so one year I decided to watch all the films by women.  There were actually many films that year and I enjoyed them very much.  I also noticed at Nippon Connection that women film critics are few and far between – particularly those who have a focus on East Asian film.  One notable exception is Maggie Lee, the chief Asia film critic at Variety.  

For my academic research, I had been making filmographies of animators and filmmakers for years.  I decided to start posting them online, together with links to articles and related websites, in order to share the information that I had gathered and to encourage other people with similar interests to contribute.  Reliable information on independent filmmakers tends to be hard to find, so I wanted to make it easier for both fans and researchers to learn more about a woman filmmaker they may have just discovered.  At the moment there are a couple of people adding information to the site, but I would love to have more people participating.

Is there a strong tradition of women's filmmaking in Japan? Or several traditions?


Tazuko Sakane 坂根田鶴子 1904 – 1975
It took a long time for women to become directors in Japan because of the patriarchal, hierarchical structure of Japanese studios.  The two earliest women filmmakers, Tazuko Sakane and Kinuyo Tanaka, would likely not have had a chance to be directors if they hadn’t had the support of Kenji Mizoguchi.  Unfortunately, most of Sakane’s works are no longer extant, and Tanaka’s works are difficult to see apart from Love Letter (1953).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

K' Road Stories (with a Pot Luck bonus!)


I was excited when I heard about K'Road Stories. I love the road these short films are set in, Karangahape Road in central Auckland, where I once spent a lot of time.

I was even more excited when I saw that – funded by New Zealand On Air  – HALF of K'Road Stories have women writers/directors. This year's best Australasian example of gender equity in state screen funding?

This is what the website says–
K' Rd Stories cracks open the surface of life on Karangahape Road, revealing diverse cultures and unique voices. 
Set on New Zealand’s most iconic street this collection of short films - by some of New Zealand’s most creative filmmakers - explores the uncommon, the contrasting, and the crazy. 
The films premiered along an innovative screening trail on Karangahape Road in conjunction with First Thursdays on December 3rd, 2015. K Rd Stories sneaks a peek at the people and places that make this neighbourhood so infamous – and so beloved.

Facebook
Twitter
#kroadstories

The women-written-and- directed K'Road Stories, for holiday viewing! When you're waiting about or lying about or wishing you were here in Aotearoa New Zealand's summer. Or thinking about films that women make and hoping we'll make more of them in 2016.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Glimpse of The Future, With Inspiring Stories

Sehar, Michelle & Inspiring Stories' Guy Ryan
I love Inspiring Stories and its Making a Difference film competition.

Making a Difference challenges aspiring Kiwi filmmakers to tell the story of a young person who’s doing something extraordinary.  It embraces difference of many kinds. (2016 entries open NOW!)

Inspiring Stories on Facebook & on Twitter

This year's Making a Difference winners have just been announced and just look! It's obvious that the competition engages young women and they do well. A lesson for competitions-in-general and for film organisations, as is that other young people's competition, The Outlook For Someday(Their results coming soon!)

Warm congratulations to all the winners. The future's here, right now. And it's looking good!

Overall Winner and Most Inspiring Story
Best Cinematography Award
Making A Difference Award
Sehar’s Story
Michelle Vergel de Dios (Auckland)

Social Justice Award
Open Category Award
Youth Pride, Youth Passion, Youth Change
Nina Griffiths (Northland)

Creativity & Culture Award (Awarded with backing from The Big Idea)
Environment/Kaitiaki Award (Awarded with backing from Sustainable Coastlines)
Whenua Finds a Future
Sarah Risdale (Palmerston North)

Leadership Award (Awarded with backing from the Sir Peter Blake Trust)
Best Editing Award
Secondary Schools Category Award
Rewind
Liam van Eeden and Jean-Martin Fabre (Invercargill)

Best Editing Award – Honorable Mentions
Strands of Hope, Amy Huang
Mountains for Malawi, Henry Donald

Tertiary Institution Category Award
Aspire
Samantha Smyrke (Otago/Rotorua)


Here's Sehar's Story, by Michelle Vergel de Dios.

 

And Nina Grifffiths' Youth Pride, Youth Passion, Youth Change



And Sarah Risdale's Whenua Finds a Future




And Samatha Smyrke's Aspire






Sunday, December 6, 2015

#gendermatters at Screen Australia?

A couple of days after I finished this post, I received this further information, about the Screen Australia Gender Matters paper. You might like to start by reading it, here, because, who knows, with only the press release to go on I could have got it all wrong.


I liked Deb Verhoeven's response to the press release, with the link in here–
And then her tweet after she read the Gender Matters paper (so I may not have 'got it all wrong'!)–
Filmmaker Briony Kidd (and director of the legendary Stranger With My Face International Film Festival – entries open NOW!) gave a thoughtful and measured response to Gender Matters in an ABC interview with Melanie Tait. A podcast may be on its way (thank you, Melanie!).

And then. And then I heard this podcast, recorded just before the #gendermatters announcement. It is just excellent for its well-informed, imaginative, broad-ranging discussion of the issues. Samantha Lang, new President of the Australian Directors Guild and Deb Verhoeven with broadcaster Jason di Rosso. If you have time for just one thing, this is it.

And then. David Tiley wrote an excellent piece on ScreenHub, here (and kindly removed the paywall).

I'm not going to have time to read and think about the Gender Matters paper until the new year. In the meantime, I've asked various thoughtful mates for even more expert insights that I can credit in my next post about Gender Matters. Please feel free to add yours!

______________________________________________

Finally. Screen Australia has launched its gender policy, Gender Matters.  While we wait for the details, Screen Australia's press release is in full below so we can reflect on it. 

My first concern after I read the press release was that Gender Matters leads with a sum of money rather than with principles. And not even a large overall sum of money – $5 million over 3 years, from an organisation with a budget of $100.8 million in 2013-14 and a projected $84.1 million budget in 2017-18.
In my view, principles matter most in this context. And it appears that Screen Australia isn't following what is now understood as best practice, because Gender Matters (so far) provides has no clearly stated goal of reaching gender equity in all its allocation of funding, within a specific period. 

From a post earlier this year, here's Maria Serner, of the Swedish Film Institute, where state-of-the-art gender policies have resulted in gender equity in their allocation of feature film funding. For her–
...there is no one best practice except to establish a practice. I believe the most urgent issue is to start working to create equality. And to do that you need to set a goal, choose a strategy and start work to be able to measure how your work is doing.
In contrast, Screen NSW, the funding body for New South Wales, the Australian state where Sydney is the capital, recently introduced a goal, which they call a 'target'–
Screen NSW has introduced a target to achieve an average 50:50 gender equity in its development and production funding programs by 2020. Effective immediately, the target will see Screen NSW work towards reducing the industry wide gender bias against women in key creative roles. 
It's clear. We all get the message. Screen NSW is serious about gender equity.

So what's the clearest measurable goal or target in Gender Matters? As articulated by Screen Australia's CEO, Graeme Mason, it appears to be this one–
Our focus is on female led creative teams rather than individuals. We are aiming to ensure our production funding is targeted to creative teams (writer, producer, director and protagonist) that are at least 50% female by 2018 year end. 
If he means what he says, this implies that there may be a flood of Screen Australia production-funded projects with women producers and female protagonists and men as writers and directors. And is a female protagonist really a member of a creative team? Not a great goal?

Then there's the Women's Story Fund.  According to Anna Serner, women-only funding is an option–
The easiest thing in a short term is actually to create a 'women's only' funding. That creates interest from the production companies to start looking for female creators, as they realize that there is money in it for the company. Women on the other hand know that they have a fair chance to get money, which will raise the amount of women's applications... the business gets used to [counting] women, as they get used to the fact that they [make] as good films as the men. And that is of course positive.
But she emphasises that this is not a long term solution. An organisation that creates a 'women-only' fund doesn't necessarily have to change its way of working. There has to be a structural change within the organisation itself–
As soon you stop having divided funding, nothing has changed [because of] the idea that men should have their money no matter what. I think it's fundamental that we shift that structure. That we as funders learn how to find talent equally between the sexes without divided funds.
Gender Matters doesn't point to a structural change. Certainly,  in the past, Australia's women's film funds didn't work particularly well to advance women writers and directors and women's participation in feature filmmaking went further downhill when the last one stopped (around 20 years ago?). Has Screen Australia failed to learn from the past?

And as Anna Serner says, everyone needs to be on board–
The funders can't change the structure alone. We also need to work with the industry and schools as all structures starts there. The easiest way to make the business cooperate is to show that the funder is serious and is looking for films created by women. In Sweden we have noticed both a much bigger interest from the production companies since they realized that we were serious.
If  I were in the industry, at the moment I wouldn't take Gender Matters too seriously, though I'd check out which of my favourite male directors had a script with a female protagonist. That's not enough to create lasting change. Furthermore, although Gender Matters refers to assessment criteria changes, it doesn't include unconscious bias training, currently happening even in Hollywood.

Corrie Chen suggests below – but cannot confirm – there will be a version of three ticks in the Women's Story Fund, perhaps an echo of the BFI's three ticks initiative, which supports gender *+* diversity and that will ensure at least that a project's writer or director will be a woman. But if the the three ticks are limited to the Women's Story Fund and to gender only, again that's a worrying problem. 

I also think a 'Task Force' may become an expensive distraction from getting the job done, though I'm especially pleased to see Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) and Corrie Chen in thereBut there are no veteran directors on the Task Force. It's great that Samantha Lang is included as President of the Australian Directors Guild. But I haven't seen any comment from the Australian Directors Guild today though, perhaps because it supported quotas and – presumably – would also have supported more clearly defined gender equity goals, established throughout Screen Australia's programmes.  More anxiety.

Whatever, I'm looking forward to seeing more detail and to the responses of others. We'll know soon if gender really matters at Screen Australia.

Best of luck to all those fabulous Aussie women writers and directors with amazing onscreen stories to tell. And to all those New Zealand women like them, who are already over there, or packing their bags right now. (And Fingers Crossed the New Zealand Film Commission will follow with its own extended policy. A better one than the Aussies'. And soon.)

Press Release

Screen Australia today announced a five point, $5 million plan over three years for Gender Matters, a suite of initiatives that address the gender imbalance within the Australian screen industry.

The imbalance is most notable in traditional film with 32% of women working as producers, 23% as writers and only 16% as directors. Screen Australia film production funding is provided to producers, writers and directors in direct proportion to applications received, suggesting that initiatives to stimulate projects led by women are key.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Maria Giese & Her Inspiring Work To End Discrimination Against Women Directors


Maria Giese

Maria Giese, a director and a member of the powerful Directors Guild of America (DGA), spoke out about discrimination against women directors in Hollywood long before the those interviewed by Maureen Dowd for a major New York Times article, published a couple of weeks ago – in interviews, through articles on her blog and in other social media.

Like Lexi Alexander, Maria is a hero. She began challenging the DGA back in 2011and in 2013 moved on to ask the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California to investigate discrimination against women directors.

The ACLU set up a webpage, Tell Us Your Story, where it issued a warm invitation–
If you are a director who has been discriminated against, excluded from directing jobs in television or get less TV work than your male peers, we’d love to hear your story to learn more about the experiences of women in the directing industry. Please tell us your story below.
Women could respond by email or telephone, in confidence. And they did. Then, in May this year, the ACLU sent a 15-page letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal office of the Federal Contract Compliance Program, and to the state department of Fair Employment and Housing. The letter called on them all to investigate ‘the systemic failure to hire women directors at all levels of the film and television industry’.

The EEOC enforces the United States Civil Rights Act (1964), which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (other legislation makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age and disability). The commission also conducted a report on race and sex discrimination in Hollywood in the 1980s. In early October, it responded to the ACLU letter by issuing letters to some women directors, asking to interview them.

There have been many other long-term activist projects in the United States, like the books and moving image associated with Ally Acker's Reel HerstoryAlexis Krasilovsky's Shooting Women and  Beti Ellerson's Centre for the Study & Research of African Women in Cinema. There have been and are many amazing and courageous women who've kept making and distributing their work in spite of the obstacles, teaching and writing about films by and about women, who've created film festivals that have continued for decades as well as other events to showcase women's work in appropriate contexts.

And there's been a whole lot of recent activism, informed by data-gathering by academics like Martha Lauzen at San Diego State University's Centre for the Study of Women in Television & in Film, who's been gathering and disseminating The Celluloid Ceiling statistics for 18 years and Stacy Smith at USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, which has expanded over the last decade from studying gender and race representation in front of the camera to analysing women's representation behind the camera.

But the EEOC investigation seems to have led at last to genuine action among Hollywood decision makers.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Aidee Walker; & The Good Kuntz at 48Hours


Aidee Walker
I've wanted to interview Aidee Walker ever since Friday Tigers/ Ngā Taika o Rāmere, which she wrote and directed, won both major prizes in the New Zealand International Film Festival's Best Short Film competition in 2013 – Best New Zealand Short Film and the Audience Award. 

Aidee's one of those inspiring, hard-working and super-versatile women we do so well here. A writer/director of short films, now transitioning to features. An in-demand actor for highly rating television shows (Mercy Peak; Outrageous Fortune; Shortland Street; and Step Dave, for which she also wrote an episode this year) theatre and short films, including her own. A director of music videos, for Anna Coddington. She's most recently been shadowing actor and director Michael Hurst through a two-episode block of SPP's Westside under the Director & Editors Guild of New Zealand's TV Drama Director Attachment Scheme. 

As well, this year Aidee was part of The Good Kuntz, the first all-women 48Hours group to reach the grand final. This is how I learned about that–



I've been fascinated by New Zealand women directors' low participation in our annual 48Hours competition, for a long time.  Because I'm curious, in 2011 I helped out – in a very minor way – with a couple of 48Hours projects with women directors I know and wrote about it  here, with a video interview with Francesca Jago, one of those directors. In 2012 I made a podcast with Ruth Korver, Laurie Wright, Gaylene Preston and Francesca and participated in 48Hours myself, as a co-writer/director. And wrote about the experience here and here. I've often referred to the 48Hours phenomenon in passing for example in this piece on women directors in New Zealand.

So, naturally, when I saw Aidee's name on this list of credits for Interloafer – isn't it beautiful? I seized the opportunity for a conversation! 
Director: Aidee Walker Producers: Morgan Leigh Stewart, Hazel Gibson Writers: Aidee Walker, Shoshana McCallum, Roseanne Liang, Lucy Wigmore, Elizabeth Thomson Actors: Jacqueline Geurts, Lucy Wigmore, Donna Brookbanks, Kate McGill, Maria Walker, Narelle Ahrens, Ally Xue, Milo Cawthorne Editors: Cushla Dillon, Tori Bindoff, Roseanne Liang Sound / Music: Anna Coddington – Composer / Amy Barber – Sound Design Cinematography: Nina Well
Warm congratulations (belatedly)  to all these women. And my thanks to you, Aidee!



Aidee directing Friday Tigers
Somewhere, I read that you thought 48Hours would be 'too hard'? Why?
I think trying to make a complete film of not too nasty quality in 48Hours is pretty hard, yes. The story has to make some kind of sense and then the shoot day is the bit that most of us can handle but then getting it edited well, sounding okay, and if you're lucky – a grade – WOAH.

But maybe what I was talking about being hard is not the 48Hours constraints it was that we wanted to do it with 100% female crew. It was inspired by attending the finals last year and there were very few female-driven projects. A couple of female directors, maybe.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Celebration! Gender Equity Initiatives in Australia; & #womeninfilm in Welly


What amazing news from Australia, via Screen NSW (Screen New South Wales, based in Sydney) and Film Victoria (based in Melbourne)!

Gender Equity via Screen NSW

Screen NSW  has just introduced a gender equity target, of 50/50 allocation of its development and production funding programs by 2020 and will work towards reducing the industry wide gender bias against women in key creative roles.

These are the latest Screen NSW funding figures, according to Danielle McGrane of the Sydney Morning Herald
Just 28 per cent of directors and 16 per cent of writers working on features funded by Screen NSW from 2012-2015 were female. There were more female producers at 75 per cent. 
For those of you outside Australasia, New South Wales is within the film funding territory also covered by the nationally-oriented Screen Australia, which has no gender policy. These are Screen Australia's figures, according to Danielle–
Just 15 per cent of directors for Screen Australia-funded features from 2009-2014 were women, while 32 per cent of producers were female.
Sydney's only three hours away from New Zealand with its minimal gender policy at the New Zealand Film Commission. Screen NSW's office is only FIVE minutes (2.7km) away from Screen Australia. Here in Welly I'm holding my breath. Will Screen Australia pop over to Screen NSW for advice and encouragement? Will the New Zealand Film Commission? Very very soon? I hope so.

Courtney Gibson

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sophie Mayer & Her 'Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema'

And...Action... Sophie Mayer
Sophie Mayer. She arrived at my place via her last book There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (written with Corinn Columpar) and her beautiful, inspiring and generous online presence brings her here often (scroll to end for details). I love it that she's also a poet – and a couple of years ago, when Jane Campion gave her workshops in Wellington (we're both Campion fangirls) Sophie kindly contributed a post that explained Keats' 'negative capability'. I needed that. And I love it that she makes me laugh as well as challenging me to think and feel more fully.

I'm waiting impatiently for Sophie's new book to reach New Zealand: Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, and was delighted when she agreed to this interview.

One of the most interesting and challenging things about global women's film activists is that as individuals we work hard to share and understand our different views of women's filmmaking; and the different language we use to express our views. This interview is part of that ongoing conversation.

Many thanks, Sophie!   

Where does Political Animals fit in your stream of books on women in film, which you've published over the 15 years you've been researching Political Animals?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

From Paul Feig to Agnès Films' #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign

#FavWomanFilmmaker team photo: Hannah Countryman
A great week last week, thanks to the male allies of #womeninfilm. Paul Feig tweeted several times in support of Destri Martino's fine work at The Director List, where she's created an elegant database of over 1000 accomplished women directors from around the world (more coming all the time!) and, each Friday, provides us with info about the latest crowdfunding for projects with women directors. This kind of very useful tweet –
On Women & Hollywood, award-winning screenwriter/director Matthew Hammett Knott wrote 'Confessions from Above the Celluloid Ceiling: The Truth About White Male Privilege'.

Kyle Buchanan produced a three-part series about women directors, starting with 100 Directors That Hollywood Should Be Hiring, continuing with 100 Women Directors: Actors, Producers, and Twitter Users Suggest Even More Names and ending with 5 Dumb Reasons Why Hollywood Won’t Hire Women Directors.

And in New Zealand, writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Jonathan King and actor Ben Fransham tweeted in support of gender equity in allocation of the New Zealand Film Commission's funding (scroll down here for more details, I was very excited).


And another great week this week. Warmed by all this extra support and info, we can contribute to the #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign,  from Agnès Films, a United States-based collective that supports women filmmakers, in all roles.

The #FavWomanFilmmaker hashtag will be on Twitter for four days (Monday November 9 – Thursday November 12), for us to tweet our favorite woman filmmakers and the reasons why we love them.

Agnès Films, named in honor of Agnès Varda, the French filmmaker who has been making women-centered fiction films and documentaries for over 50 years, hopes 'to bring awareness of the transcendent work being done by women behind the camera and to invite people to check it out and share it with others' and will be twinterviewing many people with intimate knowledge of the issues, like Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein,  writer/director Hope Dickson Leach who's just finished shooting her first feature, The Levelling, and is part of Raising Films ('making babies, making films, making change') and Sophie Mayer (also part of Raising Films) whose Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema has just been published.



Calendar All times are EST. For some of us in other timezones, we may need to keep checking a converter.

Not sure about your faves? Looking for more?

Check out these Women Filmmaker Lists created for people who work 'in the industry'– 
The Director List's thoughtfully curated database. 
Ms in the Biz's #HireAMs database– from Acting Coach (on set) and Art Directors to Production Managers to Writers/Script Doctors.
And then there are those fabulous individuals who commit to reading and watching women's work for an extended period and share that commitment with us–
Maria Judice's ReWrite Hollywood tumblr where she posts a feature script written by a woman each week. Am soooo grateful to her. 
Beti Ellerson provides comprehensive resources through her French/English African Women in Cinema blog. 
Cinema Fanatic's compelling A Year With Women, where every movie she watches in 2015 (at home or in theaters) is written by, directed by, co-written by or co-directed by women. Her idea's been picked up by–  
Women in Film Los Angeles, where we can pledge to watch 52 films by women over a year. 
 Check out the #DirectedByWomen's thorough lists, too.

& let me know if you have an additional list, from anywhere in the world?

There will be videos each day of the #FavWomanFilmmaker campaign. Here's the first one. I like it!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dear Jemaine




You make me smile.

I love it when I see you in the neighbourhood. Once every couple of years or so.

Wheeling the most elegant little pale blue bike I've ever seen, past New World.

At the polling booth at Clyde Quay School.

Striding past me, outside the fish and chippery in Majoribanks Street.

I love the way you show the neighbourhood, in What We Do in the Shadows. The first horror I ever watched (I am a wuss, a generic ancient person with shopping bags, waiting for the number 20 bus to go up Hawker Street; eating spicy eggplant at Cha; buying double ice cream cones at Kaffee Eis; in and out of the Paramount and the Embassy.)

I loved your Cure Kids project.

And I totally loved your work in People Places Things – kept reaching for 'Rewind' to have another look-and-listen, but there wasn't one on my Embassy armrest.  The day after I saw People Places Things I saw another film about an artist parent, Ricki & the Flash, where no performance – except in a fabulous scene between Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald – engaged me in the same way. 

I'll always watch everything and anything you do onscreen.

So of course when I saw a big feature about you in the paper last month I read it immediately and avidly. And wasn't surprised that you said–
But sexism is definitely rife in Hollywood and, as a comedian and writer I'm starting to feel the responsibility to make female roles, to put them in further, to do more with female roles.
'Go Jemaine!' I exclaimed. 'I thought so. Working globally, you're a New Zealand ally for women-in-film. Speaking up and out! Yes!' But then I read your next statement–
I wish...there were more female producers and writers.
And I sighed. Does that ellipsis indicate that you paused for thought, or that something significant's been edited out? I don't know. I could ask, I guess. But if that's in any way your view it's probably the view of others, too. And once it's in the paper, it'll influence the views of even more people.

So regardless, I thought I'd let you know and those others know that there are lots of women writers right here in New Zealand. More than enough, who just need half a chance. (There are lots of women producers too, about half all New Zealand producers.)

A couple of years back, I agreed to write about screenwriting in New Zealand, for a book that's just come out. This one. It costs $249.40 in hardcover and $228.02 on Kindle, so I doubt that we'll see it in airports or at Unity Books or buy it to read on the bus. 



In my essay, reproduced below, I focused on the feature development process and surveyed a group of women screenwriters (details below, where I've also added some notes in square brackets, lengthened some of the quotations and added references I can't find links for).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Afia Nathaniel, via Raising Films

Afia Nathaniel

I love the Raising Films site and the women who created it.

Raising Films is visionary and absolutely necessary, building a frank-and-fearless community discussion around Family vs Film and developing a rich archive of illuminating and useful information for women filmmakers everywhere. Among other synergies, Raising Films is now associated with the European Women's Audiovisual Network and the Parents in Performing Arts campaign. And the makers – some of them mothers – provide an excellent model of being activists while also getting on with their individual work.

The women who run Raising Films are– Hope Dickson Leach, now shooting her first feature, The Levelling, funded by the iFeature programme (BBC Films, BFI and Creative England); Line Langebek, co-writer of I'll Come Running among other credits and a screenwriting teacher at Regent's University; prolific producers Nicky Bentham and Jessica Levick; writer Sophie Mayer whose Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema has just been launched; and Nathalie Wreyford, former Senior Development Executive at the UK Film Council and for Granada Films, whose PhD explored why there are so few women screenwriters and why the numbers aren’t changing and who is now a Research Fellow on Calling the Shots: Women in the UK Film Industry 2000-2015, the most comprehensive study of women working in the UK film industry so far.



 Here's how they describe Raising Films–
Women continue to struggle for representation across the film industry globally. One social barrier particularly affects women, although it applies to everyone: Family vs. Film

We believe conversations make change happen, and we want things to change. We are losing too much talent to the choice many filmmakers are forced to make, between being a parent and making films. We don’t believe this choice is necessary, but rather a product of social and economic conditions, and we want to start a conversation about how change can be made for filmmakers who want to have a family and continue their careers.

This is about development, sustainability and diversity. Raising Films aims to address one of the issues that prevents many female filmmakers from pursuing their careers, to enable filmmakers with families to keep working and feel supported during demanding times in their personal lives, and to challenge at a structural level the demands the film industry makes of all of us.
Raising Films on Facebook Twitter

Every single item on Raising Films has enriched me, but the interview with Dukhtar writer/director Afia Nathaniel is one of my favourites, because I'm waiting for Dukhtar here in New Zealand, along with Amy Berg's Janis: Little Girl Blue, Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights, Julie Dash's Illusions (yes, it's been a long wait!), Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog and many others.  When-oh-when will Australasian distributors take women-directed work more seriously?

Many thanks to Raising Films for letting me cross-post this interview.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Merata Is Always With Us'


Merata Mita
Aotearoa New Zealand (mostly 'Aotearoa' in this post) held its annual Big Screen Symposium in Auckland last weekend, focusing on 'strengthening our collaborative spirit'. It's run by Script to Screen, a trust whose mandate is to develop 'the craft and culture of storytelling for the screen in Aotearoa New Zealand'.

Many women participated on panels. Jane Campion took a masterclass and spoke with her Top of the Lake producer Philippa Campbell in the final session. I was catching up at home, so followed as well as I could via tweets and tumblr posts. (If I've missed something vital, please let me know?)

In his 'state of the nation' address, Dave Gibson, the chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) referred to the NZFC's gender policy.


Big sigh. According to the latest figures I've seen, women are already in Aotearoa's industry: 44% of those who work there. The 'female' issue is that we're not often enough the storytellers, the writers and directors of feature films and long-form television. But here at the symposium, yet again, the official NZFC response to our women directors' low participation in feature filmmaking (and maybe as short film makers it funds?) places the responsibility for this onto them (us), because we don't apply. And it's dispiriting that Dave Gibson's address also highlights the NZFC's inadequate and 'deficit'-oriented programmes that imply that women directors are not yet ready to make a feature. 

In Aotearoa, we may have been first with the vote, but we're now waaaaaay behind in gender equity in film; the NZFC's erroneous assumptions that it's women's fault our film projects are not funded and that women are 'not ready' or 'not interested' are now out of step with the rest of the world, where many countries have responded to a flood of data that records women's low participation by acknowledging that there are systemic issues to be addressed. 

In Australia, the Australian Directors Guild recently proposed that Screen Australia establish gender quotas like the Swedish gender equity policy, the global model for best practice; and has itself set gender and diversity goals. The United Kingdom (as discussed here) and Europe are also engaging strongly with gender equity. The British Film Institute (BFI) requires diversity 'ticks' for every project that it funds and has just added further guidelines that 'put diversity at the heart of decision making'. There's the Swedish model. And in August 47 European countries signed a Declaration  re policies to reduce gender imbalance in the audiovisual industries.

Things are shifting in Hollywood, too. There's a federal investigation into discrimination against women directors; this is encouraging women directors who've been silent to speak out and I'm hearing stories about small and specific decision-making that benefits women directors. There's even The Ms Factor Toolkit: The Power of Female-Driven Content, produced by the Producers Guild of America with Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein, including statistics that show how profitable female-driven content is. There's a new diversity programme based on this and other  information. And producers are even looking for a woman director for Star Wars!

Dave Gibson's statements, as reported in the symposium's tumblr post, sent me back to the NZFC's own research into gender and writers, directors and producers in its feature development funding from 2009-2014. I wish I'd examined it more closely when it came out, late last year. But I didn't. I was just so relieved that the NZFC was being more transparent and admiring of how good the publication looked, compared to the simple charts that recorded my similar research for the period before 2009. 

And I sighed again as I struggled through the publication yesterday, because it has gaps and raises questions, which I hope someone else will address (it could be you!). For instance, in the total applications for feature development funding, the gender of directors attached to 58% of the applications is Not Specified. This gap in the data profoundly compromises the research's value and is huge compared with the gap during the years I researched the same information from NZFC documents. Then, there were just a couple of individuals identified by initials only and unknown either to me or to NZFC staff.

At first I thought that this gap was because a project in early script development may not have a director attached. But I now understand that data is missing throughout the research because applicants for funding are asked to provide information about gender and ethnicity. But they often don't do so. To be serious about gender and other elements of diversity, the NZFC needs to make the provision of diversity information mandatory. At present, any application is incomplete without essentials like a script or budget. If these elements are not present the application cannot be considered. Why not include diversity information in the requirements? It would be so easy to do. And where funds are devolved, to programmes like the one for short films, why not withhold a portion of funding until diversity data is supplied? This half-hearted effort is a long long way from what's now required in international best practice, like the BFI policies which 'obligate and support funding recipients to reflect diversity'. 

There are nevertheless two findings in the NZFC's gender research that are easy to understand and arguably wouldn't be any different if we had the full data–
1. Men directors are more likely than women to become attached to a project between early development and advanced development, where men directors are attached to 82% of applications. From this I infer that projects with a man attached as director are more likely to advance because of bias at the NZFC or because of bias among producers, both women and men; and
2. Women writers are 'trending up', but their (our) participation decreases between script development (42%) and advanced project development (32%) (and of course even further as features reach late development and production). The upwards trend is, I believe, due to the excellent and NZFC-funded script development programmes of Script to Screen and the New Zealand Writers Guild and because both organisations use blind reading in their assessments. Is the decrease as the scripts move through the NZFC process because biases creep in once a gendered name is attached, as writer or director, or when a woman or girl is the protagonist (my research last year showed that around 80% of features New Zealand women write have female protagonists)?  Is it because feature producers (about half women) are less interested in women's scripts than men's? Is it because men directors aren't interested in women's scripts? I'm sure it's not because there's a shortage of competent women directors. 
These findings alone provide good reasons for the NZFC to investigate its gender equity issues at a much more sophisticated level, and to invest much more strongly in policies that provide better gender balance. 

So imagine my delight when, from the Global Indigenous Network session at the Big Screen Symposium (moderated by Karin Williams, a development executive at the NZFC who herself is a producer, writer and director) came a call for the NZFC to commit to funding men and women equally.  Partly, I think, it came because through the panel's participants 'Merata [and her work, her clarity and her courage] is always with us'.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jane Zusters & Her 'Where Did You Go To My Lovelies'



Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy's feature about the birth of the American women's movement, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, screened at the New Zealand International Film Festival this year. Afterwards, I got a group email from someone who wrote–
The younger ones wanted to know if there is a similar account of the NZ second wave of feminism.... can anyone give us a reference?
Since then, I've become aware of Australian women's filmmaking in the 1970s and 1980s and I've kept my eye out for films from and about the women's movement in New Zealand in those years. But the woman-made moving image record of New Zealand activities of those times, from those times, seems to be tiny.

I’ve searched in the Nga Taonga Sound & Vision collections and I now know, for instance, that there were at least three films made in 1975: Meanwhile with a crew that included Annie Collins, Deidre McCartin’s Some of My Best Friends Are Women; and You Wanna Talk Feminism? from the Auckland Community Women's Video collection awaiting cataloguing at the New Zealand Film Archive. In 1976, Stephanie (Robinson) Beth’s I Want to be Joan, filmed at that year’s United Women’s Convention. A few others came later. I hope to find more.

In the almost-absence of ‘our’ films, images in books become especially treasured resources. So I was thrilled that Christchurch artist Jane Zusters has just released a limited edition book called Where Did You Go To My Lovelies, of photographs and interviews of women, men and children she knew way back then in Christchurch, where there were radical communities and activities, some of them feminist. In a city where many lovely buildings are now forever gone, following the major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and their aftermath.

Where Did You Go To My Lovelies includes an essay by Andrew Paul Wood that places the work in its art historical and social context, but I was curious about some other aspects of the work. Where Did you Go To My Lovelies features three artists from New Zealand's women's art movement,  which began in Christchurch– Allie Eagle, Tiffany Thornley and Jane Zusters; and it documents their activism as artists among other activists.

pro abortion protest (1978)