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Gender Representation in European Cinema

Article by Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg

While more women are choosing a career in filmmaking, their chance of success is still significantly lower than their male counterparts, and more needs to be done to address this problem, declared a round table discussion on gender equality in European cinema last week at the Berlinale Film Festival.

Moderated by Ada Solomon, an award-winning producer, and Simon Perry, president of Ateliers du Cinéma Européen, the panelists discussed the lack of hard data evidence to substantiate arguments that women are still underrepresented in the three main creative roles of directing, screenwriting and producing. While some Nordic countries have been gathering data on gender disparity in the film industry, a pan-European study is necessary in order to address the problem.

The panel, hosted by the Hungarian Cultural Centre as part of their Cinema Total event, included Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi, Sanja Ravlic, president of the Gender Equality Study Group at Eurimages, Anna Serner, head of the Swedish Film Institute, and Anna Wydra, a producer from Poland.

There have been several articles in film press over the past several years, citing the lack of women in top creative positions around the world. It is in many ways a silent problem: we all know it exists, but few countries are willing to conduct serious research to gather the necessary data. Policies often don’t change until there is evidence, and the panel made clear that such evidence is needed in order to counteract the problem.

Serner noted that once the data was gathered, analyzed and then communicated, Sweden made several policy changes. These include an even split of men and women admitted to the national film school, and public film funds divided equally between films headed by men and women. She also noted that in the past four years, women have won the top Swedish film prize, and more films by women have been commercially successful.

Solomon pointed out that in many countries in Eastern Europe, film school attendance is fairly even along gender lines, but after graduation, fewer women will be actively working. She also noted (as many other panelists did) that it is harder for women to make a 2nd or 3rd film. Several reasons were cited for this, such as that a filmmaker’s 2nd or 3rd work is likely to have a higher budget, which women are less likely to secure; as well, child care and family obligations are frequently designated to women, who will often set aside their careers for them.

Ravlic noted that women direct only 1 in 6 films that receive financial support from Eurimages. Certainly, women are more successful in some areas: there are many prominent women producers, and documentary directors. For the former, this could be because producers work as much in organization of a film as the creative side, and therefore this is perceived as more ‘suitable’ for a woman; for the latter, because documentaries tend to have smaller budgets.

Some may argue that talent should win out; but it stands to reason that there is already an equitable distribution of talent among men and women, and so by default there should be as many women working in the main creative film positions as men. The question is, how do we make that happen, or encourage policies to make that happen? Perry used the example of South Korean cinema. For several years, government policy in that country meant that theatres had to show South Korean films for 1/3 of the year. While this policy was overturned in 2006 (according to Perry, because of pressure from Hollywood film studios), it was discovered that the policy was no longer necessary. Locals now had a taste for South Korean cinema, and the quotas had meant larger budgets and better quality. In essence, sometimes such positive discrimination quotas are necessary.

No one would wish to deny a talented director, writer or producer the opportunity to make films; but the fact remains, systematic discrimination against women, whether through policy or cultural stereotypes, exists. As there are public subsidies for film, citizens have the right to demand that government policy supports equal representation (not only of gender, but also ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc.) Women’s voices are still not being heard onscreen in proportion to the population. As the moderators and panelists said, with hard data to prove discrimination, funding policy can change to assist more women in their career as directors, writers and producers.

Simon Perry, Sanja Ravlic and Anna Serner.

Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi and Anna Wydra, Polish producer

Sanja Ravlic,president of the Gender Equality Study Group at Eurimages

Isabel de Ocampo, Spanish director and EWA Executive president and Isabel Castro EWA Treasurer and Eurimages Deputy Director

Holly Aylett and BFI representative Carol Comley