Interview with Anna Serner

Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson
Cecilia Johnson-Ferguson

Interview with Ana Serner, head of the Swedish Film Institute

Nominated the most powerful person in Swedish cinema by the Swedish magazine Cinema Scandinavia last February, Anna Serner has directed the Swedish Film Institute since 2011. One of her most impressive accomplishments has been to set a goal for equal public funding for men and women in film production by December 2015: Sweden is therefore the first country to reach this benchmark! Before revolutionising the face of Swedish film, Anna Serner has also worked thoroughly on the role of media in society.

What inspired you to defend gender equality (in general)?

I have always had a strong sense of equality. I believe everything should follow the fundamental cornerstone of equal rights for all human beings. But of course, being a woman, I can more closely relate to gender equality through my own life and experiences. I began to actively fight against gender-based disparities when I was 34 years old, as I got my first job as a CEO of the Advertising Association of Sweden. And since then, I have been vigorously promoting equality between the sexes whenever I get a chance.

Why do you think that the Film Industry is a good place to promote gender equality?

It´s not a good place, it´s a necessary place! Not only because every place in society is a necessary place, but also because films play such an important role in giving people possibilities to relate to themselves and others through stories and characters. And stories are told through different perspectives depending on whether you are a man or a woman. If only men get to tell their stories, there is clearly an underrepresentation of female perspectives. This has serious consequences, because it contributes to a lack of diversity in the stories told!

According to you, what impact does the media have on society regarding representations of men and women?

Media is the channel that allows contents to reach out to everyone. Therefore it needs to understand its responsibility in choosing stories and building role models. Press, broadcasting, film… they all reflect society like a mirror. People identify themselves with what they see in the cinemas, on television and in the papers. So if the media only spreads the stories told by men, the rest of the population will believe this is what the society truly looks like – which it doesn’t. By doing this, it contributes to building the structure that gives men the power.

How can equal film-funding influence this?

As public film funding is a key financial source for all films, it leads the way for other financing. So if the public funder works against discrimination, not only will it prevent other discrimination, but it will also enhance the quality of the films. No country can afford to say no to half of its potential talent base!

Why do you think that Sweden is the first country to set a goal of equal film funding? And why not directly implement a quota?

We set a clear goal which was 50/50 by the end of 2015, so we did not earmark any funding money or demanded funding decisions. The awareness of the goal helped the decision makers to widen their scope of what can be a good story, and what defines a quality film. I believe we don’t need a quota, because Sweden already has a high awareness of discrimination in society, with a feminist party and a government claiming to support the feminist cause.

Could the Swedish model be transposed to other countries?

Yes! It´s not an Einstein-model. It’s simply about ordinary change management: you set a goal, give it a time limit and build up an action plan you then follow.

How do you feel about being the most powerful person in Swedish cinema?

I feel humble about the fact that a lot of people believe their possibilities to produce and direct films lies in my power. With that power, I need take the time to listen to others, and maybe move on more slowly than I would want to. In fact, I believe the ones who have the authority must also rise up to their responsibility to try to make things as good, fair and predictable as possible.

What difficulties have you come across promoting equal funding?

Mostly the fear from the established industry, both in Sweden and abroad. There is always a lot of arguing with the people who say they are afraid of a possible decline in quality. They feel this would be a negative consequence from supporting gender equality. But what they really tell us in the end is that they fear they won’t get the money they were used to. They are also scared of the new competition, not knowing what they will be up against.

Can you already see positive results from this?

Yes. Swedish films have a very good international life right now. All the new voices have really challenged the film workers and the festival world. It raises the standard on the whole!

Is there a Swedish film you could recommend to us at the moment?

Yes both Sanna Lenkens My Little Sister and Beata Gårdelers Flocking. They both won a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale (the international film festival in Berlin) this year. This was a historical moment, which the media didn´t pick up on. But you shouldn’t miss it!