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)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pause. Reflect. Cherish.

Chantal Akerman (image: Liberation)
Chantal Akerman's Death
I tried to write about why I felt so deeply sad about Chantal Akerman's death, then read a post from poet Ana Božičević, who got it just right for me–
No one knows for sure why a woman takes her life but that Chantal A might have done so in part because her No Home Movie – about her mother Natalia an Auschwitz survivor, which was grueling to make – was booed...really breaks my heart this morning. I wonder always, who cares, as in provides care, for the women artists who go to deep dark uncommercial places? Which intimate understands the skill, of craft and emotion, necessary for the work that they do? I wrote in some napkin or tweet once 'they only love the Sylvias after they are dead'. Give care to the woman artist in your life even and especially when she does the hard depth work that challenges the mind and body, yours and hers. And if you are that woman, thank you today & every day.
Thank you, Ana. And many thanks for letting me reprint your words. An extract from No Home Movie is at the end of this post.

Short Film as Pipeline to Features: New & Old Research
On the same morning Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California (MDSC) released its new study which shows this–

This reminded me that in 2007 there were similar issues for New Zealand women, according to the New Zealand Film Commission's (NZFC) research, which I wrote about in my PhD
...making a successful (usually NZFC-funded) short film is an established pathway to feature making. Analysis of the director information in the NZFC’s Review of NZFC Short Film Strategy shows that over the last decade fewer women (37% of the total) than men directors make NZFC-funded short films. However the women directors make a proportionately higher share of films accepted for ‘A’ list film festivals (42% of all accepted) than the men; and as individuals are significantly more likely to make an ‘A’ list film: 60% of women-directed short films get accepted for an ‘A’ list festival, but only 48% of those with male directors. I don’t know whether women from other countries use short films as stepping-stones to features more or less successfully than New Zealanders. [In the last ten years, New Zealand women directors made 13% of all our features, or 17% if we include features they co-directed with men; women also directed 20% of our all-time top-grossing films.]
It's probably time the NZFC repeated their short film research.

Now, thanks to the MDSC I know more about the United States' pathways. And about the barriers the women in the MDSC research identified (I wish the research had had a male control group: would they have had greater or lesser concerns about 'General Finance', which I think is an issue for every single filmmaker? If they were not white men, would they have had greater or lesser concerns about stereotyping?)