Sunday, February 19, 2017

NZ Update 3: WIFT New Zealand

from the WIFTNZ Facebook page

This is Part 3 of an NZ Update 4-part series. Part 1 was Gender Breakthrough in New Zealand Film Commission Funding. Part 2 was a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, about the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. Part 4 is a not-quite-A-Z of New Zealand women directors and some writers: coming soon.

So how has Women in Film & Television New Zealand (WIFTNZ) responded to the lack of gender parity between women and men who write and direct, in particular the lack of gender parity in allocation of taxpayer funding? For example, does it endorse Telefilm Canada's statement, referred to back in Part 1 and to some extent implicit in the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC)'s latest Annual Report?–
Based on industry recommendations that these two roles require immediate critical attention, gender parity amongst directors and screenwriters was identified as a priority (emphasis added).
The simple answer: No-one Knows For Sure. And because of this, I believe it's important to give another kind of 'critical' attention to WIFTNZ's position. Because it's the only women's film organisation in New Zealand (and therefore, of course, carries a burden of impossible expectations). Because it's often referred to and deferred to. And because it's taxpayer-funded: as I've consistently argued, to receive taxpayer funding, for anything, demands rigorous best practices, including best practice around gender.

I love women’s organisations. And I’d love to love the work of  WIFTNZ, which aims to–
  • provide information and career support;  
  • offer an educational forum;  
  • promote and safeguard the interests of women in film and television;  
  • recognise women's achievements in the industry; and
  • build capacity and benefit the screen industry as a whole.
But WIFTNZ has often disappointed me, mostly because I long for it to be more vigilant in promoting and safeguarding the interests of women writers and directors in film and television.

WIFTNZ has known, for almost a decade, about 'the gender problem' demonstrated in New Zealand's feature film development and production statistics. But in my view it's been timid in its response, perhaps because until very recently (see Part 1) those statistics demonstrated systemic failings at the NZFC. Has the organisation's dependence on the NZFC for funding been a factor in its restraint in the face of systemic discrimination against women writers and directors in the NZFC's and New Zealand On Air's (NZOA) use of taxpayer funds?

It would, for example, have been appropriate I think for WIFTNZ to make a public statement in support of Jane Campion’s commitment to gender equity as a member of the Screen Advisory Council, two years ago; and another in support of Chelsea Winstanley's statement at the Big Screen Symposium eighteen months ago.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Treat Her Right!

photo: Jinki Cambronero

New Zealand women are coming together in a New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Campaign, to tell the government that it’s time to ‘Treat Her Right’ and enforce New Zealand’s Equal Pay Act, passed in 1972. The campaign’s just started, with a remake of the Donna Summer video and song She Works Hard for the Money. It will culminate on International Women’s Day, 8 March.

Loren Taylor photo: Jinki Cambronero
Directed by Loren Taylor — one of New Zealand’s many accomplished actor/writer/directors, perhaps best known for her role in Eagle vs Shark — She Works Hard for the Money features a range of Kiwi comedians, personalities and members of the public. It was shot by 2016 New Zealand Cinematographer of the year Ginny Loane (Mahana).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Zealand Update 2: Letter to Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett

Kia ora Deputy Prime Minster, and congratulations. 

After the news of your promotion came, and the news that you are now also Minister for Women (and Minister of various other things), it was good to hear you say that you’re a feminist, most of the time. And to read that you said ‘I hope there are some young Māori women out there watching the news tonight who say, 'in a few years that is going to be me'’. 

Does that mean you're familiar with Geena Davis' mantra, amplified through her Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: 'If She Can See It She Can Be It'? Does it mean you're familiar with director (Selma, Queen Sugar, 13th etc) Ava DuVernay's questions
Why is it important for girls and women to see themselves on screen? ...Film is a mirror. If you don’t see yourself, does it mean you don’t exist? 

Paula Bennett launches Jade Speaks Up
And I remember a couple of years ago listening to you at the Beehive, when you launched the Jade Speaks Up project  including a short animation I scripted. You highlighted the importance of stories and images, recognised that those presented in Jade may help to enhance children's resilience.

So I think you're probably aware of and understand the reasons for the global movement to increase the numbers of feature films and fictional television programmes that are both written and directed by women (in all our diversity) and about women and girls (in all our diversity). I imagine that you mightn't have been happy to learn from academic Martha Lauzen that when men direct feature films, only 4% have women or girls as protagonists, in contrast to 39% if women direct. Or to learn from Amber Thomas that women spoke only 27% of the words in 2016's biggest movies.

And I imagine that you're also aware of and understand the reasons for story sovereignty, why it's important that, if we've been under-represented and misrepresented, we tell our own stories and get them to wide audiences. As Ava DuVernay puts it
...there's a special value in work that is a reflection of oneself as opposed to interpretation. When I see a film or a TV show about black people not written by someone who's black, it's an interpretation of that life.
You may know, too, that research has established that in the US 'although female filmmakers systematically face fewer resources and opportunities than their male counterparts, their movies tend to reap a greater return on investment'; that when women direct, more women are employed in the crew (see here); and that films about women and girls have huge audiences (though recent successes Hidden Figures – doing better than the latest Star Wars instalment at the box office in the US – and Moana were made with men directors and just one woman co-writer in each writing team).

I don't know whether you've been involved in discussions about the recent gender equity policies at the NZFC and have celebrated the progress there with local projects (see Part 1), but I imagine that you welcome opportunities for New Zealand taxpayers to be involved in making change, because it makes sense to you that women are employed behind the camera and that more stories feature complex, diverse, interesting, women and girls as well as women's interpretation of men.

So, my suggestion is, how about if you make New Zealand a global leader, the go-to country for big-budget and smaller budget productions, including co-productions, that women write and direct, often about women and girls? Why not ask Treasury to gender-tag the New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZSPG) investment, so that half of it goes to women-written and women-directed films (and television)? 

Maybe you're already involved in making this kind of change? For instance, in this financial year, part of Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Jennifer Lee, from the novel by Madeline L'Engle, is about to be shot down in the South Island. You may know that this is the first time ever that an African American woman has helmed a live-action feature with a budget over $100 million? Only two other women ever have directed live-action films with a budget in this range. (And as Minister of Tourism, you may be considering the project's long-term impact on tourism?)

But in case you aren't involved, here's a wee pie chart to show the New Zealand taxpayer's investment in feature films in the 2015-2016 year, a total of $66.1m, through the NZFC and the NZSPG.

New Zealand taxpayer investment in feature films 2015-2016
That blue 19% refers to the $12.7M the NZFC invested in local features during 2015-2016, where gender equity was achieved in relation to writers and directors (see Part 1 for details)

The  gender proportions of the writers and directors associated with big yellow field is shown in the next pie chart, representing the international features that received 69% of the investment: $45.65M

New Zealand taxpayer NZSPG investment in international features 2015-2016: by writer and director gender

This investment was spread over nine productions, with twenty writers and nine directors. The red 7% represents just two women among the twenty writers. All the directors were men. And although The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2 and The Light Between Oceans featured women, the other five projects were about, as well as by, men.

The green field in the top pie chart represents the five local and co-produced projects that received $7.7M, or 12% of the  NZSPG investment;  some of the local productions also received NZFC funding, not necessarily in the 2015-2016 year. The writer and director gender balance was better than in the last category, as this pie chart shows. But not as good as in the taxpayer funding in local feature films, via the NZFC and represented by the blue field in the top pie chart.

New Zealand taxpayer NZSPG investment in New Zealand and co-production features 2015-2016: by writer and director gender

These films also had some female elements – in Mahana and Born To Dance for instance – and Atomic Falafel had female protagonists: more men are making films with female protagonists since the market for these films was confirmed.  But only one production, 25 April, had a woman director, New Zealand's Leanne Pooley.

One authoritative writer, Scott Mendelson, has speculated that A Wrinkle in Time will be a game changer. Writing in Forbes about  this 'special effects and spectacle-filled fantasy that just happens to star a cast headlined by a young black actress and surrounded by people who aren’t almost entirely made up of white guys', he said–
It could be the big hit that offers substantial evidence that you don’t have to have a male lead to score big box office around the world. You don’t have to have mostly white characters to be a big blockbuster. And female filmmakers, even non-white female filmmakers, are just as capable of making a studio-backed big budget fantasy adventure as the white guys who get the keys to the franchise kingdom after one well-liked indie breakout.
Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we could be part of this change?

How about making sure that New Zealand takes a visionary role in the global entertainment community and that we are strongly positioned to take full advantage of this game change?

With every good wish, Marian

At that launch (always have my head down when listening carefully)
And here are some of the A Wrinkle in Time cast, with Storm Reid at far right, who will play Meg Murry. They're almost here. 

(And you recently responded to a tweet from Reese Witherspoon, one of the stars in this image, so I'm feeling optimistic that you're onto it all.)

NZ Update 1: Gender Breakthrough in New Zealand Film Commission Funding

In Hollywood, it's getting worse for women directors.  Legal action to remedy this is steaming ahead, with a high-powered summit due in March. Meanwhile women writers and directors outside Hollywood  are independently making more and more long-form projects, including many excellent webseries that bypass the ongoing problems for traditional marketing and distribution of women's work. Globally, there's also an increase in cross-border alliances among filmmakers and activists.  

With all this in mind, here's the first of a four-part series about what's happening in Aotearoa New Zealand right now, building on last year's Women Are *Not* the Problem?; 2015's The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Whispers in New Zealand; my Writer and Director Gender in New Zealand Feature Films (including TV movies) list; and the other posts listed in Gender Issues in Film in New Zealand.

Part 2 is an open letter to New Zealand's new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Paula Bennett; Part 3 is about WIFT New Zealand; and Part 4 is an A-Z of what some of our women writers and directors are up to.


Screen Advisory Board: Steven Joyce (Minister of Many Things), Jane Campion, Maggie Barry (Minister for Arts & Culture), James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau. Fran Walsh is also a member.

Almost exactly two years ago, following the first meeting of the New Zealand government’s powerful Screen Advisory Board, one of its members, Jane Campion, reiterated her commitment to gender equality in film, in strong terms
It's kind of completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating that [only 9% of New Zealand films are directed by women]. But that's not just New Zealand, it's a worldwide issue. And my challenge to this group, the board, is "Let's be the first. Let's really say 'This is enough'".
Not long afterwards, the taxpayer-funded New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) announced a tentative gender policy. Here’s the guts of it–
The voices and perspectives of women are integral to telling the stories of our country, its culture and communities. We are committed to increasing awareness of gender equality in the New Zealand screen industry, and we aim to do this by– 
• Collecting and publishing information and statistics on women working in the screen industry...  
• Setting a 50% target participation rate for women film-makers in the professional development area [includes the NZFC’s Short Film programme, but not feature film development and production]…  
• Identifying and engaging with female film-makers...  
• Encouraging proposals from guilds and industry organisations that support the professional development of women in the screen industry.
'Increasing awareness', through a very limited commitment, is a long way from a 50:50 gender split across all programmes, the best practice advocated by the world leader on this issue, Anna Serner of the Swedish Film Institute. So I'm astonished to learn, from the NZFC's  Annual Report, published in December, that the organisation appears to have emerged as a world leader in the gender-equity-in-feature-film development and production stakes, alongside Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Screen NSW and Austria.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Result! WIFTNSW's Protests Make a Difference

Remember WIFTNSW (Sydney, Australia) and its Sausage Party, back in December? Followed by its protest about hiring a Canadian woman director for the television remake of that classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock? Those protests have borne fruit, as reported in WIFTNSW’s latest newsletter.
The Sausage Party highlighted the Australian Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards(AACTAs) disproportionately low amount of nominations and pre-selected films directed and driven by female creatives. Among the twenty-eight narrative feature films pre-selected for the AACTAs Screening Tour, just two were directed by women. And, as WIFTNSW pointed out, when female content cannot reach the public voting platform in the first instance there’s no point calling for quotas in award juries. Furthermore, of the twenty-eight films selected for consideration, seven films (a full quarter of the total), violated AACTAs’ own eligibility criteria and at least two fully eligible films helmed by women were excluded.
After the protest, AACTA reached out to WIFTNSW and other industry guilds to discuss the issues raised by the Sausage Party protests. WIFTNSW now looks forward to meaningful consultation to create fair and diverse AACTAs.YAY.
And the Sausage costumes are now available for use so do ‘enquire within’, adds WIFTNSW.

With the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), WIFTNSW took a second action later in December, against gender imbalance in the Australian screen industry, with a peaceful picnic protest at Fremantle Media against the decision to hire a Canadian female director instead of an Australian for the television remake of Picnic at Hanging Rock, as a miniseries.
As a result of this protest and the tireless campaign run by the ADG to ensure Australian directors are used on Australian funded productions, Fremantle Media have agreed to hire an additional Australian female director to work on Picnic at Hanging Rock. AND Screen Australia has committed to changing their program guidelines, proposing to make it an expectation that applicants for direct funding of television productions guarantee that their project is written and directed by Australian citizens or residents.
This too was a good result for Australian female directors and shows how important it is to continue to advocate for women in film. WIFTNSW looks forward to the employment of an Australian female director on the series.