One day last week I got up early, to watch the stream of presentations at the Washington session of the 2d Global Symposium of the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media (LA session coming soon). It was great to see and hear people I'd only read about and to see the involvement of UN Women.
I was especially inspired by activist, filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney (Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Women, War & Peace, founder of Peace is Loud and the outspoken great-niece of Walt.) 'Gatekeepers are wrong 50% of the time', she said, in a fresh version of screenwriter William Goldman's assertion that in the screen industry 'nobody knows anything'.
The other statement that's stayed with me came from Dr Stacy Smith, of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative, who led the Geena Davis Institute research launched at the symposium, Gender Bias Without Borders. 'As money moves in, women are pushed out', she said. Still thinking about what I'd heard, and about to write about it, I saw this tweet.
Just about the best tweet ever. O wow. And how did it happen?
It seems to have happened like this.
Last weekend, New Zealand held its annual and wonderful Big Screen Symposium (where I'm told there was lots of talk about gender equality). And Dave Gibson, CEO at the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC, our state funder), gave a widely ranging address that included the Jane Campion news within an announcement about the Government's new Screen Advisory Board. This board exists–
[to] help the New Zealand screen sector create the skills and connections to be able to generate their own intellectual property, compete internationally and attract overseas finance [and to help] market and promote the New Zealand screen industry overseas.Its members are James Cameron, Jon Landau, Sir Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Andrew Adamson and Jane Campion. In his speech, Dave Gibson said–
[T]he Screen Advisory Board members will work [with the NZFC and others] in particular areas of interest. Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have identified early talent and connections as theirs. James Cameron and Jon Landau are keen to help with US connections and a push we hope to make into Los Angeles next year. Jane Campion is interested in gender equality. Next year we hope to bring you more details of their work.There's something very beautiful about the generosity of the New Zealand filmmakers, who have their own work to make and don't need the NZFC to do it; and about the allocation of individual tasks.
Peter Jackson has advocated the importance of finding and nurturing talent for a long time. Back in 2009, when we were waiting for the report from an NZFC Review that he headed, he commented in the Australian–
My only advice to anybody is that it's about individuals. The strength of a film industry is based totally on the strength of the individuals, the creative individuals working within it, the writers especially, the directors and the producers and whatever can be done to talent hunt, to find those people and then train them and support them. We're not talking about many people because in an environment where a lot of people want to be a filmmaker or think they can write a screenplay, not many people can, quite honestly, and it's a case of finding those people and nurturing them. That's what a healthy film industry is, it's not really to do with infrastructure or anything else, it's about finding talent and nurturing that talent.Part of finding early talent and making connections, according to another interview with Peter Jackson back in June, is to fight for a funding increase for the NZFC, because 'lack of funding is thwarting emerging young film-makers from following in his footsteps'. This funding would help those with potential to develop it and then to move beyond the NZFC and to gain international backing–
Think of the New Zealand directors who went on to have careers beyond NZFC-funding prior to 1995 and it's impressive. Post 1995 it's a very small list ... Anyone who really cares about our indigenous film industry should look at the real problem [funding of talent].He and Fran Walsh seem perfect for the responsibilities they've accepted.
James Cameron and Jon Landau's commitment to serve as inaugural members of the Screen Advisory Board comes from the memorandum of understanding signed last year between the Crown, Lightstorm Entertainment Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in relation to the next Avatar movies. Their role, to help in the United States, seems 'just right' too.
But 'just rightest' of all, for me, is that Jane Campion will focus on gender equality, which in this context embraces both the current global reality that films by and about women are good business and the New Zealand reality that our Government and its agents have human rights responsibilities. How lucky New Zealand women writers and directors are. Probably the luckiest in the whole world. Jane Campion knows the challenges first hand. She knows the opportunities first hand. She has a long history of speaking out globally about women's storytelling on screen and a long history of supporting and advocating for women, of offering the kind of 'nurturing' Peter Jackson refers to. Just two examples of her many statements about women directors–
At Cannes five years ago–
At Cannes this year, at a press conference, as jury President, in response to a question about 'inherent sexism'–I would love to see more women directors because they represent half of the population – and gave birth to the whole world. Without them writing and being directors, the rest of us are not going to know the whole story.
There is some inherent sexism in the industry. Thierry Frémaux [Cannes festival director] told us that us only 7% out of the 1,800 films submitted to the Cannes Film Festival were directed by women. He was proud to say that we had 20% in all of the programs. Nevertheless, it feels very undemocratic, and women do notice. Time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys seem to eat all the cake. It’s not that I resent the male filmmakers. I love all of them. But there is something that women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about. It’s always a surprise when a woman filmmaker does come about.When Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh find talented women to support, what a resource she will be. I imagine that Jane Campion will herself help find talented women, too. (I know first-hand how powerful even a tiny moment of her support is. Last year, she generously gave free all-comer workshops in memory of her father. In one, an 'in-depth inquiry into writing and directing...an exploratory and sharing session where you and I will address issues arising from your work' my question for her was one of those picked from among everyone else's questions dropped into her father's hat and I sat with her for a few minutes while she answered it. Her response continues to feed me.)
But I'm most hoping that her influence will permeate every single programme that the NZFC supports. This will give New Zealand filmmaking more opportunities to shine internationally in the 'new' environment where audiences are hungry for films by and about women and where her understanding of what 'women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about' will be invaluable. It will also facilitate justice for women filmmakers wherever there the industry's 'inherent sexism' may exist, both blatantly and subtly, for instance–
At the 48 Hour film competition, where only 6% of the directors are women and whose organisers are about share decision-making about allocation of NZFC feature funding to 'highly-ranked and talented teams' from the competition;
At the New Zealand International Film Festival, where women writers and directors are under-represented;
In the NZFC feature film programmes, where there will no longer be a distinction between dramas and docos and women directors' customary strong participation in doco-making could now mask the reality that we're not being funded to write and direct fictional features; and
In the short film programme (to which I've never applied).This is how projects with women writers/directors shared the short film cakes in 2014, at shortlisting and final allocation–
|Short Film programme shortlist 2014– female writers/directors 27%, male 65%, female/male 8%|
|Short Film programme successful applicants 2014– female writers/directors 21%, male 79%|
This is the share of the overall dollar investment cake that's been allocated to these short film projects. As you can see, the share of investment in projects written/directed by women is even lower in dollar terms than the ratio of individual projects selected for funding, because only one of the eight projects funded at the highest level, $30,000, is to be written/directed by women–
|Short Film programme investment 2014– female writers/directors 19% of $320,000 ($60,000), male 81% ($260,000)|
This is especially unfortunate when the NZFC's own research into short filmmaking, which I can't now find online, shows that our women's short films do better in A-list international festivals than men's do. It's unfortunate given New Zealand's human rights obligations. And it's unfortunate because there's evidence that audiences want diversity in this country's only Academy Awards® accredited film festival, Show Me Shorts. Festival Director, Gina Dellabarca, had this to say on Twitter the other day–
Will Jane Campion perhaps persuade the NZFC to emulate the BFI 'tick' concept in relation to gender? Or will she perhaps persuade it to follow the Swedish Film Institute's example, probably the most advanced in the world so far?
The Swedish Film Institute spreads funding equally between male and female filmmakers and the ratio of features with a woman director that it's funded has shifted from 19% 2000-2005, to 26% 2006-2012, to the current 35%. (In contrast, the proportion of female directors of Swedish films that the institute hasn't funded is currently 18 per cent.) Typically, the institute also provides 40% of the budget for films by women, compared with 30-33% for men, according to Anna Serner, chief executive of the institute, because women usually find it more difficult to secure financial support. 'The problem is not that there isn't any competence, it's that there is no will to let women through,' she says. Anna Serner also acknowledges that to award funds equally between the sexes was 'extremely scary for the industry', as it would be in New Zealand.
Jane Campion might be just the person to help New Zealand make a Swedish-type (or BFI) transition here. Or will her powerful imagination and big heart come up with something no-one's thought of before? It's entirely possible, I reckon, especially because Dave Gibson opened his address with this statement–
There is one thing that is not a problem for the industry, and that's overall Government financial support. The amounts of money that will be spent on the industry next year will, I believe, surprise you.Peter Jackson's lobbying for funds – presumably with assistance from others – seems to have paid off. The NZFC can now afford to take more risks than usual. It will have to. And with more resources to fulfil the Government's ambitions for the screen sector, including the collective wisdom and connections of the Screen Advisory Board, this seems the ideal moment for it to embrace Abigail Disney's idea, that as gatekeepers the NZFC may be wrong 50% of the time, so why not use gender equity as a criterion among other criteria? Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Jane Campion's engagement means it's also probably the least risky time and place in the world to resist the cultural practice Stacy Smith refers to, where women are pushed out when money comes in, to take risks on women and men equally, to explore that 'something that women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about'. However, although further on in Dave Gibson's speech he stated that 'Diversity is a key goal. By budget, genre and audience appeal', he didn't include 'diversity by filmmaker'.
On the other hand, he also announced that–
Selina Joe as Strategy and Insights Advisor...has also provided the industry with some relevant statistics on gender imbalance which are going up on our website today. We hope to improve these statistics following consultation and engagement with WIFT, the Writers Guild and the Directors and Editors Guild. As always our preference is to have these engagements with the relevant guilds rather than individuals.I hope that the NZFC will also engage and consult with all the relevant guilds: the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA), because NZFC resolution of gender equity issues will affect producers too; with the Techos Guild, where women are underrepresented and which also will be affected by NZFC gender equity decisions; and with Actors Equity, because there's a dynamic cohort of actors who are also writers and directors. And Actors Equity is relevant tot he discussion because the Geena Davis research found this–
Women who act need work. Some of them want to work for the big screen. If the NZFC's gender equity policies are successful, they'll get more work.
I'm very excited by the new NZFC stats that Dave Gibson announced. It's the first time ever the NZFC has published gender statistics and they've started with feature development funding statistics, in this document–
So far I haven't had time to read it closely, but I'm very appreciative of it because it seems to include the application data that I've been requesting since early this year, latterly through Official Information Act requests. Selina Joe has produced a document that is far fuller and more elegant than I could ever make, so I'm thrilled, because it will be very useful for the guilds and for the rest of us. (Here's a big thank you to Fiona Lovatt, who helped me record the feature development recipients and sums allocated to them, from the NZFC annual reports 2009-2013 and to Vera Zambonelli of Hawai'i Women in Filmmaking, for her offer to help analyse the application data when I received it.)
One more cause for hope comes from Dame Patsy Reddy, Chair of the NZFC Board. At the NZFC, the Board sets policy and budgets, monitors progress against targets and budgets and considers applications for feature film production financing. Ultimately, it is responsible for the NZFC's gender equity policies. So the other day I wrote to let Dame Patsy know that I was writing a series in response to the Directors & Editors Guild and NZWIFT's Where Are The Women Filmmakers? meeting a few weeks ago. 'I imagine that the NZFC board will undertake a careful inquiry before assigning any gender-specific funding and I’d like my work to contribute to this', I wrote. it was heart-warming to read this in her response– 'I...confirm that I am keen to encourage the involvement of more women in all aspects of filmmaking'. (Perhaps this means that the NZFC is consulting about gender with every guild, already.)
So, what more could New Zealand women writers and directors want? We have official data that shows that they've (we've) been disadvantaged. We have evidence from the latest Short Film programme allocations that this disadvantage is immediate and substantial, even in a programme where in the past we have demonstrated high achievement and in a context where there is audience demand for our work. We have a government that believes in New Zealand filmmakers and wants us to excel and more state funding about to flow in than ever before. The Chair of Board responsible for gender policy is a woman who supports women's involvement in all aspects of filmmaking. We have a fabulous Screen Advisory Board that includes two women filmmakers who are outstanding in global terms, one of whom has chosen to take responsibility for gender equality. We have film guilds that care about gender equality, one of which – the New Zealand Writers Guild – has demonstrated that women will participate strongly when an organisation's culture embraces them and their work–we're doing wonderfully well in the feature film script programme it administers for the NZFC.
As I reflected on all this, at first I thought 'O, why don't I just concentrate on my own work as a small-time screenwriter and director, forget that little series I planned? It's not necessary now.' I felt relief. But then I remembered that short conversation with Jane Campion, within her larger workshop topic of 'inquiry'. In the conversation she reminded me that the frame can be brutal and she compelled me to continue the inquiry that prompted my question, not to be distracted or deflected. And now, I think that the 'new' NZFC frame, in all its beauty, has the potential to be brutal to women writers and directors. And anyway the inquiry and the stories fascinate me. So on I go with the series. Coming soon.