Skip to main content

It's about human rights-- I want equality (& equity)

Last month, Jane Campion spoke out again about women’s participation in filmmaking. This is what she said:
I think women should be given 50% of the films to make. I'm not kidding! It'll change the world overnight. Women see things differently so it'll be better for's not fair. It's about human rights...I want equality.
I thought of her statement as I read the latest New Zealand Film Commission newsletter. The best news is that of three feature writers chosen to work with Alan Sharp (Dean Spanley), two—Pip Hall and Fiona Samuel (Piece of My Heart)—are women.

But, of the six NZFC-funded features currently in post-production, only one has a woman writer/director, Simone Horrocks’ After the Waterfall. Expressed as a percentage, this project represents 16% of films produced this year, exactly the same as the NZFC’s overall record for the previous six years.

Then I read about the Short Film Fund, where the NZFC invests in short films by up-and-coming filmmakers, the feature filmmakers of the future. The three producer pods: Big Shorts, Robber’s Dog Shorts, and Kura Shorts, are the same as last year. Last year, although women as storytellers—the writers and directors—weren’t equally represented on the short-lists, they were well represented in the projects chosen for funding from the short-list; ultimately, NZFC investment in women storytellers was about equal to its investment in men.

This year's different. Big Shorts short-listed eight projects, all written by men. Seven of those projects have directors attached. One is a woman. Robbers Dog also shortlisted eight projects, all written by men. Four have directors attached. All men. Kura Shorts is the exception. Women wrote three of their six short-listed projects. Three projects have directors attached, two of them men.

I know from my research in other years that women writers and directors apply to the Short Film Fund pods. They want to participate in the programme. I don’t believe that this year no women writers applied to Big Shorts or to Robbers Dog. Why were they none of them short-listed? I agree with Jane Campion. It’s a human rights issue. About equity, as well as equality. It’s not fair that, consistently, that the NZFC funds women to write and direct only 16% of our feature films. And it’s not fair that any Short Film Fund short-list is overwhelmingly male. It is especially unjust if women storytellers are under-represented in the NZFC-funded short films because that reduces their chances of progressing to make NZFC-funded feature films. And further delays the moment when 50% of our feature films have women writers and directors.

In the meantime, over in the States, there’s been a furore about a woman writer who took a man’s name for writing, on the internet. She used the man’s name alongside her own, applying for work in the same places, using the same application methods and doing the same work. This is what happened when she worked as 'James Chartrand':
There were fewer requests for revisions—often none at all. Customer satisfaction shot through the roof. So did my pay rate…Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service. No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic. Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it too.
Women filmmakers can’t take a man’s name; filmmaking collaborations are too public. So what can we do? There were cyberspace discussions about this too, in the last few days, and I plan to sit down this week and try to learn from them.

And beyond that, the NZFC newsletter makes me more determined to produce Development-the-movie as soon as possible. And then to start thinking—again—about what kind of legal action might ensure that the NZFC invests as much taxpayers' money in projects that women write and direct as it invests in projects where men are the storytellers. It’s not a lot to ask for, in the first country in the world where women fought for and got the vote.


  1. Hi - found you via Women in Hollywood (where you also found my blog post about a Jane Campion screentalk). I actually stopped by here wondering if I know you as I worked at the NZFC for a couple of years.

    Anyway, totally agree with Jane and you about the importance of equal film making opportunities going to women. However one of the most depressing things for me at the FC was when I received all the First Writer's Initiatives entries (where anyone can send in a screenplay) and noted that the vast majority of them were by men. Ended up having a long discussion about it with one of our experts (a man, from the Aussie FC) and we decided that there was a major confidence issue there - even for myself, I know that I can write as well, if not better, than half the people entering their scripts... yet I just can't quite bring myself to show anyone my work. Of course this makes the equal representation of female filmmakers doubly important as those role models are required to help women see their own words and stories as being important and valuable. I would never underestimate the effect it had on me as an adolescent to see Jane win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

    Anyway, just saying hello and maybe I'll unknowingly meet you in person one day in the future! (currently working in TV in the UK) Best of luck for the screenplays you are working on, and never be afraid of NZFC financing - just be sure to read the guidelines closely and get a good Producer on your team!

  2. Hey, Lou. Lovely to hear from you. I remember seeing you on W&H I think, and I felt so happy there was another NZer there. Though I think I disagreed with you about something-- A few months back, and I tracked down your website.

    Many thanks for all this. I researched the First Writers Initiative applications over five years and found that women made 40% of the applications but were only 17% of those finally selected. But, I do agree with you about the confidence thing, just the same. I also think, as you may have read here, that some women write and see differently than most men, and if more women's films got made from our scripts, cinema might change a bit. We don't always get advice that is informed about difference, rigorous, and tender. And I've begun to think that because of the specific problems women face in the industry and because of the confidence thing rigour and tenderness are both essential.

    Anyway, at the end of the month we shoot a little bit of "Development" before one of the cast goes overseas. I printed out those pages for the cast & crew yesterday, and it all felt very REAL. And we will do it!

    Many thanks for your support. And feel free to buy a virtual ticket or two (no contribution too small) AND get a tax benefit in the UK!

    And all the best for your work, too. I'd love some UK experience, can imagine it's amazing. Look forward to meeting up sometime.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

After the Waterfall—

above: Antony Starr as John

After The Waterfallis the only New Zealand feature in the New Zealand International Film Festival that a woman—Simone Horrocks—has written and directed. It premiered in Beijing earlier this month, as part of the 5th New Zealand Film Festival in the People’s Republic of China. Here's Simone speaking at the premiere.

Simone first attracted international attention when she was a semi-finalist for the prestigious Sundance Institute/NHK Filmmaker's Award in 2001. She has written and directed several short films, notably Spindrift, winner of the Best Panorama Short Film award at the Berlin Film Festival, and New Dawn, commissioned by the Edinburgh Film Festival to mark the launch of UK Film Four's Lab. I knew almost nothing about her. So I peppered her with emailed questions. And was truly delighted with her generous responses.

Dana Rotberg and White Lies|Tuakiri Huna

Cushla Parekowhai and I went to previews for Dana Rotberg's new feature White Lies/Tuakiri Huna – Cush in Auckland and me down here in Wellington. And the film excited us. White Lies/Tuakiri Huna, described as 'a story about the nature of identity: those who deny it and those who strive to protect it', comes from Medicine Woman, a novella by Witi Ihimaera, who also wrote Whale Rider. (Witi is Cushla's cousin. Witi's father, Tom Smiler, and Cush's grandmother, Pani Turangi, were raised in the same household in Manutuke.)

Dana wrote, in the book that accompanies the film, that after she read Medicine Woman –
...Paraiti, the medicine woman, was a stubborn presence who refused to leave. I felt that was a clear sign that the story...was speaking to me from places other than where the original work had come from. Places that belonged to my intimate family history and my most unresolved conflicts as a person in the world. It was a call from the core of my origins to l…

Loren Taylor – Loving What She Has

Loren Taylor inspires me. Based in Wellington, and an actor for film, television and theatre since she was 17, she's also a writer, director and sought-after casting director, a beloved and versatile and influential dynamo, who has received New Zealand Film Commission funding to make her short, APIS, and to develop a yet-to-be-titled feature. I long to see both films.

Loren worked with Taika Waititi on their award-winning screenplay for Eagle vs Shark – picked up by Miramax and released world wide – and won Best Actress at the Newport International Film Festival and the St Tropez Festival de Antipodes for her critically acclaimed role as Eagle vs Shark'sLily. She also wrote and directed the Phoenix Foundation video for Give Up Your Dreams – a homage to the work of Soviet film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky – starring Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords. And  she writes and directs commercials for international and local brands. Most recently she directed Treat Her Right for the …