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Francine Raveney & the European Women's Audiovisual Network

In the last few years, legislative, public film funds and activist initiatives have begun to transform conditions for European women who write and direct feature films.

Sweden’s the frontrunner. The Swedish Film Institute’s gender initiatives are backed by the Swedish 2013 Film Agreement, which requires the institute to allocate its total funds equally to women and men in each of the three professional categories – director, screenwriter and producer, by the end of 2015. It took a while for the institute’s initiatives to develop and to take effect, but the latest nominations for the institute's annual Guldbagge film awards are rich with the names of women writers and directors. There are many other film initiatives by Swedish groups and individuals, who seem mutually supportive: the Doris Film network, founded in 1999, Wanda Bendjelloul who watches only films that women direct, the cross-sector groups that generated the A-Rating system and the strong Swedish Women in Film & Television network.  The Stockholm International Film Festival’s provides a (globally unique?) Feature Film Award, to fund a Swedish woman director's second feature. And this collective environment nourishes women from outside Sweden too. Women-directed work won Best Film at the Stockholm International Film Festival six times in the last decade: Lucile Hadžihalilović's Innocence; Laurie Collyer's Sherrybaby; Courtney Hunt's Frozen River; Debra Granik's Winter's Bone; Cate Shortland's Lore; Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant.

Johan Fröberg (Swedish Film Institute), Emily Mann (Skillset, UK), 
Tomas Tengmark & Git Scheynius (director Stockholm International Film Festival)
Brainstorming meeting Cannes 2013
Other European states and public funding bodies and activists are also moving forward. France now has its unique Charte d’Egalité, an innovative, activist-led, collaboration between the state, the industry and activists. Eurimages, the pan-European film funding body, provides excellent data about the genders of applicants for its funding and about the successful applicants and will shortly announce new measures to promote equality.

There are also many and varied studies, conversations and alliances, often generated via women's film festivals  like Elles Tournent in Brussels, Films de Femmes in Creteil, The Flying Broom in Ankara, and the International Dortmund| Cologne Film Festival,  which founded the International Women's Film Festival Network in association with the Athena Film Festival in New York. In some countries, these initiatives are supported by the local Women in Film & Television chapter.

There are new networks in Romania and a range of existing networks are growing stronger all the time, like Austria's FC Gloria  and Women in Film and TV UK and MICA, the professional network for Ibero-American women in the film and audiovisual industry (in Spain and Portugal as well as Latin America).

One of the most exciting developments is the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA). EWA came out of the work of the Spanish Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media Professionals (CIMA), founded by women directors almost a decade ago. CIMA called a pan-European meeting in 2010, where participants created the Compostela Declaration. This led to the establishment of EWA later that year. At the end of 2012 EWA obtained an independent legal association status.

Early last year, EWA established its base in Strasbourg, France, to be close to key partner European institutions including the European Audiovisual Observatory, the European Parliament, Eurimages and the Council of Europe, the Franco-German broadcaster ARTE, the région d’Alsace and the Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg, the local city authority, which is normally very supportive of pan-European initiatives – although EWA is also wondering about having an office in Brussels. Francine Hetherington Raveney was appointed as Director at the same time as the new statutes were drafted in January 2013.

EWA is now an independent pan-European non-profit organisation spanning 47 European countries, with a complex, super-informative website. It has its own executive body, headed by Isabel de Ocampo, with Zeynep Ozbatur (Head of the Turkish Producer’s Association) and the Spanish director Paula Ortiz as Vice-Presidents and Isabel Castro, Deputy Executive Director of Eurimages, as its new treasurer, an advisory board of pan-European industry experts, a growing number of country ambassadors and a dedicated executive team. It is backed by the Swedish Film Institute, the Norwegian Film Institute and the Dutch Film Fund and has been supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre and the Hungarian Cultural Centre of Berlin. It is also working closely with many other state film funds, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland among others.

How did it manage all this in a comparatively short time? Francine Raveney agreed to answer some questions, just before an exciting EWA programme at the Berlinale.

Francine Raveney

How did you come to EWA? And what did you bring that was the same or different from the director-led and activist strengths (an intimate knowledge of storytelling for the screen, the analysis and energy generated by shared experiences of discrimination)?

I came to EWA with a sense of outrage at the clear gender imbalance which I could see was widespread in the industry from my stance as a Eurimages film fund project manager. Even more annoying, it was clear that organisations, such as film funds, were not coming together at that point or taking the problem seriously – apart from maybe a handful of countries, such as Sweden and Norway. In fact the topic didn’t appear to be on the agenda at all.

Digging deeper I could find no pan-European information, no research initiatives Europe-wide and I first thought of creating an umbrella version of WFTV and spoke to the Head of WFTV International about this possibility, who was very encouraging and supportive of this initiative. However, I then met the Spanish ladies from the European Women’s Audiovosual Network, representatives of the CIMA network, at a 2012 conference on women in film held by Elles Tournent in Brussels, and I decided that with an existing pan-European network already in place my jumping on board would be the most logical and effective strategy.

I am not a film director, but I am firmly committed to promoting gender equality and am acutely aware of the power the audiovisual sector has in shaping the way individuals create their identities and the harm that can be done if this isn’t paid attention to. What I have brought to EWA has been primarily to draw on my political pan-European connections and on my PR skills to ensure that film funds, in particular but not only, couldn’t ignore the subject.

Indeed, my role has been very much to draw on my communication skills to raise awareness and this is also – I believe – how I’ve managed to develop such a big team of committed multilingual volunteers, a strong and wide ranging (in terms of skillsets) advisory board and an increasing number of country ambassadors – people who all believe in the importance of such a network and who will take time out of their everyday lives to support the initiative. My work as a project manager at the Eurimages fund and as EWA director is similar to that of a producer – multi-tasking, creating order and structure, defining strategy, etc.; my goal with EWA was to lay the foundations and the 'architectural' structure for a project which will be able to grow and develop offshoots and new branches, thereby nurturing the talent of the directors, scriptwriters and producers who initiated the project in years to come and with new members from throughout the audiovisual sector.

What has kept me going during the difficult moments is my strong belief in the value of individuals fighting for gender equality and not considering that everything has been obtained… it hasn’t (indeed in many ways some country statistics show that there has been a regressive movement – with fewer women across the board in jobs across the audiovisual sector).

I was fortunate to be educated at a girls’ state school in the North of the UK where we were taught that equality must be fought for and that women were equally capable as men at doing any job they set their mind to (many of my counterparts are now top brain surgeons, barristers and so on and they did not come from privileged backgrounds in any way). However, this was followed by stints in two highly sexist environments: a boys’ sixth form college and an Oxford university college. I managed to strive for equality even then and was invited to be on the inaugural Master’s course in women’s studies at Oxford in the late 90s. Gender equality and fighting for it is at the core of my belief system – women’s stories must be told and once told mustn’t be forgotten, which is what had happened to many 19th female writers for example.

I am also extremely pragmatic and results-focused. If obtaining policy change means forging relations with European Union representatives and MEPs and developing partnerships with Brussels-based lobbies then this is how EWA will work. If it means paying attention to branding or packaging of information depending on the target audience then we should do this. Oftentimes this work might not be so overtly visible, but it is a way of making sure gender equality is firmly on the political agenda.

EWA – and you – have been very busy in the last year. What were your priorities when you started in the job?

My priorities when starting this job were:
To develop a framework for the project which would allow it to interact with long-standing bodies such as the Federation of European Film Directors, the International Union of Cinemas, European organisations, etc.; 
To identify axes of work so as to better structure our approach to the subject – these have now been defined as training, research, bridge-building, including creating networking between female professionals, and advocacy; 
To raise funds – although this is still a work in progress!; 
To attract interest and raise awareness amongst those industry members who wouldn’t usually think that this was a topic for them…; 
To build the team and define roles so that the network can exist for a long time as a force of good and change.

EWA meets Jane Campion, Cannes 2013
What have been the highlights?

Highlights must include:
Driving to the Cannes festival 2013 in a car laden with sparkling wine from the Spanish company Freixenet (they sponsored us), to host a networking event at a beautiful pavilion overlooking the Mediterranean, which our South-East European friends had offered us, recruiting friends to help serve drinks and create a convivial atmosphere so professionals from throughout Europe and beyond could come together and exchange opinions – this event generated many fruitful co-operative initiatives including our bringing WFTV Atlantic Coast’s Jan Miller over to Barcelona to deliver a pitching course and allowing new contacts to be forged from participants from throughout the world; 
Meeting Jane Campion in a villa near the Croisette and her specifically mentioning that EWA’s work in trying to bring about greater equality in public funds was fundamental and extremely important so that women could make movies and have their stories told;
The first successful pitch of the project, in December 2012, to Anna Serner of the Swedish Film Institute who not only believed in the EWA, but offered €17000 to set the ball rolling (we managed to make the amount roll a long way). It was the moment the idea could become a reality for me…
Putting together the events at this year’s Berlin film festival, which I’ll attend with a strong team and knowing that clear progress has been made from last year; 
Francine, MICA's Mariel Maciá, UK WIFT's Kate Kinninmont &
Women & Hollywood/Athena Film Fest's Melissa Silverstein
 at You Cannot Be Serious Berlinale 2013 photo: Birgit Kleber
Meeting wonderful and inspiring people from throughout the world – most recently Doris Film in Sweden – a fabulous and inspiring initiative, and having simultaneous interpretation as EWA was introduced to Turkish directors, producers and scriptwriters at a meeting last September organised by Zeynep Ozbatur of Zeyno Film in Istanbul, to name but a couple.

What challenges remain?

Competitiveness is enshrined in the way our current-day societies function and all too often to move on in our careers there is a tendency to push oneself ahead of everyone else – indeed the film industry is rather cut-throat in this respect. For a network to be really successful there needs to be an even bigger sea change and a real movement towards solidarity and nurturing of talent around us and reaching out and helping others move forwards. Doris Film in Sweden are particularly strong in this area and every year they award a Genius Prize to the most deserving female filmmaker to say well done. This type of nurturing and inspiring act is one which I hope we can encourage to happen more and more and which will help individuals to come together and support each other.

There are of course many other challenges, and many personal sacrifices made by everyone concerned when developing a project like this with little money. However, great teamwork and companionship can really help overcome moments of downheartedness and this is a true strength and represents a beautiful force of nature uniting to turn over embedded sexism. Events such as the upcoming round table in Berlin also really help ensure motivation levels stay high – this bringing together of individuals is at the heart of our work.

How do you best deal with institutional resistance?

I have actually seen a lot of the opposite… when the subject is explained in a palatable way, the figures shown and the facts stated, even those who may normally be resistant to such a subject matter tend to change their minds. Or maybe I’ve been lucky?

Apart from institutional support and individuals within institutions, who have been your allies? As you move forward and have some success, does support come from unlikely places as well as the ‘usual’ ones?

I am very much in favour of working for gender equality alongside men as they have as much to benefit from equal opportunities as women. There have been some men who may have seemed – to me at first at least – rather traditional or even resistant to the topic, who have in fact turned out to be extremely supportive and to back up the project as much as they can. For example, company owners, or colleagues who encourage their female counterparts to attend our courses or individuals from extremely traditional societies who have embraced the importance of women having an equal voice - that has been great.

Statistics are particularly important in the public funding context, because they verify whether public funds for filmmaking, taken out of the population's taxes (roughly 50% women, 50% men) are allocated equally to projects directed by women. How hard is it to persuade government film bodies to be transparent about the data, and to act on inequities? What strategies do you find most useful?

As a women’s studies scholar I consider that statistics are extremely helpful. Without them it is impossible to really show what is happening. For the film funding bodies it has been part of my awareness-raising campaign to develop new attitudes to gender monitoring and we are thrilled that working alongside Eurimages and the European Audiovisual Observatory has led to our having new pan-European statistics. As they become available we will post them on our site… In fact it hasn’t been so hard to persuade film funding bodies to start monitoring… the difficulty they face is allocating funding to start such work. The latest countries to come on board in this respect are Germany and Austria and this is fabulous news.

Universally more completed feature film projects have women as producers than have women as writers and directors. This evidence also shows that women producers tend to prefer to work with men. What strategies ensure that the statistics and policies for women producers and directors and writers are not brought together under the label ‘women filmmakers’ so a) the statistics are skewed by the inclusion of producers and b) the discrete challenges for writers and directors are appropriately addressed? There are increasing numbers of women writers and directors who are also producers, but I think most would agree that their producer challenges are often different than their writer and director issues, though probably affected by the gender of the project’s inevitable woman writer/director.

In terms of research, EWA’s first four-country report will look at numbers for directors, producers and scriptwriters separately. The difficulty also lies in country differences in Europe – where owing to lack of funding and different traditions, you may find Southern European countries more likely to have the same person writing, directing and producing their own films. We will simply have to pay careful attention to the results that come back in our own research and be aware of the differences. By working with partners like Directors UK, who will shortly be releasing a major damning statistical study, but whose focus will be on directors, we can also share data on studies that pertain to a particular group. We have also got a very strong research team now on board and I’m looking forward to our intensive workshop at the Berlinale on Monday 10 February to map out the pilot study… the idea being that it can be used as a model for studies on other European countries in the future.

What are the essential steps on any pathway to lasting change? Are some of these more challenging than others?

To obtain change a multi-pronged attack is required I believe. This is why EWA is not only working on the data monitoring and research angle, or on training or advocacy alone, but on a package including all of these and bridge-building opportunities and also, importantly, PR techniques to ensure that we can create change.

Brainstorming meeting, Cannes 2013
(another view of Git Scheynius, director Stockholm International Film Festival, centre)

One of my strategies as director has been to bring about change in places where change may not usually happen. For this reason it is all the more exciting that Eurimages has changed its policy, many film funds are starting to change their policy – more on that when it is confirmed, but good negotiations are going on in several countries. Hosting a networking event at the Cannes film festival was also an important strategy for me as this is the space where most of the industry negotiating really happens and which was the focus of criticism as so few female directors have ever won a Palme d’Or – in fact only Jane Campion, and her prize was shared. If a women’s network has a strong presence in such a space then the subject becomes more of an issue for the whole industry and not just for those who are directly concerned by it. Well, that’s my thinking at least.

Another preferred outcome is general awareness-raising and public support for the topic. There has been a radical increase in the press reporting on the subject since I started work in November 2012 and so there is a real sense that change is happening. Also new networks are popping up all over the place, in Romania, Finland, France, a new animation network in the UK, etc. with professionals coming together to change the status quo – which is a great feeling. EWA will hold a meeting of women’s networks during the Berlinale and we look forward to developing more and more bridges between these networks and sharing more and more information so that we can strengthen our own and each other’s work.

Europe is profoundly multicultural and multiracial. Women vary enormously. What are EWA’s policies on diversity?

Inclusivity is vital to our values and helping women and girls from all backgrounds and ethnicities is essential for EWA’s work to have meaning. The impression of white and middle-class is perhaps a reflection of the way images can be interpreted too. As a working-class Northerner, being able to enter this arena has not been a natural pathway for me and I am proud to have been able to have a voice in this space, which in the UK at least is very class driven – with little access for people from working-class backgrounds like my own. Our team is multi-ethnic, not all white or even all women, but a mixture of people from different backgrounds and this is vital to the melting pot of cultural diversity that is Europe. And our members come from throughout the world: for example Mercy Liao from China, who is a sales agent and who will be speaking at the Women in Film and TV Germany event on Saturday 8 February during the Berlin film festival, thanks to EWA’s co-ordination on this event. In our upcoming newsletter we will release an interview with her and with the wonderful Uzma Hasan, producer of the award-winning Infidel. However, there is always much work to do to ensure access to the industry for people from different ethnic and class backgrounds and we will continue to strategise further in this regard. In terms of sexual orientation again we absolutely support LGBT rights and whilst we do not necessarily draw attention to sexual orientation in our everyday work, our team, advisers and so on absolutely represent diversity in this sense too.

Participants on EWA's pitching course, Barcelona 2013

It must be a challenge working with so many countries. What language(s) do you work in?

It can be challenging. We have had to work from one country to the next and the inclusion and addition of country ambassadors should help to make our project more relevant to individuals at local level. I personally work in English, French, Spanish and German, but probably relate culturally most closely with members from the Nordic countries, especially Sweden. Skype has become our good friend and it is exciting having a call in London at 9 am, followed by another in Istanbul at 10 am and so on throughout the day – today this was exactly the case. The common language spoken between team members is English and this is the language of our website – not because we don’t want to promote linguistic cultural diversity as this is included in our statutes – but because the industry uses this as its common language and to be competitive and effective our members will need to use it too, to get the most out of the financial and other possibilities on offer. In terms of Twitter (@ewawomen) we retweet in all languages and increasingly we want to make links from our home page to articles and other pieces of news in a wide range of languages. One of the roles of our country ambassadors will also be to translate texts into their own language and disseminate this information in their own countries.

Last year, I wondered why EWA invited men to take part in your workshops. Why share hard-won resources with men?

There are two reasons for this. One is that EWA’s aim is to promote gender equality and develop working relationships between individuals, specifically to ensure greater inclusivity of women. The industry is made up of both sexes and if men feel that they want to develop skills and make new industry contacts with female professionals then I think that is a good thing. Films require big teams and having greater gender equality in those teams should be a goal, especially when we see the tendency against women being the directors or scriptwriters being reversed.

Secondly, one of our special advisers, who is far wiser and more experienced than me on this issue, is Elin Erichsen from the Norwegian Film Institute. She has been promoting gender equality through training initiatives for over two decades and has come to the conclusion that women benefit more from courses which are open to both sexes, bearing in mind that in the selection process female candidates will need to be the strong majority. I followed her advice and in the end only one man as opposed to 14 women applied for the pitching training course in Barcelona, but nevertheless he was most welcome.

My understanding is that you are unpaid, as are so many women who work for film equity. How does this affect what you do?

I feel very strongly that women in general undervalue themselves, as can be seen by many industry studies, devaluing what they have to offer and thereby making themselves seem less valuable – hence our finance and negotiating course planned to take place in December in Vienna. For me, earning a small salary – even if it isn’t always guaranteed and represents only a fraction of my previous salary – has been important to me and has represented the only way I could have survived this year, whilst devoting myself 150% to this project.

This year I hope that fundraising will mean we can have a paid team to carry out this work (I hope that my Brussels connections will help in this regard) and that the post of director, deputy director and so on can be reimbursed, as such a lot of work is required of every team member. Our newly appointed Deputy Executive Director, Alexia Muinos Ruiz, has worked tirelessly and for free on this project since April last year and it was her hard work that resulted in our first newsletter and having such a quick turnaround on the website (it was finished in 3 weeks). I really hope that such hard work can be rewarded financially as it deserves to be.

I have also made a lot of personal sacrifices and been uncomfortable with precarity, and I believe that if we are to be credible in a business environment it is important that starting from within the networks we value the contribution we as individuals are making and the team can be rewarded accordingly. It is hard to think of many men who give up their time for free for such a project and they certainly are doing better in the business world…

In a nutshell, what is your advice to women in other parts of the world?

If your country is not the space to give you a voice why not think about finding partners elsewhere with whom you can make a film or initiate a project. If the UK is tough for independent filmmakers, for example, how about working with Germany or finding a producing partner in Luxembourg… Money is out there for the arts, but you need to go out, find it and jump through the hoops as necessary.

If you had to start work on the network again what would you do differently?

If I could start over I would bring on more volunteers from the start. I felt a little awkward about asking people to work with me for free and believe in the project. I would like to mention Andrew Davidson, who worked as a volunteer with me from December 2012-April 2014. A young American graduate, he provided smart ideas and much needed support right at the start, even before the Swedish Film Institute gave us some financial support, and this belief was very valuable to me.

However being able to share the work and ideas with even more people from the outset would have been a really big help and even though my strategies would certainly have been challenged (I am still happy with my decisions ☺) it would have been more comfortable to have had a bigger team. I might also have cut myself a little more slack, to make sure I didn’t burn out during the year. However, with a driven personality I find it hard to let go and to miss out on meeting new people in different corners of Europe, thereby developing important partnerships, so perhaps that wasn’t realistic.

Do you think change can really happen?

Absolutely. Harnessing new information technologies especially allows us to reach an incredibly wide audience very quickly. The more people and individuals complain about a dissatisfying status quo the more they will be listened to. We live in a capitalist society which is driven by money, but we can cause societal drivers such as this one to be shaken nowadays by cleverly using social networking opportunities (Facebook, Twitter and so on). By this I mean that rather than always considering money the driving force, powerful social messages from individuals or groups of individuals can also drive how society behaves and bring change. Look at the case of Malala Yousafzai – her bravery in standing up for the right for girls to be educated is an example to us all.

There are other strong societal forces fighting against gender equality and every individual who believes in equality must unite to achieve it… This cannot be an empty dream; if people genuinely believe in equality then they must make sure that it is fought for and seen by those who don’t value it as a force for good.

What’s next for EWA? And for you?

Next up for EWA is an incredibly busy 2014 with lots of team members launching a drive to increase membership levels, new ambassadors developing the network at national and local levels and seeing through our four axes of work…

Berlin should be a great moment for the network as we have so many events lined up from a political round table on 9 February, to a day of workshops and meetings on 10 February. Also this will allow the team to come together from throughout Europe and that will also be a wonderful synergy to build on.

I personally am producing a couple of exciting projects and juggling all of my different activities. This keeps me on my toes and allows me to have an eye on the industry as well as the network.

EWA's events calendar for 2014

EWA website