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How Can 'Female Directors in European Films' Help?

So Mockingjay had a big opening.  And here's @licoricehazel's immediate response–

That' s all terrific. And as a New Zealander, I'm especially proud and delighted because 'our' Lorde curated the music. And wrote and performed some of it too.

But I'm also remembering that men wrote almost all the Hunger Games scripts and directed all of the films. And I'm reflecting on that depressing data on women who make films and about the (mis)representation of women and girls in films. It continues to pour out. A storm. A flood. A tsunami. It's almost overwhelming.

In September, the European Audiovisual Observatory released Female Directors in European Films: State of Play and Evolution Between 2003 and 2012 – the first substantial study to measure the director 'gender divide' at pan-European level.

Since then I've been thinking about the various recent reports and their interrelationships, in an attempt to understand where and how women writers and directors might best choose to work and what might help us to do that, especially those of us who live outside the United States, in countries where the government funds films. Because I fit into this group, the data speaks to me most strongly when it illuminates or confirms ideas about how we might resolve our local 'gender problems', with more films written and directed by diverse women and more films that represent diverse women and girls. I'm also interested in the bigger picture, for the many American women filmmakers I know, working in a country without government film funds.

But it's important to remember that whether or not we live in the United States our practices are as diverse as we are. Some of us want to tell our stories independently, outside the United States and for the world, to reach the audiences we know are there but are largely ignored. And/or to reach audiences unfamiliar with entertainment that comes from outside Hollywood– audiences that may believe that this kind of entertainment consists only of 'arthouse' films. Some want to use film to explore an idea, to experiment, to make an 'arthouse' film. Some of us want to be assimilated into the patriarchy of Hollywood as directors-for-hire. Some of us want to work with Hollywood only if it welcomes our own stories and/or more diversity among its workers and within the stories it chooses to tell. Some of us want to combine elements of several of these options. Some of us want to make a living from writing and directing films. Others don't. Some of us will always put women and girls at the centre of the story. Some of us won't.

As just one example, Ana Lily Amirpour, whose A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night ('the first Iranian vampire Western') debuted at Sundance and has just opened in cinemas in the United States. SpectreVision – Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller executive produced A Girl, so it has 'Hollywood' connections though not to a big studio.

This is how Ana Lily Amirpour, based in Los Angeles, articulates her work choices
When I look at the stories and struggles specific to a big budget system, it seems horrific to me. Getting all these people to do all this stuff, to get two hours of a movie. Even if it's a bad one. It's hard. I don't think it's ever not hard or a struggle, but that's not even the point. This whole blockbuster or budget thing doesn't really make any sense to me. Think of a chef who cooks at some restaurant you know in some neighborhood and it's so good, you love that chef and you go there and it's crowded and everyone that knows, knows. It would be like taking that chef and putting him in the Cheesecake Factory. You would never want to see your favorite chef cooking at the Cheesecake Factory. becomes three to five years of your life. Do I really want to suffer? What's the point? It's gotta mean something to me. Give five years of my life so at the end it's something I don't even recognize? I wouldn't know what it would be like to get paid 10 million dollars though. It's hard. I don’t think you ever fully know until you're into the situation, but a couple of months ago someone came to me about doing Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4 and it would have been with a studio. I said no, but I was flattered that they asked...I was like 'Ok thank you, but no'.
I'm doing my next film, I'm shooting it in the spring and it's with people I absolutely love. They want me to be as freaky as I want to be. I have control of all the parts. I'm happy to be in that situation. It's not about if it's this much money or that much money, you adjust yourself to what you're doing... You have to be creative with what you're given. I like that. I think creativity thrives under limitations.
While I've reflected on the diversity of choices women directors make, on Ana Lily Amirpour's interview and on Female Directors in European Films, I've also watched and listened to and read some of Gina Prince-Bythewood's statements about her Beyond The Lights (including a riveting craft interview with Ava DuVernay, whose Selma will be out shortly) and Angelina Jolie's statements about making Unbroken. From all these I've understood that there now appears to be a powerful group of American women directors motivated from their hearts, who can access resources to make and market entertaining films that reach wide audiences and inspire discussion and action on important issues. Will their successes – commercial and/or critical – draw fresh attention to and reinforce the significance of other women directors' successes over the last decade and open up opportunities for others? Over time, how will their work counter Hollywood's misrepresentation and under-representation of women and girls, along with the success of blockbusters like The Hunger Games, based on work by a woman writer but realised by male writers and directors?

It's impossible to know, but Female Directors in European Films confirms that the shadow of the Hollywood juggernaut affects what films are made and seen in Europe. It also confirms for me that it's essential that women filmmakers around the world work together on independent strategies for change– regardless of what's happening in the United States.

I read Female Directors in European Films in conjunction with–
The British Film Institute's Succès de plume? Female Screenwriters and Directors of UK Films, 2010-2012;

Gender Inequality in Popular Films...2007-2013, from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg; and its Gender Bias Without Borders; An Investigation of Female Characters in Popular Films Across 11 Countries, for the Geena Davis Institute; 
Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on Festival Films in 2013-14, from San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Film & Television  
New Zealand Film Commission's Feature Film Development Funding: Information On Gender 2009-2014  (Yes and Yippee!);
The Place of Women Among Screenwriters for the French Film Industry Between 2003-2012 (Place of Women Screenwriters), a study for the French Guild of Screenwriters; 
A presentation by David Kavanagh of the Writers Guild of Ireland (haven't been able to source the report it was based on), at the Gender, Lack of Representation of Women Writers Panel Discussion at the 3d World Conference of Screenwriters;

Screen Australia's Number and Proportion of Male and Female Producers, Directors and Writers of Australian Feature Films, 1970–2013, possibly the most comprehensive set of national data in the world about women writers' and directors' representation; 
St. John's Summit on Women in Media Communique developed by a consortium of women's media organisations in Canada; and
Women in View On Screen 2014, from Canada's Women in View.
I also held in mind the 'Women's Resolution' from the recent and powerful World Conference of Screenwriters, attended by by representatives of guilds and professional bodies from around the world, like the Writers Guild of America West. It calls on–
...our commissioners, funders, studios, networks and broadcasters to set the goal of having 50% of scripts across genres and at every budget level to be written by women.
(I haven't spent much time with Stephen Follows' regular gender analysis, including his study of crew gender in the 100 highest grossing films at the United States Box Office for each year between 1994 and 2013, a total of 2,000 films, including his analysis of the 100 highest grossing films for each genre, to understand how a film’s genre affects gender employment. But he appears to be a wonderful source too.)

After I extracted the main points of interest (for me) from Female Directors in European Films I reflected on the usefulness to me of the data in it and in these other reports. What's new here? What needs more work? Where does the new data illuminate or raise questions about data that's already available? Where are women writers and directors falling behind? Is there any country with well-developed audiences for diverse work by and about women? Where in Europe is there growth for women filmmakers and our audiences?

What does it mean for those of us who live in countries with public funding for film, I wondered. What does it mean for developing a tradition of films by women and audiences for them?  Are women taking full advantage of co-production treaties to work across borders to develop exciting projects about girls and women? (New Zealand has 15 co-production treaties including a new one with China and is negotiating three more.) Which countries might be most welcoming to co-production of films by women and about women and girls?   How can we work across borders to build more growth?

I haven't explored all my questions fully. I haven't reached many fixed conclusions. But I enjoyed the reading and thinking and questions. And I'd like to hear your comments and questions.

Female Directors in European Films

Female Directors in European Films is a rich, wonderfully thorough report with many graphs and tables that complement the text. We know it's been carefully reviewed from an appropriate perspective because it acknowledges an 'exceptional level of support' from Francine Raveney, Director of the European Women's Audiovisual Network (and Susan Newman-Baudais at Eurimages, the pan-European funding body). Following a basic summary my comments and questions focus on what interests me– there's much much more in the report itself, especially if you're mathematically-minded. You can order it here.

What's the European Audiovisual Observatory (EOA)?

The EOA is a public service organisation, part of the Council of Europe. Created in 1992, it collects and distributes information about European audiovisual industries, to promote greater transparency and a clear understanding about how the audiovisual industries in Europe function, from economic and legal perspectives.

What does Female Directors in European Films cover?

The report does not identify, or attempt to answer 'all of the pertinent questions'. Instead it aims to provide some solid data about relevant aspects of the gender divide, focusing on the current situation and evolution over time in Europe, both on a country-by-country basis and as a whole. It draws on data about 9072 European films produced and released between 2003-2012, which are recorded in EOA's LUMIERE database and account for 3192.19m (!)  admissions in Europe. The research covers–
  • production volume and director gender
  • director gender and box office performance
  • local vs international co-productions
  • domestic vs international releases
  • director gender comparison in the best-performing 50 European films over 2003-2012
  • the number of films directed by women and admissions to these films by country
  • growth and women directors
The report also compares the first five years of the period covered with the second five years, to see where things have changed.

The country-by-country analysis is limited to 19 countries, because there are gaps in LUMIERE's data for some countries and some countries did not reach the threshold of one film by a woman director per year during the period analysed.

What are the EOA's main findings?

  • Women directed 16.3% of the 9072 films.
  • Women-directed films accounted for 8.9% of total admissions.
  • The average film directed by a man recorded slightly more than twice the number of admissions (2.02) than the average film by a woman director (the vast majority of films directed by either gender performed well below average); 
  • From the 2003-2007 period to the 2008-2012 period, the volume of films that women directed increased by 35.7% compared with 16.5% for films that men directed–if this growth remains constant, in 51 years the production volume will be gender equal by director.
  • From the 2003-2007 period to the 2008-2012 period the growth rate of admissions to films that women directed was 23.7% and the growth rate for films men directed was 6.8%–if this growth remains constant, in 75 years the admissions numbers will be gender equal by director.
  • Only three of the 50 best-performing European films 2003-2012 had women directors, 6%.
  • Women co-directed two of the three women-directed best-performing films with men (in each case the women were listed second, perhaps for alphabetical reasons?)– # 13 Bridget Jones–The Edge of Reason  (2004, Beeban Kedron); #14 Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan); #50 Arthur Christmas (2011, Barry Cook, Sarah Smith)
  • France has by far the most prolific film industry and the highest number of films that women direct–

  • The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Austria and France have the highest proportion of women-directed films (that's the European average in red and the country abbreviations are explained here if they're unfamiliar to you)–

  • The proportions aren't fixed – here's the shift in shares of films directed by women over the two periods researched–
Source: OBS Lumiere

Questions & comments about Female Directors in European Films


Official stats for Germany and Spain. I've never seen more than guesswork about Spain, though the intense activism of the CIMA group of women filmmakers has been a sign of deep-seated gender problems. Germany has a huge film industry but we've know about some statistics there only because Belinde Ruth Stieve, an actor, has developed them in a series of posts for her SchspIN blog, most recently here.    


The Netherlands at the top of the list and trending upwards, up there with Sweden and Finland (which is dropping back). I know almost nothing about women and film in the Netherlands and their funding body's site is all in Dutch. I've emailed to ask, but have had no response yet. Does it have gender policies? (And why doesn't New Zealand – for instance – have a co-production treaty with the Netherlands? Why does it have a treaty only with Denmark, of the Scandinavian countries where women also do well?)

In this period, Turkey (especially) and Poland have the greatest increase in the number of films and admissions to films by women directors. That was a surprise too. But according to the EOA, these trends are not surprising because these territories are both developing production countries and expanding exhibition markets. But I want to know more about the women's stories coming out of these countries.

Problem: Women Who Write With Men, Women Who Direct With Men

The French Guild of Screenwriters' Place of Women Screenwriters report makes a complex analysis of the different kinds of screenwriters and screenwriter experience.  One or more directors wrote 40% of the produced French screenplays and 22.47% of these writer/directors were women. Writer-directors and screenwriters (women and men) wrote 54% of the films. People who were solely screenwriters, not directors as well, wrote only 6% of the screenplays. Of that 6%, 16% were women. There was no woman who wrote a produced screenplay on her own, without another writer/director and/or a man as a co-author. The report concludes that in France–
Directors, writers...distributors prefer to work with persons with whom they have already worked in the past. Most of the time, they have been used to working with men more than women. Also, they are focused on risk avoidance, and it seems that to them, working with a man entails less risk and uncertainty than working with a woman.
These are familiar ideas.  Even in New Zealand, it can benefit women seeking state funding to develop a screenplay if they co-write with men. As well, our most commercially successful writing partnership, between Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, is mixed gender.

In Female Directors in European Films there are three lists of films produced 2003-2102 that attracted big audiences– 'Top 50 European Films', 'Top 50 European Films With Female Directors' and 'Top 20 European Films With Female Directors'. They too seem to show that women whose work reaches big audiences work in mixed gender director teams.

Six of the 2003-2012 'Top 20' European films with women directors were co-directed with men – always listed first – including two of the top three already listed, which appear in the overall 'Top 50'. That's 30%.

And in the 'Top 50' films with women directors – where the 50th is at #529 on the overall list – there are three more films that women and men co-directed (the woman is twice listed first). That's an overall nine co-directed films, or 18%, of the 'Top 50' with women directors, but not one co-directed by two women.

Because mixed gender teams do well and may advantage women writers and directors, working among those who are used to working with men and believe that will expose them to less risk and uncertainty, it's important to record and analyse mixed gender teams separately, wherever gender is an issue. But unfortunately, Female Directors in European Films doesn't have a separate category for films directed by women with men. Instead, where both genders or two women direct, it assigns the appropriate proportion of a single director to each gender, thus–

This means that it isn't possible to use these stats in a discussion of whether directing with a man privileges a woman, except from the all-comer 'Top 50'. To inform strategies for change we need a different kind of measurement to help understand institutional and individual decision-maker choices about gender. 

Problem: Share of Admissions Lower Than Share of Films 


I  wondered about the admissions. Francine Raveney says–
The fact that female-directed films are less successful when distributed in territories outside their own compared with films by male directors is not great news... but probably linked to lower investment in the film's marketing...
That's likely.

But it's also likely that the lower investment starts well before a film’s about to be released. Somewhere between film school and development funding. Because women do train to do the work. Both The Place of Women Screenwriters and the BFI's Succès de Plume (yes, it's confusing that the short title's in French!) assert that in France and in the United Kingdom women are well represented in educational training for screenwriters. According to The Place of Women Screenwriters, at FEMIS – the main state training programme in France – between 1990 and 2013, 58% of graduates from the scriptwriting course were women.  In the same period, 38% of the directing graduates were women, though the proportion dropped between 2001 and 2013 when only 28% of the directing graduates were women. The BFI report refers to a 2006 report for details re screenwriters but gives no detail re education and women directors.

Even if our numbers are smaller as trainee directors at film schools (and I'd like to know more about this) there are plenty of us trained as scriptwriters.  In her response to Shaula Evans' recent post about implicit bias, something we all have, Natalie Wreyford wrote–
Having worked for many years in the UK film industry, I’m not aware of anyone being openly sexist or racist, so implicit bias is clearly playing a part in subjective decisions about exactly who is talented and whose stories have merit. Yesterday I met with a class of 10 filmmaking students to talk to them about developing their scripts. Seven of them were female. Only one of the three men was white. It simply isn’t the case that white men are the only ones interested in these careers.
'Implicit bias' is a good term to explain one aspect of problems that arise after training ends, as well as problems during training. But the elements of the problem in the pipeline from education through development to production to marketing to audience are complex.

The Pipeline

Women may ask for, and be entrusted with, less money to develop and make their films. The New Zealand research also shows that we don't always 'put our hands up', engage with state funders and apply for the money that's available, though we do for script development funding when we know the scripts will be blind read.  It's also possible, as Dr Stacy Smith the lead researcher on Gender Bias Without Borders said recently, 'As money moves in, women are pushed out'. Either hypothesis could explain the data in the French The Place of Women Screenwriters

This report covers 1414 films given Production Approval to receive a government subsidy, given after a film is shot in conformity with the mandatory requirements. Women accounted for 27% of the screenwriters who wrote at least one produced screenplay between 2003-2012.  By far the majority of them wrote only one produced work–

Place of Women (Screenwriters in France)
Not surprisingly then – because who gets a big budget for their first feature – women wrote 29% of films with a budget under  1M, 40% of those with a  1-3M. And then the investment in women-penned screenplays falls and continues to fall.

Place of Women (Screenwriters in France)

Why do so few French women screenwriters – some but not all also directors and some of them on projects directed by men – get to write a second produced work? It may be because yes, there won't be much marketing investment on first films and the work doesn't attract large audiences. It may be because women are not yet as enthusiastic about and skilled with marketing our own work as we could be.

But although this is perhaps changing, there also aren't yet audiences specifically eager for films that women write. This lack is probably exacerbated when women write and direct 'different' films, from perspectives audiences aren't used to and in a mixture of genres that audiences aren't used to. The 'marketing' problem may not be entirely about investment in release-oriented marketing.

Comparison with Canada 

Canada is an interesting example. Very often – as in global theatrical market statistics provided by the powerful Motion Picture Association of America – Canada is subsumed into the United States and this masks its individual gender divide.

Furthermore, Women in View – not Telefilm Canada or the National Film Board of Canada, the state funders – provides Canada's annual gender statistics. Women in View, founded in 2010, is a 'national not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening gender and cultural diversity in Canadian media, both on screen and behind the scenes'.

Here's the latest Women in View data on Canadian investment in women who write and direct feature films, with a cinematographer bonus, from Women In View Onscreen 2014. That Telefilm allocated only 6% of its total investment to feature films directed by women is a shocker.

The report's conclusion is that–
...these patterns of exclusion and under-investment re-inforce each other. Not only are women a minority of creators in each of these professions, the women who are employed, are employed less frequently, reducing their opportunities to advance their skills, and reducing their visibility within their professional communities. Perhaps most telling is the disparity between the levels of public investment in films directed by women and films directed by men. These three factors – a scarcity of opportunities to work at one’s craft; opportunities that are irregular and far between; and investment levels that make adequate budgets for creation and marketing impossible – constitute profound systemic discrimination that demands an equally profound shift in public policy, a shift that ensures that Canadian women are as well served by their government as Canadian men.
This careful conclusion, I believe, reinforces the analysis of factors that permeate the various European reports and can be applied almost everywhere a government invests in filmmaking.

Comparison With the United States

There's no United States gender data that is as comprehensive as the EOA's, Women in View's, or Screen Australia's. But Gender Inequality in Popular Films...2007-2013 records the prevalence of women behind the camera over the 600 highest-grossing films in those years, 100 from each year.

The proportion over the six years studied, 4.3%, is a little lower than in Europe over a full decade, where women directed or co-directed 5% of the top-grossing 100 films and 6.8% of the top-grossing 250 films. 

The only data I can find that includes women directors of American independent films comes from Martha Lauzen's studies, Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on Festival Films, for the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, San Diego State University. This research focuses on narrative and documentary features shown at high profile American film festivals. It includes films not made in the United States and covers the years 2008-2014, except for 2010. From 2008-2009 women directed 15% of the narrative features and from 2011-2014 they directed 18%. This is very similar to the overall EOA figures for a full decade, 16.3%.

Gender Bias Without Borders raises extra questions

Gender Bias Without Borders: An Investigation of Female Characters in Popular Films Across 11 Countries, like Gender Inequality in Popular Films and unlike Female Directors in European Films and Independent Women: Behind-the-Scenes Employment on Festival Films, focuses only on 'popular' or 'Top' feature films, features with big audiences. Its findings support the data already discussed, showing that women-written and -directed films, when they enter the production pipeline at all, don't often make it into 'popular' lists.

The study examined 120 films theatrically released over the 40 months to 1 May 2013 and appropriate for audiences 12-16 years or younger. Ten came from the United States, ten each from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Great Britain (which I consistently use in this post, instead of United Kingdom), India, Japan, Russia, South Korea (the ten most profitable territories for the United States film industry in 2012) and a further ten were American/Great Britain co-productions. I was particularly excited to see stats for India, Japan, Russia and South Korea as Aurelie Godet's 2012 'Un monde (presque) sans femmes' for Cahiers Du Cinema is the only other reference I have to any of these. I'd love to know more.

As with Gender Inequality in Popular Films, Gender Bias Without Borders' primary focus is on how females are represented in the films it studies, but it also provides information about who is behind the camera. The researchers warn that 'given the small sample of films for each country, the results should be interpreted with caution'. This is certainly true for the countries for which there is fuller data provided elsewhere–

Gender Bias 33.3%
Screen Australia (5 years to June 2013) 25% 
Gender Bias 8.3%
Screen Australia (5 years to June 2013) 18%
Gender Bias  6.7%
The Place of Women writers 16%
(cp 1990-2013 58% of FEMIS screenwriting graduates were women) 
Gender Bias  0

Female Directors in European Films (2003-2012)  21%
(cp 2001-2013 28% of FEMIS directing graduates were women, less than the 1990-2013 proportion at 38%)
Gender Bias 22.2%
Belinde Ruth Stieve – writers about 15% in top-grossing films 2012 
Gender Bias 7.1% 
Female Directors in European Films 18%

Great Britain (a volatile mix and watch out for more change as the BFI introduces its new funding diversity strategy)
Gender Bias  58.8%
but 9.1% of GB/US films
BFI (all independent films 2010-2012) 16.1% 
37% top 20 British independent films and 30% profitable British independent films
Gender Bias 27.3%
but 9.1% of GB/US films
Female Directors in European Films  15% 
BFI (all independent films 2010-2012) 11.4% 
but 18% top 20 UK independent films   
I have a few thoughts about possible reasons for some of the differences, beyond the possibilities already discussed–
  1. when money moves in, women are pushed out, which explains the low numbers of women directors in popular (top-grossing) films jointly funded by GB/US; 
  2. when women do write and direct for this sector, state funders and others invest proportionately less in development and production of their projects than in men's; and 
  3. investors spend proportionately much less on marketing women-directed films, which are often first films anyway, so the films are less likely to attain 'popular' status (the Francine Raveney theory).
My thoughts – some more plausible than others –  are (and I'd love to hear yours)–
  • Women are not interested in writing and directing films appropriate for audiences 12-16 years of age and younger, as a segment of the female/male under-25 quadrants (if you're not familiar with the quadrants, there are four– female/male under and over 25 years old, which is one reason @licoricehazel's tweets at the top of this post matter: Mockingjay appears to attract both the under-25 quadrants).
  • Women's scripts for this age group may tend to have women and girls at their centre and – in spite of recent United States big studio shifts – are not as easy to fund, via state funders and via commercial interests, all of whom have default attraction to stories with 'Boy' in the title and elsewhere. This is certainly true here in New Zealand, where my recent research into feature scripts that women write (across all ages and career positions) found that 80% of their scripts have women or girls as central characters and that the most prolific producer/writer team for television movies have never produced a story with a woman or girl protagonist.
  • Because the male under-25 quadrant and increasingly the female under-25 quadrant are seen as key to making money – even though that may no longer be true – women are not entrusted to direct for it (the 'women get pushed out' view).
  • In Great Britain, women scriptwriters have demonstrated their ability to write scripts that when produced make money and therefore a default comes into play, that women (scriptwriters)-and-children-and-young-people are a 'natural' combination for success. But NOT a natural combination for direction. 
  • In Australia and Germany the default "women-and-children-and-young-people are a 'natural' combination" may also affect the numbers of women screenwriters who provide screenplays for this sector of the under-25 quadrant. 
  • There are rich possibilities for research about work women writers and directors do within quadrants and genre.

How Can We Respond to the Data?

Because the data is so relentlessly depressing I think it's really important to keep experimenting with creating strategies that the data can inform. To attract more investment in production and marketing of women-directed films about girls and women. To increase audiences for these films when they do get made. It's not simple of course. Again, those of us who care deeply are very diverse. Some prioritise change in Hollywood, perhaps because top-grossing, 'popular' movies are so influential or because that's where 'the money' is. Others prioritise change outside Hollywood because that's where we live or because that's where the conversations are that most interest us as practitioners.

The diversity was obvious the other day, when Stacy Smith of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative suggested that gender parity in film could be attained in a few years if writers just added 'five female speaking characters to their current slate of projects (without taking away or changing any of the male characters) and repeated the process for four years', a #JustAddFive campaign. Other activists responded that addition doesn't change context. As an analogy, we already have city streets where there are equal numbers of females and males but that doesn't change the fact that the females earn less and are at higher risk from violence.

There's also been debate about whether the world needs 'strong' or 'complex' female characters, or...
And there's controversy about value of the Bechdel Test as a strategy and about the A-Rating for films that pass the Bechdel Test, invented by Ellen Tejle. As well, the parameters of the Bechdel Test continue to morph to embrace complexity, as demonstrated by The Bluestocking series, which started out as the Bechdel Test festival and is currently asking 'Where are the blue collar heroines?' Here's the current Bluestocking banner.

In its various forms the Bechdel Test is a useful and versatile tool, as Lorraine Toussaint demonstrated the other day when she spoke about her work in Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. According to Women & Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein–
Lorraine Toussaint [talked] about a scene she had with Carmen Ejogo, who plays Coretta Scott King. Toussaint asked Ava about the scene, whether they should be talking about their husbands. Ava said no and asked if Toussaint had ever heard of the Bechdel Test. (I am paraphrasing here.) She explained the test and made clear that women need to talk about things other than men. And so the scene gives us a glimpse into these women's lives as individuals, not just in relation to their husbands.
My feeling is that we need to continue to create and embrace and experiment with many and varied strategies, rather than looking for a single solution. It would be really easy to point to the success of Mockingjay and say–
We know now that there's a both-gender audience for films with a female at the centre and with 46% female characters, as measured by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative. All we need now is a Mockingjay written and directed by a woman. 
And to stop seeking new ideas. But in view of the data I don't think we can stop. Because of the data in these reports, I think we need to continue to collaborate across borders, through sharing and building on information that is useful – particularly around government investment in film –  finding and educating new audiences and engaging with co-productions.

Government Investment

Across borders, in countries where there are gender statistics and the government invests in film, we can refer to and discuss the Swedish Film Institute's gender policies, the French Charte Pour l’Égalité Entre Les Femmes et Les Hommes Dans Le Secteur Du Cinéma and follow how they affect women writers' and directors' progress in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, in France and elsewhere.  We can also now draw attention to the recommendations in St. John's Summit on Women in Media Communique, signed by a broad range of powerful Canadian women's film organisations, including Women in View.

These recommendations are a fine new reference point in all countries where the taxpayer funds filmmaking. In particular I like the requirement that public spending should demonstrably benefit women as well as men, the tax credit concept and the demand for government agencies to be transparent in relation to their gender investment. Here they are–

1. Government policy should explicitly promote the principle that the equitable employment of women and racialized minorities in audiovisual products benefits both genders and all cultural groups, and is vital to achieving genuine diversity.

2. Government policy and regulations, at all levels, should explicitly seek to promote the equitable employment of women at all levels, behind the camera and onscreen, in the creation of Canadian media works.

3. Public spending should demonstrably benefit Canadian women as well as Canadian men.

4. Public investment in media industries should be tied to a requirement to demonstrate gender balance.

5. Since federal and provincial funding agencies routinely offer a range of incentives in the form of tax-credits, streamed funding and other benefits to advance specific goals or production strategies, similar incentives to accelerate gender and racial parity behind the camera and on screen should be implemented.

6. Recording, and annual public reporting on, gender and racial representation should become a part of application and delivery requirements for public funding.

7. Government media funding agencies and production institutions should report annually to the Canadian public on gender and racial representation in government spending, including tax incentives.

The Audiences 

The audiences for diverse films by women are not well developed, I believe, because the individual films exist within fragmented, unacknowledged or poorly documented traditions though, again, this may be changing. Virginia Woolf wrote 'For we think back through our mothers if we are women' but at the moment, for women writers and directors that can be very difficult because women's filmmaking traditions are so fragmented; when we research we're much more likely to think back through our fathers, the male master narrative.

For example, I have a deep interest in films that women make about women making movies and about women as creatives. There are quite a few that are fictions and they're sometimes about the relationships to creativity of economics, sexism and the female gaze. Sally Potter's The Gold Diggers, Julie Dash's Illusions, Emma Rozanski's short The Storymaker, Destri Martino's short The Director, Campbell X's Stud Life, Kate Kaminski's The Crew, Jane Campion's Bright Star (I've enjoyed the discussions here and here) Gina Prince-Bythewood's new Beyond the Lights and probably lots more. Collectively, these works raise all kinds of issues around women and the way women see and experience and share their stories with the world. But where are the screenings and the writing that relate the films to one another, articulate the debates and provide a basis for attracting an audience to the next features in this tradition?

There aren't enough documentaries about women's creativity, either. Clare Young's From The Bottom of the Lake about Jane Campion's Top of the Lake was illuminating for me, thought-provoking. We have Ally Acker's huge Reel Herstory. But where are the other docos about women film writers and directors? There must be plenty of material for another one about Jane Campion. For one about Julie Dash. For one about Ava DuVernay and her astonishing and innovative trajectory. Among those no longer with us, one about Nora Ephron, as a start. A film about writer Joan Didion has just been announced, following Nancy Kates' Regarding Susan Sontag and Pratibha Parmar's Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, but where's the writing that groups these films together and makes us hungry for the next ones?

Then there are the girls' coming-of-age stories. Think of all those films with 'boy' in their titles. Try to think of those with 'girl' in the title and what 'girl' means in each? And because – in my view – there aren't enough of them and enough discussion of them collectively, they're not taken seriously enough by some major film festivals. For instance, Céline Sciamma's made a trilogy of girls' coming-of-age stories, Waterlilies, Tomboy and Girlhood, screened in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes this year. The first two were shown at the New Zealand International Film Festival, but Girlhood wasn't. I had some questions about Girlhood but really wanted to see it because it was part of a trilogy, to think about the arc of the director's work. I believe that if it had been a trilogy directed by a man of course it would have been selected.

There's always room for lots of discussion about women as framed by women. I've also had some fun now and then with my Mother & Breast films Pinterest board, am always very happy when I hear of a new one, preferably not a doco, and when there's a release, like Babadook, that excites me. It was lovely to read Tammy Oler's The Mommy Trap today, on recent horror movies and motherhood. And what about a list of films about blue collar heroines, like those Bluestocking's looking for? Women working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)?

Most showings and associated discussions happen almost exclusively at women's film festivals. Remember what Andrea Arnold said, on visiting the grandma of women's fests in Créteil, Paris, a decade ago?
I always notice how few [films by women] there are at film festivals. I went to Créteil International Women’s Film Festival in France with Wasp [for which she won an Academy Award] in 2004, stayed on for a few days and watched all these films by women. I spent the whole time crying because there were so many films that had so much resonance for me, being female. It actually made me realise how male-dominated the film industry is in terms of perspective. If you think about a film being a very popular and expressive way of showing a mirror on life, we’re getting a mainly male perspective. It’s a shame. I saw a lot of fantastic films at Créteil that I never heard about again. 
But I think it's time for screenings of and discussions of women-directed films to move beyond the women's festivals in a way that ensures that the films themselves attract significant audiences outside the festivals, within general festivals and on release. Melissa Silverstein at Women in Hollywood does a fine job of promoting women-directed films on release in the United States. Beti Ellerson goes for it with African women filmmakers, in Africa and in the diasporas in her African Women in Cinema, in French and English. Destri Martino (a new site opening soon!) is tireless in her dissemination of information about women directors and their current projects. Barbara Ann O'Leary's worldwide #DirectedByWomen event is due next September. In Britain, Sophie Mayer consistently examines issues around women's filmmaking and her POLITICAL ANIMALS: The New Feminist Cinema is coming soon (IB Tauris, 2015). Le Deuxième Regard does fabulous work too, keeping track of what's going on at festivals, au fait with new releases and a great newsletter.

How can their work and the women's film festival buzz be extended, perhaps in conjunction with sites like MUBI, Netflix and Indiereign? Is there a model that could emulate the fine work of AFFRM 'together we are strong' (and are they ever!) in building communities that support women's films? It would be wonderful to experiment with ambitious ideas that work globally to connect and support women-directed films within the default-to-male mainstream right through the process, to help build their audiences from their very beginnings, through their search for producers, for government funding and for other investors including their crowdfunding campaigns right through to marketing and screening and debate.  I'm often amazed at and excited  by the quality of many crowdfunding projects and feel sure that there must be lots of other people who'd love to connect to these projects and can afford to risk at least the cost of a movie ticket. But it doesn't happen. Would it help if an entrepreneur built a special women-written-directed-project app?

And I loved what cinematographer and director Elle Schneider said in an interview recently. In response to a question about what the regular movie-watching public could do to help encourage the development of women in cinema in film, she said–
The fastest, easiest way to encourage the development of women in cinema is to watch movies made by women. Watch women-directed films on Netflix; there are tons available. Buy tickets if you have independent theaters near you, or attend and support festivals that celebrate women filmmakers like the wonderful Etheria Film Night, held in LA at the Egyptian Theater and curated by the unmatchably witty writer Heidi Honeycutt, or the Stranger With My Face horror fest in Tasmania created by the equally hilarious Rebecca Thomson and Briony Kidd. Women are not a homogenous hive mind, so throw out your expectations of what you think a movie conceived by a woman might be, and take a chance on whatever sounds like a cool story. The screenplays of True Grit, E.T., Rebecca, Metropolis, and Singin’ in the Rain, so don’t get suckered into the notion that all women think alike or have some kind of estrogen-laden agenda. Women love all kinds of movies, and given the chance and the financial support of the public, they can make all kinds of movies too.
I hope that Elle Schneider would agree that the watching needs to be accompanied by appropriate and easily accessible contextual material, celebration of risk-taking and achievement, by informed debate and considered micro-investment in projects underway but not yet complete.


Co-production is an attractive thought because it can provide a larger budget for production and for marketing as well as the opportunity for distribution outside our own countries. Of course, everyone wants a co-production. But is there space for state film funds to develop policies whereby they fund women-written and -directed films jointly with state funds in countries where they have co-pro agreements, as a shared strategy for working towards gender equity in their investments? This kind of policy could help get into production women's projects that can't find commercial investors, at the same time as building cross-border relationships among women filmmakers. it would also provide women's films with new and much-needed opportunities for reaching audiences in at least two countries.

Until shared and pro-women policies are developed, if we're ambitious, and want a reasonable budget and a good audience, what co-production choices are most attractive? In the overall 'Top 50' European list, 52% were co-productions with the United States Skyfall (GB/US) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire(GB/US) were first and second and Intouchables (France, the only single-country production in the top 10 ) third, followed by five more (GB/US) Harry Potters and two more US co-productions Casino Royale (GB/US/DE/CZ) and Quantum of Solace (GB/US). As also already noted, over the ten years that EOA addresses in Female Directors in Europe, two of the three women-directed films in the 'Top 50 European films' were co-productions with the United States (and jointly directed with men). Of the rest in the list, 30% were produced by a single European country, most often France, and the remainder were European co-productions.

Turning to the women-only list, seven of the 'Top 20 European Films With Women Directors' that women directed were produced or co-produced in Great Britain, six produced or co-produced in France. Four out of the top ten in that list were co-produced with the United States. In the longer 'Top 50' list of women-directed European films. Seven (14%), including four in the top ten, were co-productions with the United States– three with Great Britain alone and the other four with Great Britain plus other European countries.  Twenty were French and a further ten were co-productions with France. There were six German films and three British films.

Only Lone Scherfig and Gurinder Chadha had two films on this list.  Lone Scherfig's One Day, was #10 on the women-directed list and #165 on the overall list and her An Education was #44/ #498, both GB/US. Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice #29/ #350 was GB/US and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging #45/ #500) was GB/US/Germany.

If we want to go the big(gish) budget, big(gish) European audience route, depending on where we live, co-pros with the United States, France or Britain are perhaps how to do it, though it's obviously a big challenge to engage with the United States, which appears to offer the greatest benefits. But the Female Directors in Europe data supports Stacy Smith's team's findings in the much smaller Gender Bias Without Bordersshowing, as already noted, that British women directors and writers were represented much more strongly in films that had British funding only than they were in films funded jointly by Great Britain and the United States, with their much larger budgets (and probably some of the disadvantages that Ana Lily Amirpour refers to). So looking for American investment will always have multiple problems.

On the other hand, for American women it may be useful to form alliances with producers in European countries that have government funding, especially Great Britain and France. As you can see from the 'Top 20' list, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Ireland, may also be possibilities.

Think of us in New Zealand, too. The New Zealand government-funded co-productions or co-post-productions listed here are with Canada, India, Israel. Predominantly with men (there's a woman co-writer, co-director).  But there are heaps of choices. I like the idea of working with women from Canada, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. The new New Zealand option of working with Chinese women filmmakers is exciting, too.

So, those are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours, of course!

Gina Prince-Bythewood warmed my heart here and informed what I've written.

And this clip about Ava DuVernay's Selma also made me think and feel.


  1. Marian, have you seen Martina Kudlacek's In the Mirror of Maya Deren, which is a fantastic documentary. There's also Barbara Hammer's more experimental and intimate Maya Deren's Sink, and her film about Claude Cahun, Lover/Other. Sarah Pucill has made a film about Cahun too, Magic Mirror. There's a more straightforward doc about Louise Bourgeois, The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine (Amei Wallach and Marion Cajori).

    I loved both of Abigail Child's Mary Shelley films, A Shape of Error and its remix Unbound. The best auteure-biopics I've seen!

    For auto-docs, I'm passionate about Agnès Varda's The Beaches of Agnès (and The Gleaners and I, of course) and Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, which is also very revealing and educational about the filmmaking process.

    As well as Sontag and Walker, there are recent feminist bio-docs about Audre Lorde (The Berlin Years), Kate Bornstein (KB is a Queer and Pleasant Danger), and Kathleen Hanna (The Punk Singer, including footage from Abby Moser's Riot Grrrl NYC). All very handy in terms of portraying the artist-activist at work.

    I love the segment of Astra Taylor's Examined Life that takes a walk through San Francisco with Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor, and long for an entire film focused on Butler in conversation.

    Wouldn't it be great to have a feminist Forgotten Silver directed by Jane Campion? Lizzie Francke's book Script Girls has so many fascinating stories of women working in early Hollywood that could be brought to life... Of course, there's The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye) which takes this on in relation to African-American lesbian performers!

    1. O Sophie, you're amazing! Thank you sooo much!

      I *didn't* know about some of these. Such riches.

      They're the kinds of movies that only make it here if they're accepted into the New Zealand International Film Festival, which is where I first saw Agnes Varda. Which is why I worry when e.g. the last in the Sciamma trilogy didn't get selected. Otherwise, because of our small 4m population they're unlikely to be distributed here, because of the necessary rating costs. And perhaps difficult to access elsewhere, as well, which is one reason I hope for more and better online access.

      There could be a feminist Forgotten Silver series, I reckon!!! OK, checking a few of these out right now. Thanks again!

  2. This is remarkable reading, Marian. I'm still digesting it... Thank you for putting all these resources together in one place (both in this article and in your entire site).

    America is so culturally (self)-isolated--I don't know if examples from anywhere else will ever make a difference here while cultural myopia is held up as a norm and celebrated as a virtue. I hope NZ and other countries fare better.

    Countries with government funding for film (i.e., not the US) are certainly well-positioned to benefit from these examples if people (like you) are prepared to advocate for adopting internationally-established best practices.

    I wonder if this may mean the possibility of greater opportunities for women, regardless of their place of origin, via international co-productions? I suspect you're right. China is a growing source for international co-productions, too.

    > when money moves in, women are pushed out, which explains the low numbers of women directors in popular (top-grossing) films jointly funded by GB/US

    This theory also speaks to why women do so well in the (cash-starved) US indie realm but fail to get traction in the big-dollar studio system.

    > investors spend proportionately much less on marketing women-directed films, which are often first films anyway, so the films are less likely to attain 'popular' status (the Francine Raveney theory

    Yes, there's a strong element of self-fulfilling prophecy here that, in the US, comes into play not just with women filmmakers but all marginalized filmmakers, particularly people of colour.

    > [Elle Schneider:] "The fastest, easiest way to encourage the development of women in cinema is to watch movies made by women."

    I "vote with my wallet" at a personal level: to support films that in turn support women and other marginalized people--and to actively boycott films that humiliate, degrade and erase us. The question is how to organize this collectively to make it powerful and effective. One thing I know from working in politics: a combination of sticks along with carrots is critical.

    1. I love your always-thoughtful responses, Shaula, as you know and it's special to read this one. Many thanks.

      I'm still digesting the research info, too. I so want it to help all of us who want to break down 'the problem' into manageable parts, so we can strengthen the strategies already being used and develop new and aha!-type solutions. (As an aside, today I loved reading about Alannah Pearce's problem-solving, when she contacted the mothers of her online harassers

      >The question is how to organize this collectively to make it powerful and effective. One thing I know from working in politics: a combination of sticks along with carrots is critical.

      I think this *is* the central question and would be delighted to hear your ideas – any time – about collective action across borders and about appropriate sticks and carrots in this context.

    2. There are some great models for collective action to learn from in progressive politics. One good example in the US is -- I don't know how they're doing now, but in their heyday, they did an outstanding job of galvinizing a web-based community of activists around specific, targeted, well-designed campaigns. I'm also impressed by the FCNL, the US-based Quaker (aka Society of Friends) political lobbying and activism group, which is online at Both are worth studying/reverse engineering.

      Carrots: not just collectively mass-supporting and advocating films, but letting filmmakers know you are, in numbers, and why.

      Sticks: organized mass boycotts of films that communicate clearly with the public and filmmakers about the reasons and actions.

      If you've followed the #BoycottBlackFriday movement in the US this week, you'll have seen that *not* spending money is perceived by a consumerist society as a radical political act.

    3. Thanks again, Shaula. This opens up a whole new world out there, for me and probably for others. Gold. Time for a careful read and a think!

    4. Here's one more set for you, Marian: Credo Action's model could directly translate to a film activism project. What makes them extra interesting is that they are part of Credo Mobile and Working Assets -- combining education, activism, organization and funding. Very smart work there.

    5. Many thanks. A larger new world now!

  3. I never fail to be enlightened, heartened and inspired by your work, Marian. And am savoring Sophie's and Shaula's responses here as well. Much much to think about indeed and much much more to do but knowing you're all out there and being able to learn from you is a gift. I want you all to know that you're appreciated!

  4. Many thanks Kate! This is such a heartwarming comment to start the week with-- Please know that you're appreciated too, for the Bluestocking series and much much more, including your life-enhancing twitter images. They always make my day!

  5. @MDSCInitiative kindly tweeted "you may want to take a look at our Sundance report. We address reasons 4 inequality & solutions. Rooney rule, hiring, tokenism, etc." This refers to their 'Women Behind-the-Scenes in Independent Film' reports (Sundance only) at the bottom of this page

  6. Hi and sorry it's taken me so long to reply (have been buried in my own writing but also so much to think about, what a great piece, thank you so much). As you would expect, a great deal of what you've written about here is reflected in my research into women screenwriters. I think your early point that "our practices are as diverse as we are" is so important to remember, and always needs to be held in mind alongside evidence that shows generalisations in the ways that women creatives are perceived and treated in the film industries.

    For me, there is an important point which joins up many of the threads in your piece, which is that men still don't seem to watch stories by and about women. I believe this is a deep and complex issue that is related to the construction of gender roles and even can be traced back to toys (see No Gender December) as it seems to be okay for girls to play with 'boys' toys but not so much the other way around. I think this may be a significant reason why we might see films directed by women performing less well, especially - as you point out - when women are still perceived as good at writing certain types of stories - dramas and romances and narratives focused on relationships and emotions. My own research discusses the way that female stories are often discussed in terms that suggest they have less worth, and are less universally interesting than male stories (this is also true for any stories that aren't about white men, heterosexual relationships, etc, etc). These are all still viewed by many in the film industry as 'special interest' stories. And when they achieve wide success they are a 'surprise', unexpected, an anomaly, unpredictable and therefore the suggestion is repeat at your own risk. Maybe this is a factor in why so few French women screenwriters get to write a second produced work? Just look at press reviews for The Hunger Games ("Box Office Shocker") or Bridesmaids ("Chick Flicks Don't Have to Suck").

    By the way I love those graphics from Women In View. Seeing those male figures towering over the female ones probably illustrates better than anything how it feels to be a female creative in a film industry.

    1. Thank you Natalie! I can't wait to read what you're writing! I'm excited about what will happen once the BFI funding diversity strategy is up and running, because change does seem to be occurring in the UK already. And excited that you're there doing your analysis in the midst of it!

      And I wonder if your research about the discussion of female stories takes account of the genders of the people who participate in the discussion 'in terms that suggest [female stories] have less worth, and are less universally interesting than male stories'. As you say, it's a deep and complex issue. But I suspect that we women are also constructed to prefer – and be most influenced by – men's stories and often contribute to the discussions from that perspective. Although things *may* be changing a bit, I think men *and* women don't often enough support women filmmakers' work through production and into audiences and don't watch – or want to watch – stories by and about women. My perception is that women producers and decisionmakers often choose to support men's work rather than women's and many women who market and review films (outside 'women's' media) are used to marketing and writing about films by and about men and remain happy to prioritise them. And there's a similar pattern among audiences.

      A couple of years ago I had a series of research conversations with women I know who go to the movies regularly, including some writers, and was surprised that they didn't care if women had written or directed what they watch and didn't miss films about women and girls, though they sometimes questioned the portrayals of women. They chose films on the basis of genre and /or directors whose work they'd previously enjoyed.

      This morning, I read that Angelina Jolie's Unbroken and Ava DuVernay's Selma have both been nominated for the Critics Choice Awards. That's wonderful. But like Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, these films explore important human themes but focus on men. Do women have to direct films about men to find big audiences and win major awards? And if there's strong investment in films about women and girls (like Mockingjay), do the films have to be directed by men?

      (I love those Women in View graphics, too!)


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