Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board's Gender Equality Plan

Annie  Equality for Women, Acting Chair of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board

It seems to have happened so quickly. In early November, Dr Susan Liddy sent a letter to The Irish Times–

Women and the Irish Film Industry

Sir, – I write in response to Una Mullally’s article ('A century on, Abbey [Theatre] still gives women a bit part', Opinion & Analysis, November 2nd) which highlights the woeful under-representation of female playwrights in the Abbey’s centenary programme.
Unfortunately, this dismal picture of exclusion is not the exclusive preserve of the theatre. It is also echoed in the Irish Film Industry, which is overwhelmingly male-dominated and lacking a strong female voice and vision. My own research suggests a mere 13 per cent of produced screenplays in the period 1993 to 2013 were written by Irish women. 
When women are missing behind the camera there is often a knock-on effect in front of the camera. So only 24 per cent of all produced films from 1993 to 2011 with a male writer had a female character at the heart of the narrative. In comparison, 63 per cent of produced films with a female writer lead with a female protagonist. 
Having more women writers and directors increases the likelihood of more female-centred stories. And, importantly, it sends out a strong signal to girls and young women that there is a place for them in Irish cinema – that their vision and their stories are valued.
The statistics I offer here are, of necessity, partial. No official statistics are forthcoming from the Irish Film Board. How many women apply? How many are refused? How many try again? What kinds of stories are women telling? We haven’t a clue.
Even though the Irish Film Board is funded with taxpayers’ money, and Irish women make up half the population, support continues to be primarily directed to male writers – end of story. 
We are supposed to be telling stories about ourselves to ourselves and others and yet the majority of our stories are told by men and are about men. Has the status quo become so normalised that we just accept the gender imbalance as “the way it is”? Accept that women aren’t too bothered about screenwriting or are incompetent when they do have a go? 
There are ways and means to tackle the current imbalance but it looks as though the Irish Film Board is not concerned enough to act. 
As we face the 1916 centenary, it is timely to acknowledge how far Irish women have come but also to reflect on how much unfinished business remains. Unless we want to look back with regret in another hundred years, self-belief and defiance are qualities that Irish women may well need to cultivate. Biding time and asking nicely does not appear to be working.

– Yours, etc,
Dr Susan Liddy,
Department of Media
and Communications,
Mary Immaculate College,
University of Limerick.


A little later in November, The Irish Times reported that the Irish Film Board's Acting Chair, Dr Annie Doona, had issued this statement on gender equality–
Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ the Irish Film Board recognises and accepts that major underrepresentation of women exists in Irish film. The IFB acknowledges that there are many talented women writers, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, animators and designers out there that are not fully represented either in terms of accessing funding for film or in public recognition of their talent. 
Gender inequality is an area of major concern to current board members and has been the subject of discussion at our recent meetings and in a number of external fora, including at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2015. The IFB is currently developing a new strategy which will declare its strong and heartfelt commitment to gender equality and diversity as a strategic priority. 
Dr. Annie Doona, Acting Chair of the Irish Film Board commented “We recognise that words are not enough; actions are needed to address the gender inequality issue. The IFB is concerned enough to act and indeed to take a lead on this issue. Members of the current IFB board are active members of the recently formed Women in Film and Television Ireland and as Acting Chair of the IFB I have been in contact with that organisation to look at what action we can take together to raise the representation of women in film in Ireland”. 
The IFB has also engaged in particular with the Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland on this issue and will be continuing to work with them and with the other representative organisations in Irish film. The IFB has been working with the Eurimages Council of Europe co-production fund which has recently adopted a detailed strategy on gender equality in the European film industry. 
Dr. Doona continued: “The issue of funding for women filmmakers is an important one. The Irish Film Board is finalising detailed statistics in relation to gender equality in Irish film; it is important to gather and publish this information but we know what the statistics are likely to tell us. The next step is to actively discuss the best way forward in terms of positive action to redress the imbalance including the issue of access to IFB funding. We will be in a position to announce details of a range of actions around gender inequality we are proposing to take in December”. 
The IFB will also be taking this issue up with fellow public funders in Irish film including the public service broadcasters (RTÉ and TG4) and the BAI Sound and Vision Fund. It is only by the IFB taking a lead and working in partnership with others that we can find ways to address the gender inequality issue. The IFB welcomes the opportunity to be a key player in addressing gender inequality in the Irish film industry.

Then, on 22 December, this from Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ the Irish Film Board–
Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board confirms our ongoing commitment to addressing the issue of gender inequality in Irish film. We are announcing a six point plan addressing gender imbalance in Irish film. This follows on from Acting Chair Dr Annie Doona's public statement on gender equality... The statement addressed the underrepresentation of women in Irish film and the plan now sets out to create an agenda to address this imbalance. The six point plan is as follows:
1. Information
IFB funding statistics are now published on the IFB website. Combined figures for 2010 to 2015 show that 16% of production funding applications came from projects with female writers attached, 14% came from projects with female directors attached and 36% of production funding applications came from projects with female producers attached. For projects which are completed productions in the same period, 21% had a female writer attached, 18% had a female director attached and 55% had a female producer attached. We are committed to continued collection and publication of data to highlight inequalities and enable us to address them. Each IFB Board meeting will review and monitor the latest statistics on gender. 
2. Funding
There needs to be a holistic and integrated approach to achieve real change. The aim is to stimulate applications for development and production funding with female creative talent attached. The target is to achieve 50/50 gender parity in funding over the next three years. We will engage with production companies who have obtained or are seeking IFB funding with a view to raising awareness about gender imbalance and achieving this target. We will also engage with organisations who will provide training to executives involved in funding decisions in gender equality specifically and on cultural diversity generally. The intention is to address issues of unconscious bias within Irish film. 
3. Training and Mentorship
This will be organised through Screen Training Ireland (STI) who will be announcing a series of initiatives to provide meaningful development, support and career progression for female talent including emerging talent. This will include two international placements for female writers and female directors as well as mentorships for female directors of TV drama and female directors on feature films funded by the IFB in 2016. STI will also be promoting seminars and conferences as well as panels at events and will be seeking to achieve an ongoing consciousness at these events of the need for gender equality and cultural diversity generally and will be seeking to ensure that the panels and speakers themselves also represent that equality and diversity. 
4. Education
Early intervention in the education process is an initial part of change of mind-sets. We will be working with the National Film School at IADT organising events for female transition year students to introduce and encourage them to consider courses in film related areas particularly screen writing, screen directing and screen producing. 
5. Enterprise
We will be working with Enterprise Ireland on their entrepreneurship start-up scheme to include dedicating space at existing incubation centres for female creative talent and encouraging female creative talent to engage with Enterprise Ireland's existing schemes. 
6. Partnership
We will also be working with other funders in media including the BAI Sound and Vision Fund and the public service broadcasters RTÉ and TG4 so that gender equality is embedded within the decision making process in screen content and that cultural diversity generally is promoted in production which is publically funded. We will also be working with Women in Film and Television Ireland and other bodies nationally and internationally to progress gender equality.

And then this, on the Writers Guild of Ireland site
The Writers Guild of Ireland and the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland welcome today’s statement by the Irish Film Board on gender equality.

We congratulate the Board on its commitment to achieving 50/50 gender parity for writers and directors in feature film production within three years.

We have been pressing the Board on this important issue for a number of years. Recently the Equality Action Committee of the two guilds has been involved in fruitful discussions with the Film Board and we would like to thank Dr Annie Doona, acting Chair of the Board, in particular.

We look forward to working with the Board to measure progress towards the goal of parity, and to the introduction of additional measures, if necessary, to guarantee achievement of gender equality in the allocation of public funds for film production in Ireland.

Screen Directors Guild of Ireland
Birch Hamilton, Executive Director – birch (at) sdgi.ie 
Writers Guild of Ireland
David Kavanagh, Executive Officer – david.kavanagh (at) script.ie

Members of the Equality Action Committee
Liz Gill, Dr Susan Liddy, Lauren Mackenzie, Marian Quinn

I have so many questions about the speed of this. Given that the two guilds have been 'pressing the Board on this important issue for a number of years' is the policy due to the synchronicity of –
  • the Abbey Theatre controversy;  
  • a committed Acting Chair – remember how Anna Serner of the Swedish Film Institute emphasises the commitment coming from the top of an organisation and how limited that commitment is in Australasia's two national film organisations?; and 
  • preparedness, especially of a guild-supported and effective Equality Action Committee?
Or what?

What role did the unequivocal support from the heads of the two most relevant guilds have?

Did the recent (September) formation of WIFT Ireland have an effect?

How is Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board going to manage a challenging transition, financially and in respect of those whose projects have been privileged in the past?

Checking it all out now! As are women writers and directors living outside Ireland, with Irish passports!

See also 'Missing in Action – Where Are the Irish Women Screenwriters?' by Susan Liddy, over at #Wakingthe Feminists: Equality for Women in Irish Theatre 

and

Yes! #gendermatters at Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board, an interview with Susan Liddy

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