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#gendermatters at Screen Australia?

Update and clarity here, July 2016

A couple of days after I finished this post, I received this further information, about the Screen Australia Gender Matters paper. You might like to start by reading it, here, because, who knows, with only the press release to go on I could have got it all wrong.

I liked Deb Verhoeven's response to the press release, with the link in here–
And then her tweet after she read the Gender Matters paper (so I may not have 'got it all wrong'!)–
Filmmaker Briony Kidd (and director of the legendary Stranger With My Face International Film Festival – entries open NOW!) gave a thoughtful and measured response to Gender Matters in an ABC interview with Melanie Tait. A podcast may be on its way (thank you, Melanie!).

And then. And then I heard this podcast, recorded just before the #gendermatters announcement. It is just excellent for its well-informed, imaginative, broad-ranging discussion of the issues. Samantha Lang, new President of the Australian Directors Guild and Deb Verhoeven with broadcaster Jason di Rosso. If you have time for just one thing, this is it.

And then. David Tiley wrote an excellent piece on ScreenHub, here (and kindly removed the paywall).

I'm not going to have time to read and think about the Gender Matters paper until the new year. In the meantime, I've asked various thoughtful mates for even more expert insights that I can credit in my next post about Gender Matters. Please feel free to add yours!


Finally. Screen Australia has launched its gender policy, Gender Matters.  While we wait for the details, Screen Australia's press release is in full below so we can reflect on it. 

My first concern after I read the press release was that Gender Matters leads with a sum of money rather than with principles. And not even a large overall sum of money – $5 million over 3 years, from an organisation with a budget of $100.8 million in 2013-14 and a projected $84.1 million budget in 2017-18.

In my view, principles matter most in this context. And it appears that Screen Australia isn't following what is now understood as best practice, because Gender Matters (so far) provides has no clearly stated goal of reaching gender equity in all its allocation of funding, within a specific period. 

From a post earlier this year, here's Anna Serner, of the Swedish Film Institute, where state-of-the-art gender policies have resulted in gender equity in their allocation of feature film funding. For her–
...there is no one best practice except to establish a practice. I believe the most urgent issue is to start working to create equality. And to do that you need to set a goal, choose a strategy and start work to be able to measure how your work is doing.
In contrast, Screen NSW, the funding body for New South Wales, the Australian state where Sydney is the capital, recently introduced a goal, which they call a 'target'–
Screen NSW has introduced a target to achieve an average 50:50 gender equity in its development and production funding programs by 2020. Effective immediately, the target will see Screen NSW work towards reducing the industry wide gender bias against women in key creative roles. 
It's clear. We all get the message. Screen NSW is serious about gender equity.

So what's the clearest measurable goal or target in Gender Matters? As articulated by Screen Australia's CEO, Graeme Mason, it appears to be this one–
Our focus is on female led creative teams rather than individuals. We are aiming to ensure our production funding is targeted to creative teams (writer, producer, director and protagonist) that are at least 50% female by 2018 year end. 
If he means what he says, this implies that there may be a flood of Screen Australia production-funded projects with women producers and female protagonists and men as writers and directors. And is a female protagonist really a member of a creative team? Not a great goal?

Then there's the Women's Story Fund.  According to Anna Serner, women-only funding is an option–
The easiest thing in a short term is actually to create a 'women's only' funding. That creates interest from the production companies to start looking for female creators, as they realize that there is money in it for the company. Women on the other hand know that they have a fair chance to get money, which will raise the amount of women's applications... the business gets used to [counting] women, as they get used to the fact that they [make] as good films as the men. And that is of course positive.
But she emphasises that this is not a long term solution. An organisation that creates a 'women-only' fund doesn't necessarily have to change its way of working. There has to be a structural change within the organisation itself–
As soon you stop having divided funding, nothing has changed [because of] the idea that men should have their money no matter what. I think it's fundamental that we shift that structure. That we as funders learn how to find talent equally between the sexes without divided funds.
Gender Matters doesn't point to a structural change. Certainly,  in the past, Australia's women's film funds didn't work particularly well to advance women writers and directors and women's participation in feature filmmaking went further downhill when the last one stopped (around 20 years ago?). Has Screen Australia failed to learn from the past?

And as Anna Serner says, everyone needs to be on board–
The funders can't change the structure alone. We also need to work with the industry and schools as all structures starts there. The easiest way to make the business cooperate is to show that the funder is serious and is looking for films created by women. In Sweden we have noticed both a much bigger interest from the production companies since they realized that we were serious.
If  I were in the industry, at the moment I wouldn't take Gender Matters too seriously, though I'd check out which of my favourite male directors had a script with a female protagonist. That's not enough to create lasting change. Furthermore, although Gender Matters refers to assessment criteria changes, it doesn't include unconscious bias training, currently happening even in Hollywood.

Corrie Chen suggests below – but cannot confirm – there will be a version of three ticks in the Women's Story Fund, perhaps an echo of the BFI's three ticks initiative, which supports gender *+* diversity and that will ensure at least that a project's writer or director will be a woman. But if the the three ticks are limited to the Women's Story Fund and to gender only, again that's a worrying problem. 

I also think a 'Task Force' may become an expensive distraction from getting the job done, though I'm especially pleased to see Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) and Corrie Chen in thereBut there are no veteran directors on the Task Force. It's great that Samantha Lang is included as President of the Australian Directors Guild. But I haven't seen any comment from the Australian Directors Guild today though, perhaps because it supported quotas and – presumably – would also have supported more clearly defined gender equity goals, established throughout Screen Australia's programmes.  More anxiety.

Whatever, I'm looking forward to seeing more detail and to the responses of others. We'll know soon if gender really matters at Screen Australia.

Best of luck to all those fabulous Aussie women writers and directors with amazing onscreen stories to tell. And to all those New Zealand women like them, who are already over there, or packing their bags right now. (And Fingers Crossed the New Zealand Film Commission will follow with its own extended policy. A better one than the Aussies'. And soon.)

Press Release

Screen Australia today announced a five point, $5 million plan over three years for Gender Matters, a suite of initiatives that address the gender imbalance within the Australian screen industry.

The imbalance is most notable in traditional film with 32% of women working as producers, 23% as writers and only 16% as directors. Screen Australia film production funding is provided to producers, writers and directors in direct proportion to applications received, suggesting that initiatives to stimulate projects led by women are key.

“To make a real difference to women’s participation in the industry, there needs to be a holistic, integrated approach to people, projects and business infrastructure that is sustainable and self-generating. We need to support women to build a range and breadth of skills in this industry,” Screen Australia’s CEO Graeme Mason said today.

“Our focus is on female led creative teams rather than individuals. We are aiming to ensure our production funding is targeted to creative teams (writer, producer, director and protagonist) that are at least 50% female by 2018 year end. While across all our funding programs we exceed this target (see graph below), production funding in film, at 29%, is well off the pace,” he said.

The poor showing in production funding for film can in part be explained by less applications, competitive market attachments and scripts.

The five point plan includes an immediate $3 million allocation of ‘jump start’ funding to get female-led projects production-ready within two years, and a further $2 million of support for placements, distribution incentives, marketing and industry networking.

An experienced Gender Matters Taskforce, headed by Screen Australia Deputy Chair Deanne Weir, will act as industry champions and advocates, using their experience and expertise to refine and develop the five point plan to focus on the cultural, social and economic value of better representing and appealing to women.

The taskforce includes actor Miranda Tapsell (Love Child, Redfern Now, The Sapphires) screenwriter and TV producer Imogen Banks (The Beautiful Lie, Offspring, Puberty Blues, Tangle, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo), producer Sue Maslin (The Dressmaker) and director and President of the Australian Directors Guild, Samantha Lang.

“This is a targeted and practical plan to combat gender inequality in our industry, starting from now. These trends are not unique to our industry, or Australia, but we have a responsibility to make these changes. This is not just a women’s issue, but one for all of us to address. As a federal agency and a representative of the screen sector, we must do everything we can to encourage and support the outstanding female talent in this country – both emerging and established. We have done the research, now it’s time for action,” said Ms Weir.

Screen Australia is working to combat these issues through an unprecedented call-out for women key creatives to pitch their projects and business concepts for an opportunity to secure development or seed funding. In consultation with the Gender Matters Taskforce, Screen Australia will develop:
The Women’s Story Fund – an initiative to stimulate awareness and increase industry activity around storytelling by women, focusing on bold, original and compelling fully-formed story concepts. 
Enterprise Women – business support to create industry infrastructure around women, encouraging mentorship schemes, placements, slate development, workshops, events and proposals for strategy and business development.
Attachments for Women – in circumstances where Screen Australia invests more than $500,000 in a project, attachments or reverse attachments are proposed to provide valuable production experience for women who want to break into the industry as creatives or crew. 
Matched Distribution Guarantee Support of up to $300,000, to enhance the distribution and marketing of quality Australian films with significant female content, encouraging close partnership with distributors on female-driven projects. 
Assessment Criteria Changes – to be made across Screen Australia, aimed at encouraging projects that promote gender and cultural diversity and removing the barriers faced by women who take time out of the workforce, including added consideration of Gender and Cultural Diversity in overall slate assessment.
Sue Maslin, feature film producer and member of the Gender Matters Taskforce, said, “My first credit was a film called Thanks Girls and Goodbye – ironic I think, because it was a film about female invisibility. I’ve always been interested in stories that revolve around women because I think they’re funny, dramatic, and largely untold. My vision for the future is a world where stories about women, told by women, are equally of interest to all audiences. Gender Matters will help make this happen. I look forward to 2018 and more diversity and richness on screen.”

Gender Matters is a direct response to the status of women in the screen industry, but Screen Australia recognises that there are other groups that are under-represented. In conjunction with national broadcasters, Screen Australia is working on a new benchmark study on cultural diversity in TV drama, which it expects to release in 2016.

Screen Australia Gender Matters spokespeople:

Graeme Mason, CEO, Screen Australia
Fiona Cameron, COO, Screen Australia
Deanne Weir, Deputy Chair, Screen Australia and Head of the Gender Matters Taskforce

The Gender Matters Taskforce:
Deanne Weir – Deputy Chair of Screen Australia and Head of the Gender Matters Taskforce
Imogen Banks – Producer and screenwriter
Corrie Chen – Director and screenwriter
Sandie Don – Head of Distribution, eOne ANZ
Sophie Hyde – Director and producer
Emma Jensen – Screenwriter
Samantha Lang – Director, screenwriter and President of the Australian Directors Guild [will she be able to make a difference here?]
Sue Maslin – Producer
Miranda Tapsell – Actor
Natalie Tran – Vlogger, actor and screenwriter
Join the conversation #gendermatters
Media enquiries:
Tamara Zimet 0405 185 699

Thanks to Corrie Chen for this amplification–


In this clip Deanne Weir confirms (from 1:05) Graeme Mason's statement about the target being 50% female-led creative teams (writer, director, producer, protagonist) by 2018, a target that entrenches and amplifies male privilege as writers and directors of films about women and girls.

And I am not alone in my general disappointment. Whew.  Here's a fine analysis from Deb Verhoeven that explains how Screen Australia can improve its performance.

Here's a great ABC discussion from last week that covers a diversity of views, before Gender Matters was announced.

Here's the Sydney Morning Herald's response.

And then there's this one (thanks, Pip Adam!) from Lisa French, which seems to state that the overall Screen Australia policy is that EVERY project funded must have women in three out of four of the roles listed by Graeme Mason. Awaiting clarity!!!

Background from Wellywood Woman here ('The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Goes for It, in Australia') and here ('The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Whispers, in New Zealand', which discusses the backstory for Australian women in film, back to the 1970s – Australian women have such a proud activist history).


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