Skip to main content

Women Are *Not* The Problem?

Writing buddy 1B sneaks in through the kitchen door. I don’t hear a thing.

A little later, she slides down the hall, pauses in the doorway of my work space and, because she’s like that, she poses, grinning at me over the top of my screen.

–Kare, she says, throwing her arms wide. Jug’s on. Off your nono. A cuppa and a double feature at the Cuba Lighthouse. If we get going, there’s Florence Foster Jenkins followed by Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

I don’t move.

–It’s ten o’clock on a weekday morning, I say. I have to finish this. And I’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

–So? You like watching movies a second time. With a mate, particularly avec moi and a shared pot of tea.

–One more viewing of a man-directed New Zealand movie with a male protagonist will kill me.

She shakes her head, beckons.

–I’ve been six hours on the road. Com’on, girl, a cuddle at least.

–I didn’t know you were coming.

–Because you don’t answer your ******* phones. Because you send out-of-the-office emails.

I shrug.

–I’m busy.

–Saw that the moment I walked in the door. You white girls. You get busy, and your kitchen is a tip and there’s nothing-in-the-fridge.

– So?

–I came prepared. Armed and dangerous, with almond croissants.

–I’m not eating sugar. Or wheat.

– **********. 1B is cross.

She edges round to look at the screen.

–What’s more important than a visit from moi?

Quick. Distract her. Fend her *off*.

I fly to my feet. Hold out my arms.

Too late. She’s little. But even going into a warm embrace she doesn’t miss a thing.

–The Daily Mail? Taylor Swift?

–A comparative study of handbag holding. Her and the Queen.

–It’s been done. A million times.

–Go away. I say, falling back into my chair. Weakly.

She watches me struggle.

–Later sessions, then. I could clean up till you’re ready.

–Nooooo!!! Not the vaccuum cleaner. Please. Please. Yesterday I had to endure waterblasting. Early this morning, leaf blowing and barking dogs. And just before, a gang of wannabe tri-athletes huffing up the track, yahoo-ing as they go. Pleeeeeease. No cleaning.

She rolls her eyes.

–Cook you dinner, after the movies, then? Something with lentils, perhaps?

We know she’s got me.

Over a cuppa and a croissant (yum! regardless), I tell her I’m stuck. Too much complexity, too many paradoxes. If I stop now, I say, I’ll never start again.

–Would that be so bad? How long’s it been, a decade? Laisse tomber, cherie.

–Tempting, I say. But ‘Il faut toujours terminer qu’est-ce qu’on a commencé’, I say, thinking of all that research and thinking, of the itch to make it into something, one more time.

– ******************* Listen to you! Prissy Ms M — no prissy Dr M — rides again.

She pushes her chair next to mine and takes up my hand, and gives it a gentle squeeze.

–Aroha mai, kare. Remember, il faut jouer un peu. Toujours, toujours.

I wait, unable to respond. She examines me closely. I watch her thinking.

–Let’s make a deal, she says. I’ll hum it, with the questions. Then you play it, with the answers. After the double feature. How’s that for a plan?

More than temmmpppting. But I look doubtful, make her wait a few seconds.

Then I nod.

–Thank you, I say. As gracefully as I can (not very).

–Y'a pas de quoi, she says. Have a shower. Do something with that hair. Get your boots on.

What follows is a lightly sanitised and almost digression- and food-free edit of our discussion, over several days and nights.


1B To the keyboard, Batgirl! Flex those digits. Relax.

I take a deep breath. It gets stuck in my chest. 1B places her hand between my shoulder blades. Reaches a long way for appropriate terminology.

1B (delighted with herself)  And….action! Make a heading: Inciting Incident.

I take another deeeeeper breath. 1B rubs my back and smiles at me. I take a full breath. She takes her hand away, settles in her chair with some knitting (a lambswool beanie, in soft colours). I start.

Inciting Incident

ME It’s a Bright and Beautiful Moment. Our taxpayer film fund, called as you know, the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), ends its year on 30 June. And, for the first year ever, of the seven fictional features it’s offered production funding, five have women directors or co-directors. That’s extraordinary: 71%. Even if you take out the one co-directed with a man, that’s 62%. Way over 50:50. Take out Alison Maclean’s The Rehearsal (completed) and Jackie Van Beek’s The Inland Road, in post-production, both mostly funded in the 2014–2105 year and the one co-directed with a man and a male-directed project for which the conditional funding has lapsed, it’s still 60%.

1B Conditional production funding?

ME Available if the project can raise the rest of its funding from other sources. The conditional funding was for Alyx Duncan’s The Lonely Girl, Dorthe Scheffman’s Vermilion , and Miranda Harcourt’s The Changeover (with Stuart MacKenzie). And amazingly, a *second* Jackie Van Beek feature, to be directed with Madeline Sami, The Breakerupperers. I can’t remember anyone else ever being funded for two narrative feature projects in one year, even though most of The Inland Road’s funding came in the previous year.

And it’s a stroke of brilliance that two of the films are co-directed, so instead of five women directors represented, there are six: Miranda Harcourt and Madeline Sami — both first time feature directors but hugely experienced in other screen roles — get to direct alongside people who’ve directed features before. That’s a fabulous way to increase the numbers of experienced women directors and I’d love to know who’s encouraged this.

1B So what’s the problem?

ME Information about this Bright and Beautiful moment came just as I’d finished writing about this invitation. I’m limping, avoiding a Cassandra role. Or a faux Cassandra role.

1B Harden up, cherie. Focus. Let’s have a look.

Here, I say. 1B does her rapid scan thing.

1B What’s wrong with it?

ME The language. Look at it: ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’.

1B Ae. Fortune does that. What’s the problem?

ME The context. This is an NZFC scholarship targeted at ‘mid-career’ women directors; applicants have to be between their first and second feature or equivalent (TV, web series, documentary or drama). And guess what? Any woman who’s thinking about a second feature or equivalent doesn’t need to be reminded about the boldness. Because anyone who gets that far is bold. And any woman who gets that far is extra bold, because the taxpayer film funding system, as represented by the NZFC, historically disadvantages women directors. They/we don’t need to be matronised.

But worse, ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’ not-too-subtly blames women for not getting to their second feature. Implies it’s their/our fault. It echoes our anti-women culture and persistent beliefs like the one that women have to take responsibility for preventing rape. It’s totally inappropriate. And, en plus, in this context ‘Do It’, the award’s other tagline, is insulting. The women who are eligible for this scholarship already ‘Do It’; and have been for a while, regardless of the obstacles, including lack of taxpayer support (via the NZFC or, for telemovies, the also taxpayer-funded New Zealand on Air, NZOA). This is particularly true for women writers and directors who make features with female protagonists, since 2003, just 7% of all features and telemovies made. And only 44% of them were taxpayer-funded. In contrast, in the same period the taxpayer funded 76% of women-written and -directed films with male protagonists. The taxpayer also funded 61% of the features and telemovies with female protagonists that men made (about 6% of the total number of features and telemovies made).

Let’s hear it for the staunch women who persisted, with no help from the taxpayer, and wrote and directed 56% of those features by and about women: Amanda Phillips; Anna Breckon (3 features); Athina Tsoulis (2); Marama Killen; Rose Goldthorp (2); and — just because — Andrea Bosshard who co-wrote and co-directed The Great Maiden’s Blush.

Together, ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’ and ‘Do It’ also buy into the deficit idea: that women aren’t good enough, don’t try hard enough. ‘Do It’ is fine for someone who hasn’t started. ‘Do It Anyway’ sometimes encourages a badly bruised woman who’s flown up against the patriarchal wall of the NZFC or NZOA. But here it’s just….

1B …Insulting. Got it. Got it.

ME It’s not women filmmakers who are in deficit. It’s the the institutional structures.

1B Ae. But the scholarship’s a good thing otherwise?

I hesitate.

ME I like the ‘Children are welcome’.

1B Yes? Or No? We haven’t got all day!

(We have no idea that this will take three days, with a day off in the middle for 1B’s own project.)

ME I have to rewind, to that ‘gender policy’ there on the invite. And rethink my responses to it now I’ve seen this year’s list of features offered production funding. What do you know about the NZFC’s gender policy, about film policies in general?

1B Zilch. Make that the next heading: Gender policy.

ME Gender equity policies. Policies, because they’re not all the same.

1B Whatever, kare. Just do a heading.

Gender Equity Policies

ME All over, in countries where there’s taxpayer funding for filmmaking, there’re new gender-related policies. They vary in quality. New Zealand has a very weak one. The best and most tested practices come out of Sweden thanks to Anna Serner who heads the Swedish Film Institute (SFI).

There are two main options, a ‘women’s only’ fund and structural change that provides gender equity within an organisation’s allocation of resources. Anna Serner says that the easiest thing in a short term is to create ‘women’s only’ funding because that encourages producers to look for female creators. Women know that they have a fair chance to get money and that encourages them to apply. 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 it’s not a long term solution’, she says, ‘because 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.’ And somehow, this year at least, the NZFC has shifted.

Ireland’s probably got the best English language policy, not yet a year old, at the Irish Film Board, or Bord Scannán na hÉireann (IFB/BSE). Look at their recent ‘Vision for 2020’.
Working with industry stakeholders, the IFB will promote an overall vision for the industry, focusing on leadership, gender & diversity, and building audiences for film, television and animation. Highlights under this pillar include: providing strong industry leadership; working with the Government and the wider industry to provide a coherent public sector approach to the development of the sector; achieving a target of 50/50 gender parity in creative talent working in screen content; and positioning audiences as a central part of the work we support.
Both Sweden and Ireland base their policies on a commitment to having equal investment in women and men directors, throughout their programmes. They’re in place because of strong leadership — and in Ireland the policy followed an intense #wakingthefeminists campaign about gender inequity in theatre, a change of leadership at the IFB/BSE and proactive lobbying by the guilds — and they’re backed by constant research and evaluation. They use targets to get there.

1B You mean quotas?

ME No. A quota is a raw number, like ‘half’ or ‘4’. It’s set, starting now. We’ve had them here since 1966 at least, when the Massey University School of Journalism was established by Noel Harrison, who insisted that the first intake of ten students be half male and half female.

A target — also a raw number — is more of a firm and time-based intention to be realised, when it’s necessary to resolve entrenched structural and/or social problems. Think a target that alleviates harm, like stopping murders of children, regulating smoking or alcohol, stopping rape and sexual harassment, establishing pay equity, housing for all. Because the change requires complex strategies and behaviour changes, it takes time to achieve the target. And these targets are often part of a broader shift: a gender-based target for taxpayer film funding aims to allevaite the harm the system inflicts on women writers and directors and the societal harm we all suffer when almost every feature has a male protagonist; and fits within development of a social framework that supports women’s rights.

1B knits at warp speed, deep in thought.

1B But no-one has a right to taxpayer support to make films?

ME It’s our right, guaranteed under the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, ratified here in 1985 and in Aussie in 1983), to participate in public life, to speak and to act authoritatively as story tellers whose access to taxpayer support equals the access available to men. Which historically hasn't been so. It parallels our right to an authoritative voice in our private lives, when we say No to unwanted sexual advances, to sexual harassment or other kinds of gender-based abuse. And Yes to an education.

It’s easy to confuse ‘quota’ and ‘target’. We’ve had a ‘quota’ for New Zealand music, established in 1995 when New Zealand songs were just 1.6% of the music on commercial radio. But it was voluntary and arguably more of a ‘target’: it made change over a decade, through 10% in 2000, to 23% in 2005. And it helped develop a vibrant music scene here.

But the NZFC gender policy has no target, no quota. Announced in April 2015, it’s hardly a policy at all. Nothing like the equal investment principles and policies in Sweden and Ireland. It includes no principle. All we have is ‘The voices and perspectives of women are integral to telling the stories of our country, its culture and communities. We are committed to increasing awareness of gender equality in the New Zealand screen industry,’ and a few initiatives like the scholarship. The scholarship is for me a reminder of how meagre the investment is.

1B Pffft. Calme-toi. Sounds like the policy’s been pretty effective regardless, with all those feature projects good to go.

ME If those projects can get the rest of the dosh. If that level is sustained over a few years, which isn’t guaranteed without a principle that is enunciated and monitored, the structural change that Anna Serner advocates. If there’s plenty of allowance made for the reality that some of those features, like some of the men’s features over many years, just may not find an audience. Nothing’s guaranteed without that 50:50 rights-based policy.

1B Let me just check this, s’il te plait. Is a women’s rights-based target is a whole lot more acceptable in Sweden than here, because of their other gender policies?

ME Yep. that’s why I’m watching Ireland most closely, because it’s about the same population as New Zealand and its overall gender rights issues are similar. If Ireland can create structural change so can we. And the Irish have recently done so well with features with women protagonists (though alas directed by men) that their film board can also be taken seriously as an economic player.

1B What d’ya mean by ‘well’?

ME For example, Room (adapted by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the novel); and Brooklyn. Many nominations and awards. Including Best Picture and Best Screenplay for an adapted work at the Oscars, for both of them; Room’s director was nominated for Best Director as well.

1B Pfffft, Hollywood, who cares?

ME The NZFC wouldn’t mind a bit of that. Hollywood-type success is great for the economics. And economics are paramount.

1B You reckon?

ME Not rights.

1B D’accord. So hit me with it.

I’m getting into it now.

ME I suspect that the gender policy at the NZFC is there at all mostly because of Jane Campion. Two years ago, out in the bigger world, she said, ‘My feeling is we need an Abraham Lincoln figure to get in there, and say — especially when it comes to public money — it has to be equal…[State funding] is where you can push really hard and say something’s wrong here, we want change.’

As far as I know, she did her homework with Anna Serner at the SFI and had a go, here and at Screen Australia, where also there’s a very weak policy, called #gendermatters. She must have met with astonishing institutional resistance but somehow, in New Zealand, here are the positive results of *more* than 50%, for this year at least.

1B Which means that Oz doesn’t invest much in women directors either?

She counts off some stitches and coughs.

1B Now look, kare, this is the last reminder: headings all the way.


Screen NSW and Screen Australia

ME Screen NSW in New South Wales has an excellent policy and I think some of the other states with taxpayer funds (Film Victoria, Screen Queensland, ScreenWestSouth Australian Film Corporation) have gender policies too. The Screen NSW policy is succinct and unambiguous–
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.
But, in contrast, Screen Australia, as the federal taxpayer fund, has many shortcomings. Like the NZFC it has no clear statement of a gender equity principle, for starters. Instead, it’s investing just $5m over three years in #gendermatters, in a variety of initiatives. For instance, the Brilliant Stories programme isn’t just for feature films, which are what interest me; its allocated $3m is spread among film, scripted television and scripted online and interactive projects, using a three tick test. This excludes some women writer/directors, like Amie Batalibasi who had a male protagonist; but on reflection I’m pleased that the programme focuses on women establishing authoritative voices and images in films about women and girls.

To put the $5m investment in perspective, Screen Australia’s total employee benefits for the single year ending June 2015 were $13.2m and senior management remuneration 2.2m. Its revenue from government was $90.2m that year. Multiply 90m x 3 years and #gendermatters receives 1.85% of the revenue over three years. Or, in the 2014–2105 year Screen Australia spent $67m on production, including development. Lots of ‘yes, buts’ possible in relation to using these figures as a reference point, but collectively they convey the flavour I think…

And Screen Australia really really abuses the language used in the best practices. ‘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’, said the CEO, using the best practice language of ‘target’ and ‘50%’.

No surprise: 1B gets it immediately.

1B Purl 1. You know every one of those so-called ‘female-led’ creative teams could be a male writer and a male director, with a female producer and female protagonist?

ME Yep. That ‘target’ may entrench and amplify male privilege as writers and directors of films, by extending it to their films about women and girls. Remember, economics are paramount at Screen Australia and the NZFC and remember that protagonists who are girls or women are becoming fashionable, because it’s now acknowledged that they make money. So all over the world, more men are ‘expanding’ into projects about women. From Bridesmaids, to Hunger Games, on to Room and Brooklyn and the latest Ghostbusters. The programme for the New Zealand International Film Festival’s just out and it’s full of stories about women directed by men.

1B’s onto the next bit, too and moves her work along the needle, gathering it together.

1B Decrease 1.

She looks over to me.

1B So the ‘target’ doesn’t identify what proportion of the production funding it refers to?

ME Nope. So because the policy doesn’t specify what proportion of the production funding is targeted to those creative teams by the end of 2018, progress towards the ‘target’ isn’t measurable. But.

1B You’re sure this isn’t a commitment to 50:50 funding?

ME Pretty sure. Another researcher had the same question. But Screen Australia doesn’t answer questions, at least when I ask them.

But. Those Aussie sheilas have gone for it with what’s available and that’s pretty special, just grabbed that opportunity and the $5m and shot forward. And in the funds just allocated none go to a ‘deficit-based’ programme I can see. That’s huge.

Not surprisingly, there was a huge number of applicants for the various programmes involved, for at least two possible reasons. Firstly the usual track record requirement, of a first professional credit, was waived. And, as Anna Serner says, when ‘women know that they have a fair chance to get money…that encourages them to apply’. And truly, it’s a delight to read a longish list of screen stories by and about women that have been funded for development. 

But even ‘more than (according to Screen Australia)’ $3m for Brilliant Stories can only go so far. For instance Brilliant Stories has invested in development of just 18 features with women protagonists (and they’re not saying how much they’re investing), among the scripted television and scripted online and interactive projects. Listed together this seems a lot, but last year Screen Australia invested $2.2m on feature development, in 73 allocations (some projects received more than one), by far the majority of the projects by and about men. And then there are all those previous years when women didn’t get a look in. So there’s heaps of catching up to do. And as women we get placated and grateful far too easily.

My guess is that women have contributed a huge amount in terms of time committed to the various initiatives, unpaid, because that’s what we do, beyond our own creative work, to make something happen.

It’s a delight to see that established filmmakers like Jane Campion, Jan Chapman are on board with some of the projects. Some of the associated programmes are also exciting, like Better Deals, a pilot program to enhance the distribution and marketing of Australian films with significant female content. And from the rest of the $5m there’s also Brilliant Careers, creating business and industry infrastructure around women with projects like the ADG’s Gender Careers programme, which will identify, introduce and place female directors into the feature film and television space. Run over two years with production and broadcast partners, it will provide 12 women directors with relevant credits to stimulate real directing opportunities, much like the 2 x More initiative in Canada, from Women in View and its allies.

Overall, because of the thoughtful use of the $5m, which looks as though it’ll all be spent in #gendermatters’ first year instead of spread over three years, this is a fine example of how women can make the most of a minimally funded beginners policy.

And Screen Australia has run a fantastic public relations exercise, so the public perception, globally, is that it has a 50:50 policy like Ireland or Screen NSW even though it hasn’t; it continues to under-commit to and under-invest in women while appearing to do heaps.

1B. Alors. I’m not surprised. How many indigenous women’s projects among those 18 features?

ME I think just one: Trisha Morton-Thomas, an Aboriginal woman of the Anmatyerr people, one of those actor/writer/director women who are making an impact in filmmaking, globally. The synopsis of her project is ‘An old female artist from a remote Aboriginal community runs away to France to fulfil a lifelong dream to see Claude Monet’s garden before her eyesight fails. Her community and family go into crisis and send out a search party to bring her back’. Pretty neat?

1B Whakatika tēnā! Kia ora kia ora Trisha! Superbe. What’s it called then?

ME Cloud Money.

1B That’s beautiful, e’a. I’ll watch that, for sure. And the other ‘others’?

ME One set in China, with a Chinese director; one about a young woman with Down Syndrome; one about two young women escaping ‘poverty-stricken suburbia’; a romcom that is a ‘postcolonial interracial love story’. A marginal one about a music teacher and a choir of children from Mumbai’s ‘harshest slum’. Nothing queer as far as I can see. Though there may be in the other projects; I haven’t looked at Brilliant Stories’-funded scripted television, scripted online and interactive projects.

1B OK. Back to the NZFC policy and that blinkin scholarship.

She coughs. Twice. I think up a heading.

NZFC Gender Policy

ME As I said, New Zealand’s policy is hardly a policy at all.

1B Wasn’t there some call for a women’s fund?

ME Yep! In August or September 2014. There was a single public meeting, organised by the DEGNZ and Women in Film & Television (WIFTNZ). People referred to He Ara, the NZFC’s Māori and Pasifika programme that funded development for Hunt for the Wilderpeople among others and to He Paepae Ataata, which the NZFC established earlier to develop Māori film projects. And, from the video someone shared with me, I got a sense that the meeting was set up to endorse the option of something similar for women. The question put to the audience to vote on was ‘Do we want ring-fenced funding for female writers, editors, directors?’, that is, a women’s film fund rather than a 50:50 gender split in investment. And, as WIFT’s newsletter put it, ‘The packed house expressed overwhelming support for positive discrimination by way of a targeted fund’.

1B But it didn’t happen?

ME Yes and no. There’s no single ‘targeted’ fund. But that scholarship and another initiative, DEGNZ’s Incubator, are targeted to women only.

Incubator’s for emerging women directors, five workshops designed to give ‘up to eight emerging female directors the opportunity to build their knowledge, skills and networks as a means to advance their careers and projects in the screen industry’. I love it that a cohort of eight women (1) get an opportunity to get to know and support and challenge one another in a workshop environment. Just spending time together will have unexpected benefits, I reckon. Critical mass is crucial. But when the NZFC’s CEO says ‘One of our goals within the NZFC’s gender policy is to encourage proposals from Guilds that support and enhance the upskilling of women in the industry’, I hear that upskilling and tears come into my eyes. Deficit thinking again.

Like Brilliant Stories, the Incubator isn’t only for feature filmmakers. Applicants had to have a project (feature film, documentary feature, telefeature, TV or web drama or scripted series) in development that had never been presented to a broadcaster or funder; and have experience as a director of narrative drama or documentary or scripted content in the form of the project they submitted. If the project was a feature film, it had to be a first feature film, so it’s great for all those women who’ve made successful short films, as most of the selected women have. As a programme it has similar aims to the ADG’s Gender Careers and it’s not unlike some provided by the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, though I wish there was an audience-building component, which is really necessary.

And, among soft objectives like ‘Create networking opportunities that directors can use to further themselves and their projects’ there are objectives that focus on getting the work made and making change in the system. Here’s the full list–
  • Educate writer/directors and directors to improve their understanding of the business of film and drama.
  • Increase the number of females directing features and TV drama by helping to get more female-centric stories into and through development.
  • Encourage producers, broadcasters and funders into closer connection with female directors.
  • Create networking opportunities that directors can use to further themselves and their projects.
  • Provide inspiration and role models to encourage women to passionately pursue feature film and drama directing careers.
  • Get those in positions of power to effect change to help women advance as feature film and drama directors.
It’s great to see the DEGNZ focusing on encouraging ‘producers, broadcasters and funders into closer connection with female directors’ and getting ‘those in positions of power to effect change to help women advance as feature film and drama directors’. But that’s really the NZFC’s job. And NZOA’s. They could do it tomorrow with a commitment to equal funding for women and men.

Let’s wait and see.

1B stabs her needles into her ball of wool.

1B I need a break, cherie. Might get rid of that dead snail near your bathroom ceiling.

ME No! Pleeeease don’t. I think it’s in some kind of almost-hibernation. But it moves.

1B So? I can move it faster. Straight into the rubbish bin. Let it rest there.

She sees my horror.

1B Or the garden.

ME No. No. No. I think it came up a drain pipe. Worked its way up to where the wall meets the ceiling, slid along above the washing machine and then above the door. I think it’s on its way to the window. I want to see how far it goes. I want to see whether it moves faster in spring.

1B If it’s making for the window, it’s taking a very long route. Anyway, I’m taking a break.

So we have a break. Watch Bowie in rehearsal in 1995, relaxed on his chair, singing.

Unwrapping his snack. Eating.

Appearing to feed some invisible onstage birds.

Enjoy Gail Ann Dorsey on her bass guitar, too. Decide to do the rest of the talking with the laptop, in my bed. 1B’s beanie is almost done.


The Story Continues

1B So, back in 2014, there was the DEGNZ and WIFTNZ meeting.

Slowly she counts off a row of stitches then looks at me.

1B I’m getting the hang of the acronyms e’a. What happens next?

ME At the beginning of 2015, Jane Campion said that she wanted to address gender inequality, as a member of the government’s Screen Advisory Committee, with other big shots like Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, James Cameron. This is what she said, at the press conference following their first meeting, which fortunately I recorded before the link died–
It’s kind of completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating that [only 9% of New Zealand feature films are directed by women]. But that’s not just New Zealand, it’s a worldwide issue. And my challenge to this group, the board, is “Let’s be the first. Let’s really say ‘This is enough’”.
1B Excellent. That kind of public commitment is gold. Did the boys and Fran Walsh support her?

ME Fran Walsh wasn’t shown at the press conference. And no, the boys didn’t. Not publicly, anyway. Though, way back in 2009, I remember Peter Jackson saying this
My only advice to anybody is that it’s about individuals. The strength of a film industry is based totally on the strength of the individuals, the creative individuals working within it, the writers especially, the directors and the producers and whatever can be done to talent hunt, to find those people and then train them and support them. 
We’re not talking about many people because in an environment where a lot of people want to be a filmmaker or think they can write a screenplay, not many people can, quite honestly, and it’s a case of finding those people and nurturing them. That’s what a healthy film industry is, it’s not really to do with infrastructure or anything else, it’s about finding talent and nurturing that talent.
Because he works with two women writers he must be aware that there are economic problems if you limit your search, training and support to a pool that excludes half the population. Because Fran Walsh is one of those writers she must know that, too. And I like to think that they also care about human rights.

1B Et puis?

ME No idea. But in April 2015, the NZFC announced that ‘The voices and perspectives of women are integral to telling the stories of our country — ’

1B And the rest of that — 

ME With no hint of working towards gender equity within its own funding allocation. Just an agreement to keep stats, but it’s not mandatory for those who apply for funding to supply diversity details, so the stats are incomplete. There’s a commitment to give women an equal share of the smallish investments made in professional development programmes — not script and project development, but activities which women already got a good share of, like workshops and trips to festivals and markets. And the scholarships: last year the JC (Jane Campion) scholarship for cinematographers and this year, the GP scholarship for directors, where I think that Alison Maclean is going to help Gaylene Preston with the decisions.

There’s also ‘Identifying and engaging with female film-makers…with a view to nurturing professional and creatively beneficial relationships with producers’; and ‘Encouraging proposals from guilds and industry organisations that support the professional development of women in the screen industry’, hence the Incubator.

1B Is Jane Campion happy?

ME Who knows? Not me. I bet she’s intrigued by what’s happened here, after neither Screen Australia nor the NZFC made a commitment to gender-equal allocation of taxpayer money.  Intrigued, curious and supportive of all is what I imagine, when she’s not entirely focused on Top of the Lake.

1B But she must be chuffed re that NZFC list of women-directed features allocated funding?

ME I imagine: her ‘Let’s be the first’ has maybe worked. In some mysterious way, without any formal systemic change. But she’s been silent for a while now, in public, anyway. And what could she say? Perhaps the majority of the Screen Advisory Board hasn’t encouraged change. And the NZFC board certainly hasn’t provided the necessary leadership for best practice, with a policy that allocates funding 50:50. Even though it’s headed by a woman lawyer who supposedly supports gender equality; I often wonder why she hasn’t led on this issue like the IFB/BSE’s Annie Doona.

1B Maybe she has and that’s why there are all these women’s features on funded for production?

I shrug.

ME Don’t know about that either. But if it’s true, why not do the right thing with a serious gender policy like the Irish one? Why keep any change under wraps and informal? Why the lack of transparency? In case 'the boys' don't like it?

1B Just testing, perhaps?

ME (grumpy) And the CEO at the NZFC isn’t an Anna Serner, so that doesn’t help.

1B Same. Give him some credit. For now, anyway.

ME (still grumpy) And until the Incubator, the industry guilds didn’t lead, as they did in Ireland and as the Directors Guild tried to — without success — with Screen Australia. Giving her name to that scholarship implies that Jane Campion’s accepted that the NZFC's dismal policy is as good as it gets, I guess; and – as with #gendermatters – it may be just a start, that first phase of Anna Serner’s. And I’m not surprised. There was no Abe Lincoln to support her. Not one veteran woman director or writer made a public statement in support of ‘it has to be equal’. There’s no photograph of her meeting with them and a joint statement.

1B (in terrier mode) Isn’t that irrelevant if the potential NZFC investment in narrative features this year is more than 50%?

I ignore her.

ME I suspect that Dame Jane’s campaign has been supported by people like Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and other filmmakers, women and men, but very quietly. But if that list of features gets into production and more than one doesn't do well at the box office, because there’s no formal gender policy, whoooosh, it’s straight back to the status quo, with all those golden boys who are good to go. It’s troubling that there’s no public pressure either, as there was in Ireland with the #wakingthefeminists campaign.

1B (abandoning the terrierness) How can there be public pressure if we’re not informed? If those directors had got together and spoken out, I’d have supported them. Could have charged up the loud hailer and brushed off the placards, marched even, had a hikoi something like Reclaim the Night, only Claim the Onscreen Story. With many others who must also care.

ME Ooo, that’d be amazing…

1B puts down her knitting.

1B To tell you the truth kare, I feel a bit whakamā, about all of this. I always check the author of a book, but I don’t often think about who writes or directs a film. Unless it’s a Māori film or Agnès Varda.

ME You and millions of others. Relax. And wait. There’s more.

1B Dis-moi. Kōrero mai.

Celebrating Chelsea Winstanley, Tautoko & Plain Speaking in Public

ME Very beautifully, Dame Jane’s original comment was supported by Chelsea Winstanley, late last year.

1B The woman who produced Merata Mita’s last film?

ME How d’you know that?

1B How d’you think? I was at a party.

ME So you know she also directs? That she’s married to Taika Waititi, who directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople?

1B No. But if she worked with Merata, she’s Merata’s little sister, so I’m interested in anything she says and does. Merata’d have trained her teina well.

ME So you’ll like this then. Late last year, at the Big Screen Symposium, the annual shindig for the film industry, Chelsea Winstanley said, as a panel member, ‘The NZFC should make a commitment to funding as many female filmmakers as male…We should all be challenging the NZFC to support gender equality in the film industry’. And the women with her on the panel were shoulder to shoulder with her in a photo I saw, though there was no report of them saying the same. And two male directors, Jonathan King and Jemaine Clement, also spoke up in support of 50:50 in NZFC investment.

1B Cool. That’s tautoko in action I’d say. If Chelsea was one of Merata’s trainees, she’d know that she had an obligation and responsibility to speak up. All those women knew they had to stand with her. Good on those guys, too.

ME And there’s even more. In a film called Hautoa Mā! (2015, directed by Libby Hakaraia and Tainui Stephens) about Māori filmmaking Chelsea says, in response to the reality that Merata’s Mauri (1988) is the only feature ever written and directed by a Māori woman, ‘What is the reason for that, what are the barriers, why is that? Is it because we don’t have the skill, the talent, well that’s bullshit because we do and there’s a lot of us out there.’ No hint of any deficit-based thinking there. No ambivalence or ambiguity.

1B Go Chelsea! Much better to get the issues out in the open. Why do you think the other women directors have been silent?

ME My guess is that there are two reasons. The first is that they believe that if they can do it, so can other exceptional women. The current exceptional woman is Jackie Van Beek, actor and mother of three, with Inland Road on the way, conditional production funding for The Breakerupperers and being mentored by Niki Caro. She won first prize at Women in Film International's Short-Case last year and she was also on that DEGNZ/WIFT panel.

The second reason is that they don’t want to place their relationships with the NZFC at risk by making public statements about its shortcomings. Or even public statements about gender equity in film. Even though it’s a human rights issue. Even though our Human Rights Commission has made some unequivocal statements like ‘Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue it’s a human issue and a human rights issue. We need to normalise gender equality so it becomes a reality for everyday New Zealanders’. So I imagine that they’ve been working behind the scenes.

That also accords with my experience long ago when I started my thesis, that only one woman, one of many who have since left the industry, was prepared to talk about the discrimination she faced. The others couldn’t and didn’t, even anonymously, because they so feared that gatekeepers would label them as ‘difficult’ and they would then lose opportunities. It happens everywhere. A while back, Stephen Follows identified three things we have to do to make a career as a director: get good at the craft; learn how the industry functions; get known and liked by the gatekeepers. But when I interviewed her the other day, Natalie Wreyford, who used to be a development executive at Film UK, said she’s coming to the conclusion that being good at the craft is of little consequence to getting work as a screenwriter (and by extension getting work as a director, or getting taxpayer funded) — she’s seen an awful lot of bad scripts being backed by producers, directors, financiers. But the other two essentials are crucial and although ‘there are exceptions who get through the system somehow, and therefore act as examples for others to follow…the reality is that the core business of the British industry shuts out an awful lot of people year after year’. No surprise that women have stayed silent for so long, on their way into the industry and then forever. The stakes are high.

1B picks up her knitting again.

1B Did someone complain to the Human Rights Commission?

ME Not as far as I know.

1B Were there Māori women on that panel in 2014?

ME No. As you know, we can never be certain about identity or heritage just by looking, especially in New Zealand, but I’m pretty certain none of the four women on the panel had Māori, Pasifika, Asian or Middle Eastern heritage, which is pretty shocking when you think of many amazing women like Zia Mandviwalla whose Night Shift was shown in the short film competition at Cannes and Ghazaleh Golbakhsh and Roseanne Liang. Miria George, who I think would make wonderful movies. And Sima Urale who headed the New Zealand Film School, (where there is now *not one* woman on the teaching staff). And thinking of all of them, I also think of Roseanne’s Flat3 webseries and then of Ness Simons’ Pot Luck, our first lesbian webseries, of Jessica Hansell and her Aroha Bridge; of The Candle Wasters Collective; and of Louise Hutt, who’s creating a webseries about women directors and who has written about being in the audience at the WIFT/ DEGNZ event. All these directors are our vitality and our future. It’s important to hear what they think and they’re more likely to speak up if more established filmmakers speak out and then invite their support and ideas.

But having no Māori women up there was especially disappointing. There are so many of them and I believe they’ve been short-changed by the structures, as writers and/or directors: Rachel House; Katie Wolfe; Riwia Brown; Chelsea Winstanley; Kath Akuhata Brown; Whetu Fala; Catherine Bisley, Libby Hakaraia; Ainsley Gardiner; Briar Grace-Smith who’s had lots of scripts produced on film and television. On and on I could go.

1B He tika tonu! So could I. Renae Maihi. Maraea Rakuraku. Absolument. Bien entendu. What’s the story?

Te Paepae Ataata & He Ara

ME I suspect the people who organised the meeting thought, O, Māori women have Te Paepae Ataata and He Ara, two funds that offered or offer ‘positive discrimination by way of a targeted fund’, the first for Māori and the second for Māori and Pasifika filmmakers, so this isn’t a Māori women’s issue. But of course it is. All round the world, where there are ‘diversity’ programmes like Te Paepae Ataata and He Ara, men benefit more than women. For instance, Maria Giese, the director who initiated the women directors’ legal action that’s moved from the American Civil Liberties Union to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asked the other day–
And what about women of color? They make up 19% of the U.S. population, yet direct just 2% of TV shows and less than 1% of studio feature films. It’s time we asked why the DGA-studio diversity agreements are serving minority men, who make up about 18% of the U.S. population and directed about 18% of TV episodes last year — but failing women utterly.
1B But isn’t it more of a Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi issue here? Not a general ‘diversity’ issue?

ME That’s how Te Paepae Ataata started, as a fund where full control and decision-making rested with Māori, developing Māori films that ‘reflect the indigenous cinema aspirations of this country’, giving voice to Māori experiences as tāngata whenua and as citizens of the world. I learned about that just this year, from Angela Moewaka Barnes’ PhD thesis, Ngā Kai Para i te Kahikātoa: Māori Filmmaking, Forging a Path (2011). Māori filmmakers took a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, led by Barry Barclay —

1B No surprise. His Mana Tuturu is the definitive statement on this take.

ME As I understand it, the claim, filed in 1998, was partly because the Film Commission Act doesn’t have any reference to the Treaty. The claim’s still on file but Barry and the others abandoned it when the NZFC funded Te Paepae Ataata, even though its funding was reduced from a proposed $5–6 million to $600k over a three year period, for feature film story and script development: $200k in each of the three financial years to June 30 2011. Barry Barclay died a few months after Te Paepae Ataata was established, in 2007. Merata Mita died in 2010, right in the middle of the three years. The NZFC allocated another 100k for a single project in the year ending 2012, then $5k and $6k each of the two following years and nothing in the 2015 year, when He Ara was established. He Ara’s a watered-down version of the Treaty-based Te Paepae Ataata and aims ‘at assisting established New Zealand writers, producers and directors of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage to express authentic Māori and Pasifika film perspectives’.

1B casts off with care.

1b You know, the-Polynesian-pâté–blend-us-all-together-because-we-are-brown approach to policy making really gets up my ihu. I object to my interests as Māori being subsumed into the ‘and/or Pasifika’ category. What this means is that as usual, tangata whenua end up with less because when the funding pie is being allocated Māori have to compete not only with Pakeha but with our Pacific whanaunga as well.

1B hunts for another ball of wool. Cuts a piece. Threads a needle to sew up the sides of the beanie.

1B However… From a legal rights perspective, you’re saying that it isn’t just the gender policy that’s unprincipled.

ME No. The primary purpose of He Ara is to support New Zealand filmmakers of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage to further create a diverse range of quality New Zealand films through–
  • increased development of culturally diverse, outstanding New Zealand projects and talent;
  • utilising Māori and/or Pasifika story models based on a traditional Māori and/or Pasifika knowledge base; and
  • Māori and/or Pasifika screen professionals forging stronger ties with the international marketplace.
And the primary driver is probably economic. I mean, look at New Zealand’s 'Top Twenty' films. Twelve are by or about Māori or Pasifika, that’s 60%. That’s way out of proportion to the population — 15% Māori and 7.4% Pasifika; and probably globally unique in a colonised country, or group of countries. Half are by and/or about Māori.

1B How many of those did Māori or Pasifika women direct?

ME None. Take a look.

Given that women direct only 9% of New Zealand features, they do well in that Top Twenty; they directed 15% of the the films in the list. This makes sense because women directors have to be remarkable to get through the system, as artists and as workers-of-the-system; our ‘average’ features don’t make it through the way men’s do. If they did, as they may do now, we’d probably have about the same proportion that didn’t grab the public imagination. And that’s just fine, so long as one failure doesn’t mean a director loses a second opportunity.

Women also wrote two of the ‘by or about’ Māori or Pasifika, those 12 films that make up 60% of the list: Riwia Brown, as the sole Māori woman among the writers and directors, wrote Once Were Warriors; and Niki Caro wrote and directed Whale Rider. And both films, as you know, have female protagonists. None of the others do, which in one way is quite good. I think male filmmakers should stay out of writing and directing films with female protagonists until diverse women have established their authoritative voices.

1B Barry Barclay’s story sovereignty theory extended to women?

ME Yep. It doesn’t of course mean that men can’t or don’t create compelling female characters, as we saw in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Which brings me to the next characteristic I noticed in the Top Twenty. I watched a Madeline Sami interview on New Zealand Onscreen where she referred to one of the Sione films as about ‘eggs, but loveable eggs’ and I wondered. And then I counted. There are at least nine that are definitely Cinema of Loveable Eggs: 45%, a hefty proportion. And look at its diversity, from loveable men and boy eggs in general, to vampires, to a cartoon farmer and his dog, to singing lesbian twins who make us laugh, to a yellow mini that’s so ‘iconic’ that a remake’s in the pipeline. It could even be 50%. I didn’t see The World’s Fastest Indian but Burt Munro seems to have been a loveable egg.

1B Or more?

Her bad joke about loveable eggs and Once Were Warriors is unrepeatable. But it amuses us and leads to more. We’re up for any small distraction. Until–

1B Kāti!!! Enough already. Return to topic, starting now.

I sigh.

1B E kare, keep going. We can do it.

I gather my thoughts.

1B Ready e’a? Kōrero mai, what’s happening with He Ara now?

ME In its first year the NZFC divided $200k between five production companies, including South Pacific Pictures — they aren’t all Māori and Pasifika producers. This year, it’s been less.

As far as I know, the only women-written and -directed project to get as far as conditional production funding after development within Te Paepae Ataata or He Ara, is The Breakerupperers. Looking like a Loveable Eggs project, no surprises. I’m looking forward to it; and to the feature from Aroha Bridge’s Jessica Hansell, her ‘sci fi comedy script about urban Māori and mental health’ as she’s described it.

1B But women’s projects were developed as part of Te Paepae Ataata?

ME Yep. But they didn’t make it through to production. And more women’s projects are part of He Ara, obviously, but it’s hard to tell if they’re anything like half, because the money’s devolved to production companies who do what they like. No sign of gender imperatives alongside the ‘Māori and/or Pasifika heritage’, though arguably ‘culturally diverse’ means that.


1B Weird. And not weird.

Silence again.

1B But television’s different, right?

I slap in a heading.

New Zealand On Air (NZOA)

ME Nope. New Zealand on Air recently released a diversity report, to provide ‘reliable data’ and ‘promote increased awareness of gender and ethnicity issues in the production industry’. You know about NZOA? Like the NZFC, it was established by Parliament, but to fund local television. It covers lots more than television drama, the only bit I’m interested in, because that drama includes feature films that the NZFC also funds.

1B’s looking bleak. But she nods, finishes her row. I wait.

1B Doesn’t the Broadcasting Act require NZOA to ensure that a range of broadcasts is available to provide for the interests of women?

ME Yep. As well as children, youth, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. But not necessarily written and directed (or produced) by members of the group that the broadcasts are for. And NZOA can only fund work that are commissioned by broadcasters, like Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Maori Television, both also taxpayer-funded. There’s significant criticism of the commissioners, for other reasons. This is from an article by Duncan Greive, called ‘The real problem with New Zealand TV drama’, about the funding of the series Filthy Rich
[People working in television are] saying the larger share of the blame for another expensive, clichéd and pointless drama lies with the commissioners. Not NZ on Air — which only really has a veto power (one they recently exercised on TV3’s proposed soap Trinity Point). Nor even with the writers, who can only make the shows the networks agree to screen. 
Instead it’s the commissioners at TVNZ and, to a lesser extent, TV3 and Prime: a vanishingly small group, numbering between five and ten people, who have exercised enormous influence over hundreds of millions of dollars of public money over the past couple of decades. 
The troublesome part is that they are approaching those commissioning meetings with a very specific vision of their audience in mind. In so doing, their intention becomes less about creating something great, than creating something which can be sold to advertisers, and not alienate their audience. 
This is all well and good — I have no issue with any business trying to make money for its shareholders. But if the shows value that purpose above any creative or cultural goal — as seems to be manifestly the case — then it begs the question: what are we doing this for?
One of his sources explains how the process works; the description accords with what I’ve heard from others–

I remember going in to TVNZ, say, to pitch two or three really innovative series ideas to whomever held the commissioning power at the time (mostly they’re ex-producers/writers/actors who have found being a freelancer too tough and want a sinecure). 
Within five minutes or less, you’d know those ideas were dead in the water. Because you had a business to run, family to feed, mortgage to pay, etc, you’d have to take advantage of that audience with the Pope. So you’d ask ‘So what did you have in mind?’ 
The commissioner would describe, say, a size nine brown shoe, and because you had a business to run, you’d say, of course, ‘What a coincidence! Guess what we’ve got in development — a size 9 brown shoe!’ 
A friend used to say, ‘The only thing worse than not getting a series is getting a series.’
I didn’t understand what he meant until I was myself walking out of a network building, knowing that the next two years of my writing life would be devoted to trying to make a size nine brown shoe fly. 
But, it’s important to note, I was grateful too. Another two years of not working in the fish factory or, more likely, discovering that I had absolutely no marketable skills (apart from telling lies for a living).
It seems that the commissioners’ powers are unrestrained and that’s not likely to change. I had a look at TVNZ’s Annual Report for 2015 and saw that five out of eight of its board members are women. But its executive is almost 80% men, so the day-to-day stuff will naturally be male-oriented. TVNZ has adopted the guidelines of the Human Rights Commission in monitoring its engagement with employees but does not appear to monitor its commissioners’ choices in relation to gender or the Treaty. So, in contrast to the Top Twenty cinema features, there are a reasonable number of TVNZ telefilms about women, funded by NZOA, but men usually direct and often write them. I imagine this is because because the commissioners, as well as some women writers, prefer male directors.

We sigh over this for a bit.

1B Moving right along…

ME New heading.

The NZOA Diversity Report

That new NZOA report states that across genres, women produce 55% of programmes, research/write 38%, direct 33%. ‘Māori television directors are relatively well represented at 13% (just under the census figure) and television directors identifying as Pacific peoples at 12% exceed the national population figure of 7.4%’.

There’s quite a lot of data not recorded in the report. NZOA says this about it–

When we break down this first year of data by genre we start dealing with quite small data sets. We chose to highlight the gender of directors of select genres in the 2016 Report because the size of the data sets were reasonable and the results were especially noteworthy. Once we have next year’s data we’ll do year-on-year comparisons between each personnel category in different genre and report any significant trends that are beginning to emerge.

But take a look at the figures for drama, which of course includes those movies co-funded with the NZFC.

The details about the drama producers and writers aren’t there in the report. But I asked for them. Take a look.

1B So: 68% of women producers, 44% of women writers, 11% women directors. That’s severe.

She finishes sewing the seam and breaks the wool with her teeth. Grimly. Bites her lip.

ME And the report says– ‘While our funded television content, for example, comprises less than 15% of total output, we do not expect the trends in commercially-funded content to be different’.

1B Put me out of my misery, e’a. In that 11% of directors who are women, are any of them Māori?

ME No. NZOA said that ‘Reporting ethnicity stats by gender could start to identify individuals, which we want to avoid as much as possible. But we can tell you that of the female drama directors included in this 2016 Report, 0% identified as Māori’.

More silence.

1B You know, kare, I’m thinking of all those versatile Māori women playwrights, theatre directors and actors.

Her voice cracks.

1B All those wāhine who’ve written and directed short films.

She wipes her eyes.

1B Merata.

She sniffs. Leans into me for a time.

Comes up for air.

1B Let me have my tangi. I need to think. You go down the hill and get some dates for our scones. And some milk.


So we stopped. I ran down to the supermarché. Came home to find the kitchen spotless, 1B mopping the last bit of the floor.

ME 1B! What are you doing? I should never have left you.

1B Couldn’t resist that your Browns SupaBucket, Kare. That mop — sooo gets me going.

She giggles. I was glad I’d got something right.

ME I love those big stringy mops. It’s a joy, pulling them through the rollers on the bucket. So quick.

1B took out her phone.

1B And I found this. You read while I empty the bucket and visit the snail.

So I did: a reprint of Linda Nochlin’s ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’.

I take one look and shout.

ME It’s old! 1971!!! And it’s long!

1B rockets back in. I hold out the phone.

ME Just show me the best bits.

She seizes the phone, scrolls.

1B Didum…Didaaaa, te mea te mea te mea… Aaah. Here we go–

[T]hus the question of women’s equality — in art as in any other realm — devolves not upon the relative benevolence or ill-will of individual men, nor the self-confidence or abjectness of individual women, but rather on the very nature of our institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are part of them.

She scrolls again.

1B And then at the very end…

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation…[U]sing as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought — and true greatness — are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

Let’s just think about this while we relax.

So 1B cooks, laughing at my vintage gas oven with-no-regulator. Her first go at gluten-free scones. We eat them. They’re Not Bad. She tells me off about my disordered garden, gives a brief demo of how she’d prune an old apple tree. And we argue about it. Neither of us wants to return to the film discussion.

But we do.


NZOA (continued)

1B So Jane Campion and Chelsea Winstanley have revealed Aotearoa’s institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, but they can’t, on their own, create ‘institutions in which clear thought — and true greatness — are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown’. Tell me a bit more about NZOA. Is it planning changes?

ME No. In the press release about the diversity report the CEO said–
While we encourage the industry to take the lead in helping redress the gender and ethnicity imbalances, we will also be considering what levers we have as a funding agency. From a story-telling perspective it’s important that TV and digital media production personnel are more reflective of the general population make-up.
Wow, I thought and asked a couple of questions about levers. Might that mean that NZOA limit its annual investment in NZFC feature projects to an equal number of women-written and -directed and men-written and -directed features? Would it work with Treasury to tag its funding by gender and/or ethnicity where there are imbalances?

I got a rapid response. And I appreciated that: often institutions don’t respond at all and — wimp that I am — 

1B Not my experience — 

ME — after someone at the NZFC asked me not to make any more Official Information Act requests, I stopped.

This was the response–
What (the CEO) is referring to is the possibility of selective targeting of our Industry Development Fund to professional development initiatives that might address imbalances identified by the research. She is not in any way suggesting we would select content to fund based on any of this information. Our intention at this stage is to keep monitoring and analysing the data, engage in conversation with the industry, and as indicated consider how we might use the small amount of funding we have for professional development to encourage diversity.
So NZOA’s following the NZFC’s lead by investing in that cheap ‘professional development’ deficit-based option.

1B Why isn’t she more responsive?

ME My guess is that the short-sighted ‘economic’ goals that permeate the NZFC permeate NZOA as well. Goals that forget the potential value of welcoming the gifts of women and all the ‘others’ who are excluded. And realistically, although NZOA could easily make a stand for the NZFC feature projects, it would be more difficult in television with the commissioners and broadcasters and production companies all involved.

1B And what ************** are all those women producers doing?

ME It’s so tempting to load the responsibility onto the sisterhood — 

1B rolls her eyes. Together we sigh.

1B Well, they do have responsibilities. And obligations.

She takes a breath. So do I.

ME But — 

1B (singing) — it’s not their fault.

ME (in harmony) It’s not our fault.

Both of us (in perfect harmony) It’s not their fault. It’s not their fault. It’s not our faaaaault.

Another long silence.

ME There’s more.

1B starts another song and we sing for a while. Even dance a little. (Now she’s finished that beanie she needs to move.) Her favorites. My favorites. Until the phone rings. I ignore it. But not 1B. She pauses mid-phrase, strides across the room.

ME I’m not here.

1B swoops on the phone, lifts the handset.

1B Kia ora! Institute of Bee-Loved Flowers, disgruntled Queen B à l’appareil… Darling! Yes, it absolutely is me! What can I do for you?…

I leave the room. Go to the kitchen. Comfort, I decide. But no chocolate, no ice cream.

I stop listening, rattle cups and saucers, get out the Selles-sur-Cher cheese, my just-made quince paste and some Little Bird crackers. What else might 1B enjoy? A fruit bowl? Tune back into the phone call.

1B (at a distance) She can have posh fizzy water in a glass bottle.

Very very tired, I finish the prep and take everything back in on a tray.

1B That was Darling. Writing buddy 1F. She’s bringing foot massages, dinner and a ride to The Great Maiden’s Blush.

ME I’ve seen it.

1B You’ll see different things with us there. If not, just enjoy the garden scenes. Let’s wind this up and have some fun.

ME With Perrier water for moi, champagne for you two?

1B Gin and tonic for one. Whisky on the rocks for the other.

We sit on the porch and snack, side by side in our cane chairs, for what feels like the millionth time over many years. 1B compliments me on the quince paste. Artisan, I say, meant to be a bit rough. Awesome, she says. Great texture. Way better than your artisanal hummus.

And then the sun goes and we get back into it.


1B cuts cardboard for a pompom.

1B Wrap up this telly bit. What else, cherie?

Moving through NZOA & galvanised by more plain speaking

ME We have to acknowledge that NZOA has funded some great women’s webseries: the third series of Flat3’s Flat3 and their new Friday Night Bites; The Candle Wasters’ Bright Summer Nights; Jessica Hansell’s Aroha Bridge with Piki Films. Applicants for webseries funding don’t have to go through the commissioning process, which is great but they do have to be pretty on to it in other ways. And I love the new NZOA partnership with Google / YouTube, Skip Ahead .

1B Where are Māori broadcasters in all this?

ME I don’t know much about Māori broadcasting. You know about Te Māngai Paho, the parallel organisation to NZOA. It ‘promotes Māori language and culture through the provision of funding for Māori initiatives in music, radio, television and new media’. I don’t think it has any gender policy or a gender-oriented report available, though it funded a new Maori Television series called This is Piki, about a young woman, written by Briar Grace-Smith and directed by Kiel McNaughton. But I can refer you on to a couple of good general articles I read recently. One by Mihingarangi Forbes, called 'Navigating the Waters of Maori Broadcasting' and Tui Ruwhiu’s 'What Are You Worth?' for the DEGNZ, partly about Māori Television’s call for two scripted drama series ‘to be made at a maximum of $45k per episode — that’s $45k per half hour, or $90k per hour — approximately 18 percent of the per hour cost of NZOA funded TV drama’. From that, just imagine more?

1B nods. Easy.

ME After the NZOA report was released, Media Take had a session about it, with a group that included Libby Hakaraia from Hautoa Mā!, television and film maker and co-founder of the Māoriland Film Festival with Tainui Stephens (who also worked on that Treaty claim, I understand).

Libby and playwright Victor Rodger agreed that diversity onscreen — on the Shortland Street soap, say — isn’t reflected behind the scenes. There’s only one Māori script editor available, for instance. Like Chelsea Winstanley, Libby Hakaraia is adamant that talent is not the issue. But there’s no functional bridge between the talent and broadcasters, she states. In response to a question about current conditions she describes them–
I’ve seen many more very competent women jump, get out of the industry because really it’s not the glamour industry people think it is. And…you’re constantly taking something to a broadcaster and getting knocked back by people [those commissioners] who you realise don’t know anything about what you’re talking about, I mean the fundamentals of the story you’re pitching. There are people in those roles and they’re not all gatekeepers and they’re not all bad people but what they then have to do is go through the chain and convince the schedulers, programmers, all this sort of thing […whose positions are not included in the NZOA report in terms of diversity…] Then it comes down to the responses that you then get, the narrowing of the funnel [….and…] through that process your idea gets diminished, the funding gets diminished and I think for Māori and for women and for Pasifika that happens on a much more regular basis. And you lose the fight. You lose the energy. And then, when your programme fits in the ‘special interest’ category and then is scheduled not in the mainstream that you want to appeal to…Interviewer: Does the problem come back to a lack of public broadcasting? Libby: No. I think it’s a lack of will to share the story and share the diverse stories that we have in this country.
1B He mamae tonu.

She drops her pompom in her lap and we sit in silence again. She reaches for a knitting needle and considers the point.

ME It’s all about conditions, isn’t it? After I watched and listened to Libby — who’s talking about the full sweep of NZOA categories I think, not just drama — I wondered about the conditions at the NZFC, for those women’s projects from Te Paepae Ataata. Are women’s feature scripts also being assessed by people who ‘don’t know anything about what you’re talking about, I mean the fundamentals of the story you’re pitching’? Was there then, is there now, someone within the NZFC to advocate for scripts that weren’t or aren’t from the Cinema of Loveable Eggs? That are fundamentally ‘different’? Did those women from Te Paepae Ataata get appropriate responses when their scripts reached the NZFC? Do women get appropriate responses now?

1B But a story’s a story, isn’t it? Whoever writes it?

She goes back to her pompom.

ME Don’t wind me up. You know there’s more to it than that, just from what Libby says. Just from what you write yourself, out of your world, here and in France. But not everyone agrees of course. In Ireland a group of women screenwriters argued about whether or not they wrote ‘differently’: half said they wrote like men, the other half said they did not.

1B You’re off into lecture mode. But you go for it, kare. I’m gonna check on Darling’s ETA.

She puts down her pompom, picks up her phone.

ME As Libby says, there are ideas within stories. And there are always people who don’t get those ideas and who aren’t interested in them because they’re unfamiliar. All the time I hear stories of women whose scripts get ‘funnelled’, of ideas that get ‘diminished’. It’s not always intentional. This is how Sonia Boileau — Le Dep (Mohawk) — describes it for the Māoriland Film Festival — 
It was a struggle, even when I was writing, because my screenplay consultant and my producer, Jason (Brennan), they’re both men, and without realizing it, when we were talking about story and plot and characters, they get twisting it into the guy’s point of view…I had to fight to make sure it stayed her story. They weren’t doing it on purpose.
And, of course, it’s not always possible to win that kind of fight. The other day I heard of an example where a (male) producer insisted on a different ending. And when I asked about the original ending, it felt so much better, subtler, smarter. It made perfect sense and was very authentically ‘female’. Which is sometimes possible?

1B’s busy tapping in a message. But she looks up.

1B Ae, I’d go with that. Because we live under conditions that are different than those that affect men, wherever we are on the gender spectrum.

ME And in half-a-dozen women’s scripts over the last two years I sometimes had to work hard not to funnel them myself. It’s not enough to be able to recognise whether women writers’ structures ‘work’, whether the dialogue ‘works’, and the characters and their actions are interesting. Not enough to notice successful elements that reference the theories in Story or The Writer's Journey or even Save the Cat. I’m not alone in believing this. The other day, Spanish director Isabel Cioxet had this to say
Women need voices to tell their stories in a fresh, new way, away from clichés and prototypes because with this new vision, and only from it, the world can become a warmer, more just place.
And she’s a whole lot sterner than I am about why this is difficult.

Waiting for Darling’s response, 1B comes to attention for a moment.

1B No-one’s sterner than you.

I ignore her.

ME She emphasises the role of producers and their expectations and desires. But she also focuses on scripts. This is what she says about scriptwriting–
Contemporary cinematographic literature is the result of progressive infantilism of content and the narrowing of perspective…writers are educated in schools that reduce the writing process to a bunch of rules and parameters. They deliberately ignore the analysis and the study of film writers who made cinema an extraordinarily complex art and a sophisticated approach to reality. Students are instructed in formulaic writing methods. They are encouraged to use prototypes that will only generate more prototypes. They are pounded with tricks to enter into the industry. They are not encouraged to think about how to be better writers.
I think it’s very hard for women who want to seek a new vision if we’re bombarded with the rules and parameters from the methods Isabel Cioxet refers to, which I imagine are derived from the books and script ‘gurus’ I mentioned. Script assessors and gatekeepers love those methods, too, (though I suspect they make exceptions sometimes, for golden boys). We know we’re up against stereotypes. And need to pay attention to the reality that we’re also up against prototypes. At least sometimes.

It was hard work to burrow into the writers’ intentions in those scripts I read, into what Jane Campion might call their ‘inquiry’ and you might call their kaupapa. In most of the scripts the writers’ careful use of the expected parameters meant they buried their inquiries. And often they couldn’t articulate their inquiry, perhaps because we’re expected to use the established prototypes; and the language we need isn’t readily available. The reference points we need often aren’t readily available either. For instance, we don’t have access to a vibrant and diverse heritage of local women’s features with a rich source of archetypes. How could we, with that only 9% figure? And who can say to an understanding assessor/ gatekeeper ‘think a New Zealand La Fiancée du Pirate?’, when the global distribution of women’s films is so crappy that all New Zealanders miss out on lots of international women’s films? And the assessor/ gatekeeper anyway isn’t much interested?

That burrowing was sometimes a lot harder than I expected. But very rewarding because these women were working on new visions. And there was one woman who did articulate her idea, a brilliant inquiry into a common aspect of women’s relationships, using a compelling story that was pure entertainment. And because she was so clear it was utterly straightforward to analyse the impact of each line of dialogue and action, each sequence and each scene, by measuring if and how it advanced the idea, either in the text or the subtext.

1B Darling’s reached Moore Wilsons. How much more?

ME Darling’s always later than she says. Especially via Moore Wilsons. Is she bringing ice cream?

1B This is taking longer than it should. What else is there?

ME Just need to connect the film-specific structural problems to the general structural problems–

1B Kia tere–

ME And run through some good things.

1B Yep. On y va. But when Darling gets here, I’m gone.

ME OK OK, moving as fast as I can.

1B No whining. Another heading.

The Other Funnels

ME I think we have to pay more attention to the larger context that affects us, that funnels us, right from the get go, long before we’re stuck for appropriate reference points, long before we reach any ill-informed assessment. Quite separately from the industry funnels, there are the cultural ones women filmmakers have to pass through, depending on who we are. For starters, we don’t have Sweden’s all-pervasive gender policies. I love this, from the legendary Alanis Obomsawin, again via the Māoriland Film Festival–
Before I started on this, I had so much trouble because I was Indian, so I thought all my problems were for that reason. I didn’t realize it was also a problem to be a woman, I didn’t realize it also a problem to be a single woman; I didn’t realize it was another problem because I had adopted a child, so I fitted all the things. Eventually I realized that the problems became even more noticeable…But you know the main thing is that I was so sure about what I was doing. And you are constantly involved with laws that exist that are oppressive — with anything that you do. So you have to know that it is a dangerous place and that it is very much heart breaking many times. But if the feeling of what you want to do is real, it’s so strong that all the rest cannot match this, so you continue on working no matter what.
1B Doesn’t this just take us back to Do It?

ME No, it takes us back to working for change within the structures that the taxpayer funds that make it more difficult for women to establish an authoritative voice in their screen storytelling. The NZFC, NZOA, the networks, are dangerous places, ‘very much heart breaking’. And because they’re funded by the taxpayers, they have obligations under the Human Rights Act.

But we have to acknowledge that the dangers that haunt us in the economic and social realities outside those institutions. There are the health risks associated with working long hours, risks that affect women more than men. There’s our often-limited ability to earn money to subsidise the realisation of our features. Not many of us can do that through work as a commercials director, for instance. Few of us are subsidised by a partner. And across the board we have less earning power than men. If we’re not Pākehā, our earning power is even less. Take a look at this.

From Statistics NZ’s Income Survey 2014, via Campaign for Equal Value Equal Pay

1B comes over, peers at the screen.

1B Aue! I knew. But not the detail.

ME That economic reality affects our participation even in 48 Hours, where women’s participation as directors is notoriously low. Louise Hutt, the woman who’s creating a webseries about New Zealand women filmmakers, described the role of economics in her participation in short film competitions just the other day. Plain speaking rules again, about the economic factor and other gender-based issues.
I entered Tropfest because, plain and simply, I could afford it. Unfortunately, being on the shit end of the gender wage gap, and a student, means that I’ve never had $200 spare to throw at 48 Hours, let alone a whole weekend that I could get off from my part time jobs, that’s if I still had a job after asking for an entire weekend off (thanks zero hour contracts and 90 day trial periods). 
Then it comes to actually assembling a team — in both my classes and the short film sets I helped out on, there was so much time wasted on hyper-masculine bullshit (including sexual harassment), and a severe lack of other female students to collaborate with, I often ended up working by myself — indeed, I was the director, producer, writer, and editor for Hire-A-Mum, my Tropfest 2015 finalist film, as well as in charge of lighting, camera and sound set up, and acting in it too. 
However, I had months in order to make drafts and revise, and reshoot when I’d forgotten to turn the sound recorder on (an unfortunately thing that did happen)… I’d like to see more film festivals and competitions which allow you to work around other responsibilities, such as part time jobs, study or children. 48 Hours has been a great platform for many film makers who are now killing it both locally and overseas, but it can’t be our only place for finding fresh talent when we live in a world that doesn’t give everyone the same opportunities.
For me, one of the most encouraging recent signs of change is that South Pacific Pictures appears to have responded to this. Last week, WIFTNZ sent out an email to its members saying that South Pacific Pictures had offered to pay the 48Hours entry fee for the first four all-women teams with a WIFT member to contact the WIFT office. That seems to show that at least one big organisation has got it. And it’s not surprising that it’s South Pacific Pictures, which made both the Sione features and Whale Rider.

But place Louise’s realities alongside caring responsibilities for the old and young and the tendency of men in teams to grab the director role and presto! we obviously need something else, as Louise suggests. And I’m coming to what the something else could look like.

1B It’s more than motherhood and other caring responsibilities?

ME For sure. In Hautoa Mā! Chelsea Winstanley talks about women finding themselves in spaces where we awhi men. That’s a whole lot more than looking after children, as the preponderance of male directors in 48 Hours illustrates. In the academic community we often awhi men too: back to the reality that our national film school has no women teachers.

1B But the caring responsibilities matter too?

She clips open her pompom, shapes it, fluffs it a bit, reaches for a needle to sew it on the beanie.

ME Yes. The conversation about women’s participation in filmmaking often comes back to motherhood and more often now, elder care. It’s established that women spend a greater proportion of their time on unpaid and caring work than men. If you’re a filmmaker and a mother, especially of young children, it’s hugely difficult to manage both. After observing and listening for a while I’m sure that those who manage it tend to do so because they have access to more resources than other women, especially support from family and friends, including economic support. Raising Films  and Moms in Film  are the go-to places for discussion, advocacy and challenge about this issue. The richest stories-for-publication I’ve heard about a New Zealander’s motherhood experience came from Simone Horrocks when I interviewed her a few years ago (Simone also presented a wonderfully clear-eyed view of gender). And the best local summation of the issues I know of is this one, from an anonymous screenwriter–

I run the lives of myself and the children, whereas [my partner], who is in the same business as me but not a writer, essentially runs one life — his own. 
He does domestic work when he’s home, but if he’s working he’s not home and he doesn’t think how it’s all going to run — how it will all be possible. He knows I will run it and he doesn’t think about how. When I am working, I have to delegate childcare and transport and meals and all the rest of it to someone else, actually figure out who is going to do it, organise that person and most times pay them. The brain-space and energy that this takes is something I think most men have no awareness of. Women accept that they are the bottom line for their children because it’s the bedrock truth — we want them to be happy and secure and well-cared-for and so we do the work, and men see us doing it and they think — sweet! That’s taken care of, I can just get on with what I do. And that would make life a whole lot simpler, to have someone else taking care of it. 
But I, along with every other working mother I know, would much rather have this double workload than be without my children. And because insisting that the load be equally shared just feels like the road to a lot of arguing and resentment and an unhappy home, a bad atmosphere. Fifty years of feminism hasn’t chipped away at this one all that much! But I’d still rather be a woman today than at any other time in history, with the choices I have and the ability to make my own living and have children…I don’t see men being privileged in my working life but I do see them being enormously privileged in their domestic lives! And I think women allow them to be privileged because we love our children.
And when we care for our elderly parents and the wider whānau, we also allow our brothers and male partners to be privileged. Because even in the 21st century many women prioritise love in a different way than men do. My guess is that this is why women as writers are more strongly represented in the NZOA stats. Think of yourself writing away in your little ex-bakery shed. All you need is your presence, something to write with or on, and brief bursts of time around other things or even with other things if you’re breast feeding or sitting with someone who’s ill, for instance. But directing a film is so different. So many other people to build and maintain relationships with. So much money and other resources to manage. So many hours in production and post-production and then promotion. It’s a marathon.

1B Like this is. Darling’s left Moore Wilsons, e’a. She’s ten minutes away. Let’s hear it for the Bright and Beautiful.

She holds up the completed beanie. The pompom bobbles.

Nice, I say. And it is. Bouge-toi, she says.


The Bright and Beautiful

ME The most bright and beautiful thing is that we have local models of inclusivity that work really well, if only the institutional structure followed their examples. At that public meeting back in 2014 there was some discussion of how few women direct projects in the 48 Hours competition and women were urged to take part, again with a women-blaming subtext. But no mention of programmes where participants are truly diverse and women achieve well. Nor discussion of the elements of these programmes’ institutional cultures that ensure this happens. For young people, there’s Inspiring Stories’ Making a Difference (entries now open for 2016!) and The Outlook For Someday (entries also open for 2016!) And last year there was K’ Road Stories, short films funded by NZOA. The problems re women’s participation, whatever they are, rest within the 48 Hours’ culture and structure, not with women. And the provision of awards for women directors or writers will never change that.

1B Or even having the entry fee paid?

I nod.

ME My experience of the Māoriland Film Festival, in Otaki, back in April, was a larger expression of the Bright and Beautiful. I could only go for a day. But it was such a glorious experience, six or seven films directed or co-directed by women–

1B Six or seven sessions in a row? That’s not like you — 

ME It was worth it. I saw Hautoa Mā! and lots more that I’d never have otherwise seen. I struggled a bit at first with the technical quality of one film and with making sense of another from a context which was utterly strange to me, but once I abandoned my expectations and relaxed the experience was so rewarding. And it was beautiful to see the short films made in their Native Slam. Based at the festival, five teams of indigenous filmmakers from all over the world had 72 hours to make a short film that ‘heals’.

1B Great kaupapa.

She tidies up her knitting gear.

ME Exactly. And there were about equal numbers of women and men as participants. It was so far from 48 Hours, in many ways. As are Inspiring Stories and The Outlook For Someday. I agree with Louis Hutt that it’s time for an alternative to 48Hours. I’d love an alternative with a culture that’s more attuned to more women’s realities and aspirations, including a structure that’s somewhere between the 72 hours for Native Slam and the months allowed for Tropfest entries.

Beyond the films themselves at Māoriland, it was amazing to be at a film event where, according to Libby Hakaraia, ‘Our driving tikanga is to look after those who come to our festival. This is called manaakitanga’.

1B Flick me the link?

I do that.

ME It made the experience so easy, quite different from the intensity of somewhere like the New Zealand Film Festival and its detachment from the rest of the world. There was this balance. Children and young people. Old people. Everyone in between. Comfortable onsite places to sit and eat, to buy something to eat. Great bathrooms, more spacious than the ones we know and love at the Cuba Lighthouse. A warm response to children on a hikoi to Parliament, with the Choose Clean Water campaign: the festival programme very matter-of-factly came to a halt so we could welcome them, acknowledge their hard work for all of us, and see them on their way.

And I remembered what Hinemoana Baker wrote about manaakitanga on Facebook, around the same time as the festival, during the migrant and refugee crisis and before the housing crisis, when we’ve had the Te Puea Memorial Marae and the Huria Marae demonstrating its practice–
Sometimes I’m struck by how differently the so-called ‘migrant and refugee crisis’ would be seen and reported if tikanga Māori was the norm. Perhaps then the focus would be on the performance and offering of manaakitanga and hospitality rather than the so-called ‘threat’, flood’. Accommodating manuhiri would be a given not a question, and energy would be around speed, efficiency, acquitting ourselves with pride. All that energy would go into solutions and expansion rather than suspicion and shutting down.
1B So your point is?

ME That in any search for ‘institutions in which clear thought — and true greatness — are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown’ it might be very helpful to listen to and learn from tikanga Māori. Because it works.

1B D’accord. Exactly. You could even practise manaakitanga here at home, when greeting unexpected guests, let’s say?

I’m pricked with shame. No, suffused. For a moment.

ME Oh.

1B Feel free to titiro, whakarongo, mōhio — watch, listen and learn. Any time, kare, any time.

She jumps up, phone in hand, and gives me a little hug.

1B If Māori and Pasifika stories bring in the bucks, let’s embrace the framework that sustains them. Listen to this, again from Libby Hakaraia
On Monday, our small support crew along with Taika’s sister Tweedie, his wife Chelsea and various of our tamariki gathered at the massive Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast. As Taika was about to direct the Hollywood blockbuster THOR, he wanted to start the shoot with appropriate ceremonies of welcome from the local Aboriginal Yugambeh people — and a response from we Māori. Many of the crew and cast including ‘Thor’ and ‘Hulk’ were really moved by the blessing. 
If tikanga rules on multi-million dollar THOR, why not at home, too?

And the photo’s awesome. The locals at the centre. Children up front. Taika with a child, not a child-as-accessory, but a child he parents, symbolising children-at-the-heart of it all.

photo: Maoriland Film Festival

ME And Chelsea Winstanley on one end and Libby Hakaraia on the other. Holding it together?

1B Yep, there they are awhi-ing. But collectively they’re all demonstrating so much more. This is the tikanga. This is what filmmaking can look like, wherever it happens, whoever practises it. Men and women working for the tamariki. For the kids. For those to come.

She’s on a roll.

1B Like most things we do. Like this little pōtae even.

She twirls her completed beanie again.

Hmmmm, I say, eyes back on the screen, changing ‘teh’ to ‘the’, yet again.

She waves the beanie between me and the screen to get my attention, points towards the window. And there’s Darling, curls bouncing, box in her arms, back pack hooked around her shoulder.

Après toi, says 1B, with an expansive gesture towards the door.


Darling’s keen to join the discussion. No, says 1B. M’s gonna wrap it up now. I’m gonna demonstrate that ancient taniwha of an oven. Allez!

They go for it. And I go for it, starting with a final heading. Their voices and their laughter fade.

Towards A Beautiful Future?

With my own immediate beautiful future in mind: a foot massage, a fine dinner, a night out with two of my favourite mates, it’s not hard to focus.


It’s time for Australia and New Zealand to move to the next stage with their gender policies, beyond very limited and divided funding, beyond the NZFC and NZOA’s deficit-based messages; and beyond Screen Australia’s spin. Remember Anna Serner?
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.
Let’s hear it for unambiguous and formally articulated commitment to investing of equal amounts of taxpayer funding in women and men who tell stories for screens large and small, as writers and directors, regardless of their producers or protagonists. And let’s hear it for script and project assessment being educated about/open to ‘differently’! And let’s hear it for transparent, public scrutiny of the diversity among broadcasters’ appointments of commissioners and programmers and script editors, and of the choices these people make, whenever their work is in some way paid for by the taxpayer!


In New Zealand, it’s time to acknowledge the outstanding economic contribution of Māori filmmaking with a fully-funded-for-development-and-production and completely autonomous Te Paepae Ataata, as it was originally intended to be. Would it make sense to add responsibility for, and the funds for, He Ara and Māori Television as well? This is not a radical thought, when for example Tuhoe is negotiating to take over schools, welfare, health and housing for its iwi; or when we consider the economic successes of many iwi after their Treaty settlements. Or when we see that even if we’re still waiting for the features and television programmes written and directed by Māori women, we know that, with an improved framework and increased resources, that will happen— on the basis of all those short films and television already made and all those feature scripts already written (Patricia Grace has finished her script for Cousins!), of Libby Hakaraia’s and Chelsea Winstanley’s statements; the tikanga of the Māoriland Film Festival (and probably of its sister festival, the Wairoa Film Festival) and on THOR.


Given the proliferation of screens and NZFC and NZOA’s current duplication of effort, including their gender research, isn’t it time to amalgamate them into a single entity, with a shared gender policy?


Ava DuVernay may be coming here to shoot A Wrinkle in Time, with a perfectly formed policy on crew diversity backed up by lots of practice. If she comes, let’s welcome this distinguished filmmaker, learn everything we can from her.

In particular, from her long experience with Array, she may be able to assist with issues around audience and distribution, here and globally, and how to educate potential audiences to seek out and enjoy work that diverse women write and direct.


48 Hours has failed women over many years. It’s been unresponsive to criticism. Is it time to move taxpayer funding for 48 Hours to something similar, as proposed by Louise Hutt, because 48Hours ‘can’t be our only place for finding fresh talent when we live in a world that doesn’t give everyone the same opportunities’? I'd like the New Zealand Film Festival to make some changes too, to justify its taxpayer funding on equity grounds, by broadening its search for women-written and -directed films beyond the international festivals that discriminate against women.


Until there are changes to the tax system that allow us to claim for child and elder care expenses, why not a mandatory budget line for child care costs, in every taxpayer funded screen project?


An animal was harmed during this project: While 1B relaxes after her foot massage and I focus on *getting-this-done*, Darling takes a chair into the bathroom, plucks the snail from just below the ceiling and flushes it down the toilet. I believe the snail will return. So does 1B. Ka nui te mihi ki te tāonga rā, she says.

(1) Catherine Bisley (short Wide-Eyed), Nathalie Boltt (shorts The Silk, Vajazzle), Abigail Greenwood, (shorts Eleanor, Eleven), Kirsty Hamilton (Saving Grace), Cathy MacDonald (short The December Shipment), Renae Maihi (short Butterfly), Zoe McIntosh (Lost in Wonderland, The Deadly Ponies Gang), Niki Si’ulepa (shorts Snow in Paradise, Aroha), Yamin Tun (shorts The Dream of the Driver, Wait), and Aidee Walker (shorts The F.E.U.C., Friday Tigers)

(2) Much more than ‘special thanks’ to my writing buddies, 1A-1F.

(3) Just announced! Screen NSW’s latest gender initiatives! And they include a Screen NSW grant to upport Northern Rivers-based Tatiana Valesco in a director’s attachment on THOR.

(4) Very happy to receive any clarification/correction. Any response at all. Here in the comments, though I know that's unlikely, or by tweet or email or PM on Facebook.

(5) Vermilion has just received NZOA funding: one step closer to production. Fingers crossed.