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NZ Update #1: Gender Breakthrough in New Zealand Film Commission Funding

In Hollywood, it's getting worse for women directors.  Legal action to remedy this is steaming ahead, with a high-powered summit due in March. Meanwhile women writers and directors outside Hollywood  are independently making more and more long-form projects, including many excellent webseries that bypass the ongoing problems for traditional marketing and distribution of women's work. Globally, there's also an increase in cross-border alliances among filmmakers and activists.  

With all this in mind, here's the first of a four-part series about what's happening in Aotearoa New Zealand right now, building on last year's Women Are *Not* the Problem?; 2015's The Activist Complex Female Protagonist Whispers in New Zealand; my Writer and Director Gender in New Zealand Feature Films (including TV movies) list; and the other posts listed in Gender Issues in Film in New Zealand.

Part 2 is an open letter to New Zealand's new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Paula Bennett; Part 3 is about WIFT New Zealand; and Part 4 is an A-Z of what some of our women writers and directors are up to.


Screen Advisory Board: Steven Joyce (Minister of Many Things), Jane Campion, Maggie Barry (Minister for Arts & Culture), James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau. Fran Walsh is also a member.

Almost exactly two years ago, following the first meeting of the New Zealand government’s powerful Screen Advisory Board, one of its members, Jane Campion, reiterated her commitment to gender equality in film, in strong terms
It's kind of completely disgusting and teeth-clenchingly irritating that [only 9% of New Zealand 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'".
Not long afterwards, the taxpayer-funded New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) announced a tentative gender policy. Here’s the guts of it–

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 we aim to do this by–

• Collecting and publishing information and statistics on women working in the screen industry...
• Setting a 50% target participation rate for women film-makers in the professional development area [includes the NZFC’s Short Film programme, but not feature film development and production]…
• Identifying and engaging with female film-makers...
• Encouraging proposals from guilds and industry organisations that support the professional development of women in the screen industry.

'Increasing awareness', through a very limited commitment, is a long way from a 50:50 gender split across all programmes, the best practice advocated by the world leader on this issue, Anna Serner of the Swedish Film Institute. So I'm astonished to learn, from the NZFC's  Annual Report, published in December, that the organisation appears to have emerged as a world leader in the gender-equity-in-feature-film development and production stakes, alongside Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Screen NSW and Austria.

The NZFC Annual Report (1 July 2015 - 30 June 2016)

From this report, the NZFC appears to have agreed that ‘this is enough’ and the first results are ace. They give me heart. But there’s still a long way to go to embed comprehensive gender equity.

You might remember a Bright and Beautiful moment from July last year, when I published a long discussion I had with my Writing Buddy 1B, in Women Are *Not* the Problem?
ME For the first year ever, of the seven fictional features [the NZFC] has offered conditional 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.

Alternatively, take out Alison Maclean’s The Rehearsal (completed) and Jackie Van Beek’s The Inland Road [just accepted at the Berlinale] – both mostly funded in the 2014–2105 year – and the project 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 production-funded for consecutive narrative feature projects over two years. 
And it’s a stroke of brilliance that two of the films are co-directed, so 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.
Back in July, I thought this upsurge might be a one-off, as had happened in the past. In 2008 Dr Ruth Harley – then the NZFC CEO and shortly afterwards appointed CEO at Screen Australia –acknowledged that the NZFC had a ‘gender problem’ after she read a report I wrote, based on NZFC information she'd given me access to. She questioned why women producers do not focus more strongly on projects by and about women and resolved to ‘keep an eye’ on gender parity. And then, in the year ending 30 June 2009, when there were nine applications for conditional production funding, three of the six successful applications were for projects with women writers and directors. In my thesis, in 2009, I wrote–
Collectively, with the Short Film Fund decisions this year [also very positive for women], all this data seems to indicate that some change has happened. But so many questions still.
I remained concerned about the informality of ‘keeping an eye’ on gender parity and that – as Ruth Harley also acknowledged – if there's nothing written into the NZFC’s legislation, into its statements of intent, or into the policies it uses in its decision-making, ‘keeping an eye’ will work only if and when there are individuals within the institution who are committed to doing this.

But the latest Annual Report shows that the most recent feature production stats may not be a one-off. This time around, there's a formal gender policy that requires the individuals within the institution to identify and engage with female film-makers. And they're doing it well! (& if numbers aren't your thing, you might like to skip a few paras here, and start again at 'Wonderful'.)

Feature Development Funding

Take feature film development funding, where funded applications are usually proportionate to applications made. In 2010-2015  the average percentage of projects with women writers was 29%. For the 2015-2016 year, this increased to 58% (including two projects with women and men writers). The 15% of women directors increased to 43%.

And, even more miraculously, because historically the NZFC has invested in a smaller proportion of projects with women writers and directors in later development – as well as in their production – its 2015-2016 investment was smaller (40%) in early development than in advanced development (50%!!!).

And the proportion of the overall dollar investment in these projects is roughly similar to the representational proportion; women's stories in general didn't receive less than men's, as is so often the case globally. Combining all the feature development pathways (early, advanced, including board decisions; and Premiere Pathways), the NZFC invested $1.6M (all figures rounded up) in development of feature films. 48% of that investment went to projects women wrote, or just over 50% if I include the projects that women and men jointly wrote.

At early development, not every project has a director attached. But from then on, there is usually a director attached to each project. And the investment isn't quite so great for these projects.  Only 40% of the $1.4 invested in projects with directors and writers attached was allocated to projects with women directors.

To break it down further, in early development the total investment was $633,950, made across 29 projects. And women wrote 51% of those projects (50.5% of the total investment), women and men wrote 6.8% (6.6% of the total investment) and men wrote 41% (43% of the total investment). Not every project had a director at this stage but of the 12 that did, four (33%) had women directors and those projects received 40% of NZFC's investment in projects with directors. Not bad, huh?

At advanced development, the total invested was $273,614, across six projects. All projects had writers and directors and women were represented equally in both roles, though their projects received only 36% of the total investment, partly because of a vastly disproportionate investment in a single project written and directed by men.

Premiere Pathways is a newish programme. It ‘assists feature-focused filmmaking teams make moving image material that showcases their talent and will help get a feature made’. It invested $767,208 in the 2015-2016 year. Three of the four projects funded had women writers – five writers in total. Two had men directors and two had women directors or co-directors, three women in total. The women-written projects received 58% of the total Premiere Pathways funding. The projects written and directed by women received 44% of the total.


The Death of the 'Deficit' Concept in New Zealand

I'm intensely delighted that the figures demonstrate, definitively, that the 'deficit' concept in relation to women writers and directors is no longer tenable. (Was it ever more than a gatekeeping tool?) Anyone who doubted that there was enough depth in our pool of women screenwriters and directors, who believed it was our fault that we didn’t get funded, that we weren't confident enough, that we needed ‘upskilling’ or or or or…. has to take a deep breath and acknowledge that when the NZFC takes responsibility for ‘identifying and engaging with women filmmakers’, as it may also have done back in 2008-2009, there are lots of us, good to go. That doesn't mean that we won't welcome the opportunity to learn new things, or to have a mentor at key moments. (For instance, thanks to a Directors Guild mentorship programme, Niki Caro watched the first cut of Jackie Van Beek's The Inland Road, 'read the original shooting script and helped make a new version which Van Beek is much happier with'). It just means (let's repeat this!) we're here and good to go. And if you still doubt it, please check out Part 4 of this series, once it's up. Over 60 women there...

The Chair of the NZFC Board Makes a Gender Statement

The Annual Report gets even better. In her brief, six-short-paragraphs introduction, there’s a public gender-oriented statement from the chair of the NZFC board. Another first.

Kerry Prendergast, Chair, NZFC board  Photo: NZFC

Kerry Prendergast, appointed in June, writes–
Gender imbalance in the screen industry has been recognised as an issue worldwide, and our own industry is not immune. Ongoing research has highlighted how under-represented New Zealand women are in key creative roles, and I’m proud that the NZFC has taken its first steps to addressing this.
Also wonderful. Especially the pride. Especially the acknowledgement of 'first steps', which implies that more are on their way.

Warm congratulations to all involved in implementing the policy so far. And every good wish for these next steps. Because they're necessary. For instance the ongoing ‘keeping an eye’ (‘identifying and engaging with female film-makers’) is not only a too-vulnerable condition, it's also unfair because the processes it requires are not transparent enough.

Where To Now?

So what would be even better? Telefilm Canada’s new policy provides one recent example of the potential ambit of an effective gender policy–

1 Encouraging a diversity of projects: Telefilm will encourage producers to submit projects that reflect the diversity of Canada’s population. (I love this one because it acknowledges intersectionality, already fundamental in Aotearoa New Zealand because of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), the country's founding document, but otherwise under-addressed as a core concept. I believe that intersectionality and inclusion of all kinds require closer attention across all the NZFC funding programmes; and within many of the organisations and guilds it funds. Reflecting 'diversity' also invites attention to the difference between entertainment that women write and direct and the development of a 'women's cinema' – these can and do overlap, but are not the same.)

2 Evaluation of projects: Telefilm will now, for projects of equal quality, favour projects that have a woman as director and/or a woman as writer (as per guidelines). Based on industry recommendations that these two roles require immediate critical attention, gender parity amongst directors and screenwriters was identified as a priority. In September 2017, once Telefilm reviews its survey data, the challenges of women producers will be addressed. (Because diverse women writer/director roles continue to require 'immediate critical attention' in New Zealand, too, I think there needs to be one clear statement that directs support towards writers and directors and another that refers to the NZFC's more general category of 'filmmakers': producers, cinematographers etc.)

3 Transparency and reporting: ...Based on the collected information, we will re-evaluate each year what our priorities should be in order to reach our global diversity objective. (Nice one!)

4 Continued targeted promotion of female talent to raise their professional profile and market appeal: Telefilm will continue to promote all talent in its general promotional activities (I've loved reading an increased number of interviews with local women directors this year, in places like Keith Barclay's ScreenNZ; and following Liam Maguren's #52 Films by Women, though I'd like to see him attempt fuller coverage of New Zealand work, including webseries, so he becomes the global go-to site for people wanting to know about the current work of New Zealand #womeninfilm. It's good to hear of some men producers who actively prioritise projects with women writers and directors and to read that Kelly Martin, head of major company film and television company South Pacific Pictures and president of Women in Film & Television NZ (WIFTNZ), is working 'to build a strong female talent pipeline'. Because of New Zealand's history of giving everyone a fair go and of being the first country in the world to give women the vote, I've always been surprised that our numbers of women directors making feature films have been so small. Now, thanks to the NZFC's trial gender policy, it seems that a fair go for women writers and directors is leeching into the culture.)

5 Continued support of the conversation on gender parity via research and professional development initiatives. (The conversation in New Zealand has for too long taken place behind closed doors, with exceptions like statements from Jane Campion and Chelsea Winstanley and some supportive men directors. Because of this, many women still fear the consequences if they speak out about inequity – for a recent example, see comment re Louise Hutt's Online Heroines, in Part 4. As part of a drive towards accountability and transparency, the conversation about gender parity/equity needs to become a genuinely public debate, as is happening in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, France and elsewhere; I hope Kerry Prendergast's statement encourages this.)

What Problems in the Annual Report?

It has to be acknowledged that the amount invested in development of women-written and -directed projects is pretty small in the larger scheme of things and that the Annual Report obfuscates some of the information that could be useful in assessing 'Who benefits?' from taxpayer investment and the NZFC’s gender equity performance.

This pie chart from the Annual Report isn’t easy to co-relate with the summaries of each programme  and the detail of the NZFC investment in named organisations and individuals in the Appendix. For instance, the summary of the Talent Development Programme refers to support for three named film festivals and to teams that have been through the Loading Docs initiative. But I can’t find corresponding information in the Appendix (happy to be told if I've missed something).

But although it’s hard (for me) to relate this chart to the accompanying text and to the Appendix details and it’s impossible to identify the full extent of the NZFC’s investment in women, some issues can be identified.

For instance, in the Devolved Development programmes that are part of the Script Development and Production Funding segment, of $.47m allocated, 71.75% was given to men producers, 13.7% to mixed gender teams and just 14% to women producers. Even if I recall Ruth Harley’s comment about women producers, when she wondered why more of them (us) don't choose to work with women writers and directors,  even though I know that some men now choose to work with women writers and directors, it's important that there's transparency and gender accountability re this investment. This would mean that when producers receive Devolved Development funding they must name all the writers and directors that they use this funding to work with (in this report, some do and some don't). Then we can track their comparative gender (and intersectionality) commitments.

There are other problems with the Talent and Capability Building allocations. The Annual Report notes that 58% of this category's funding allocated to professional development for individuals was given to women, as per that element of the gender policy. Short films were included in this category and short films with women directors received 51% of the investment. But it’s impossible to know the genders of individuals who benefited from talent development funding that went to organisations, at least $1.64M (or 67% of the total). Some of the allocations were for gendered programmes, like Brown Sugar Apple Grunt’s funding for WARU and the Directors & Editors Guild’s Female Director Incubator, but in general the funded organisations had no obligation to consider inclusion issues of any kind in their decision making. This needs to change.

Some NZFC-funded groups already have strong reputations for inclusion: Script to Screen, The Outlook for Someday (and Inspiring Stories, a similar organisation,  which I hope the NZFC starts to fund).  The Writers Guild, too, has for a long time used blind assessment to assess scripts for their devolved Seed Funding programme; this is excellent for all those who in the past have been excluded. But other groups aren’t transparent in their use of taxpayer funds and/or communicate poorly. One obvious example is Women in Film & Television (WIFTNZ), which over the last three years received $.23M for ‘A programme for producers focusing on finance, international sales & domestic distribution’. The names of the programme's chair is the only reference I can find to this programme, on WIFTNZ’s website or Facebook page. This just isn't good enough for an expensive programme that's taxpayer funded and  and worrying when the guild was established by and for women. (But I'm glad I learned it existed, know that the funding was spread over three years and now have the opportunity to participate: more in Part 3.) And there's definitely a problem with this year's NZFC-funded New Zealand Film Awards when less than a quarter of its international judges are women.

To embed gender equity, the NZFC needs to expand its policy to an explicit commitment to 50:50 funding and to extend its diversity monitoring and public reporting so it embraces every aspect of its programmes and to every group it funds.

I'm optimistic. And excited that Ava DuVernay is due here any moment with A Wrinkle in Time because that may make a difference too. At the  Big Screen Symposium in late 2016, this is what Dave Gibson, NZFC's CEO said about this–
Also, continuing our very successful relationship with Disney, off the back of Pete’s Dragon they will be bringing part of a new feature to New Zealand over the summer, shooting at several South Island locations. A Wrinkle in Time will be directed by Ava DuVernay. We are hoping to persuade her to give a couple of  seminars. As well as being an African American woman directing a major studio picture, Ava is a new technology proponent.
Any seminars Ava DuVernay gives will be an inspiring treat. And any New Zealand crew who become attached to the shoot, are in for a brilliant time, going by her herstory so far and her instastories about the A Wrinkle in Time shoot.

And there's new initiative that's encouraging, too, announced a couple of weeks after the Annual Report came out.

At long last, a genre-oriented programme aimed at women, to counter-balance the years of investment in the annual 48Hours competition, which has been unable to attract many women directors. From the response on Facebook, it's a very welcome initiative.

Again, I'm delighted to start the year feeling proud of the NZFC's gender achievement and more confident about the future than I've ever been. 

And to be able to move on, for now, to consider some gender aspects of the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, which 'encourages medium to large budget productions, both New Zealand and international [including co-productions], to film here'Because the NZFC administers this for the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, it has its own section in the Annual Report. Some television productions receive this investment, but I focused on the feature films.

The New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZSPG)

During 2015-2016 the taxpayer invested $53.35M (international $45.65M; local – including co-productions $7.7M) via the NZSPG, a lot more than the overall budget for the NZFC ($22.7M). That's 62% of New Zealand investment in feature films. And when I saw the writer and director genders of the projects I thought, uh-oh, this doesn't look good. The writers for the local productions were 83% men and the directors 93%. The international productions were worse: 93% of the writers were men and 100% of the directors.

I'm not sure the NZFC can fix this. It's probably one for the government.  So, who are the Ministers responsible? The Minister for Culture and Heritage is Maggie Barry. Since New Zealand's recent change of Prime Minister and Cabinet reshuffle there doesn't seem to be a Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment. Perhaps there never was. So I imagine that the Minister is Steven Joyce, Minister of Finance and present in the photograph of the Screen Advisory Board, at the head of this post; he would have heard Jane Campion's commitment to the rectifying the gender issues. But both these Ministers are ranked below Paula Bennett, who in that reshuffle became New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister, the first Maori woman to hold that position. And, unusually for someone so highly ranked, she also became Minister for Women (& Tourism. etc.). 

Oh, I thought again. Why don't I write to Paula Bennett? So I did. Here's the letter: Part 2 of this series.