|from the WIFTNZ Facebook page|
This is Part 3 of an NZ Update 4-part series. Part 1 was Gender Breakthrough in New Zealand Film Commission Funding. Part 2 was a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, about the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. Part 4 is a not-quite-A-Z of New Zealand women directors and some writers.
So how has Women in Film & Television New Zealand (WIFTNZ) responded to the lack of gender parity between women and men who write and direct, in particular the lack of gender parity in allocation of taxpayer funding? For example, does it endorse Telefilm Canada's statement, referred to back in Part 1 and to some extent implicit in the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC)'s latest Annual Report?–
The simple answer: No-one Knows For Sure. And because of this, I believe it's important to give another kind of 'critical' attention to WIFTNZ's position. Because it's the only women's film organisation in New Zealand (and therefore, of course, carries a burden of impossible expectations). Because it's often referred to and deferred to. And because it's taxpayer-funded: as I've consistently argued, to receive taxpayer funding, for anything, demands rigorous best practices, including best practice around gender.Based on industry recommendations that these two roles require immediate critical attention, gender parity amongst directors and screenwriters was identified as a priority (emphasis added).
I love women’s organisations. And I’d love to love the work of WIFTNZ, which aims to–
But WIFTNZ has often disappointed me, mostly because I long for it to be more vigilant in promoting and safeguarding the interests of women writers and directors in film and television.
- provide information and career support;
- offer an educational forum;
- promote and safeguard the interests of women in film and television;
- recognise women's achievements in the industry; and
- build capacity and benefit the screen industry as a whole.
WIFTNZ has known, for almost a decade, about 'the gender problem' demonstrated in New Zealand's feature film development and production statistics. But in my view it's been timid in its response, perhaps because until very recently (see Part 1) those statistics demonstrated systemic failings at the NZFC. Has the organisation's dependence on the NZFC for funding been a factor in its restraint in the face of systemic discrimination against women writers and directors in the NZFC's and New Zealand On Air's (NZOA) use of taxpayer funds?
It would, for example, have been appropriate I think for WIFTNZ to make a public statement in support of Jane Campion’s commitment to gender equity as a member of the Screen Advisory Council, two years ago; and another in support of Chelsea Winstanley's statement at the Big Screen Symposium eighteen months ago. But it didn't. When Jemaine Clement and Jonathan King spoke up in support of a 50:50 gender split in taxpayer funding for film WIFTNZ could also have formally welcomed their statements and encouraged other men in the industry to offer similar support. But it didn't.
It would also have been appropriate for WIFTNZ to make public statements about the New Zealand International Film Festival’s consistent failure to select as many women-directed as men-directed films, or to search beyond the films offered at major overseas festivals that also fail to showcase women's work adequately. But it hasn't (yet). It would have been appropriate for it to advocate publicly for all New Zealand film festivals to use the becoming-industry-standard F-Rating (the 'F' stands for 'feminist') to highlight films that have been written by women, directed by women, or which 'intended to amplify the debate about what is happening on screen and to raise awareness. But it hasn't. (Even the IMDb now uses the F-Rating and has tagged 21,800 films.)
And at WIFTNZ's only ever public meeting about the NZFC’s gender policy (with the Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand, DEGNZ), where the panel demonstrated a troubling monoculturalism within the international climate of intersectional feminism and our local bicultural and multicultural frameworks, the question put to the audience to vote on was ‘Do we want ring-fenced funding for female writers, editors, directors?’, that is, a separate women’s film fund, rather than a 50:50 gender split in NZFC's overall investment. And ‘The packed house expressed overwhelming support for positive discrimination by way of a targeted fund’: I'm grateful that the NZFC appears not to have taken this response on board. I hope it never does.
The Up With the Play Co-production Programme
So when I saw, in the latest NZFC Annual Report, that WIFTNZ had received $228k for a producers' workshop, known as Up With the Play – as well as other funding, for their running costs – I sighed. Why o why , I wondered, are they investing in production-oriented education, instead of tackling the serious issues for women directors and writers? And shouldn't SPADA, the producers' guild, provide these specialist workshops?
WIFTNZ could easily have justified championing the cause of women writers and directors, because many of their other members would have benefitted: it's now established that when women direct, more women get employed in their productions than they do when men direct.
|From Martha Lauzen's Celluloid Ceiling Report 2016 (Centre for the Study of Women in Television & Film)|
Given these facts, and the (almost) global priority of making systemic changes that benefit women writers and directors, why hasn't WIFTNZ been more active? Couldn't it come up with programmes to benefit women writers and directors? Or did WIFTNZ think that Up With the Play would help women writers and directors through supporting producers, especially women producers? Did it forget that traditionally women producers have tended to work with and for men who write and direct and that until very recently almost all men who produce have done the same?
So I talked with the WIFTNZ National Manager, Patricia Watson, a woman who likes a challenge and was super-informative. I heard about the list she's compiled, of women directors who are WIFTNZ members, and is circulating to organisations who might employ them. Great. In due course it will be good to learn about the outcomes from this. And, later, Patricia told me about other programmes for directors, which are intended primarily for WIFTNZ members. I'd love one like this recent Equity one, for actors.
And others like it, themed workshops that are not about 'deficits' (as workshops for women have often been in the past) but provide insights from outstanding writers and directors and – like Up With the Play – are accessible to women who aren't WIFT members but who write and/or direct and/or act, with an open call for participants.Spend a day workshopping with director Sima Urale – framing for performance and the power of composition and framing. Ever wondered what these film directors are up to and why? Explore the frame and it’s relation to character and dynamics within a scene. Why the saying ‘A picture says a thousand words’ still applies to moving image.
When I asked why I could find no information about Up With the Play on WIFTNZ's site, just the name of the programme's Chair, Patricia offered me a link from a previous year, to information about a guest; and offered further information that I think should be prominently displayed on WIFTNZ's website, because of its taxpayer-funded status. I learned that the $228k was spread over three years on a programme that offers, in an annual summit, access to experts: from the UK one year, Australia and Denmark another; and, this third year, Germany. Found out that the programme was offered only to those on a WIFTNZ list of experienced producers of feature-length work and entertainment lawyers, a list drawn up without an open, nationwide call for registrations of interest from those eligible.
Patricia contends that 'no-one should be any doubt that [WIFTNZ runs] a programme for experienced producers' and when I mentioned that I knew of people like me who qualified but didn't know about Up With the Play, she suggested that some people just don't open their emails. But, given the NZFC funding, particularly at that $228k level, given media convergence and the blossoming of long form work on various platforms, given the widespread use of social media by NZFC and by other industry guilds when they make calls for participants in any programme, given that the roles of women screenwriters and directors demand immediate critical attention, are an (incomplete) WIFTNZ list and a series of emails good enough practice in this instance?
Anyway, I added my name to the list and am going to the third and final Summit, with the German experts and am very much looking forward to it (5 March: it gave me what I needed and I wish I could write about it, but Chatham House Rules ruled. What I can say is what *wasn't* there: none of the questions listed for the panels were about gender, a topic which would have been entirely reasonable given its current global resonance, that WIFTNZ had organised the event and the expertise of the German visitors – those I met in one-on-one meetings certainly gave me interesting and useful gender-related information).
Later, I learned that during each year of Up With the Play WIFTNZ has also offered an associated all-comers event with Script to Screen. Here's the link to this year's – inevitably in Auckland – on just the kind of front page I wish WIFTNZ would develop, with its upfront, inviting information.
The Producer & Production Influence
I also asked Patricia about the primary occupations of WIFTNZ members. Is it possible that WIFTNZ focuses on a particular range of programmes and particular type of educational offering because the membership is weighted towards one occupation more than others? Does that make a difference? And it seems that may be so. WIFT has 640 members, each of whom must provide information re her primary occupation. And just over a third list their primary occupation as producers (135) or in production (97, including 27 in post or VFX), 36% altogether, an influential bloc. There are just 73 directors and 35 writers. People with other roles in the industry, including academics, make up the rest.
From what I've heard or experienced, women screenwriters and directors are well served by their guilds: the New Zealand Writers Guild and the DEGNZ, as well as by Script to Screen. Perhaps women producers are so strongly represented in WIFTNZ because their guild, SPADA, doesn't deliver. Perhaps women producers and women who work in production need a women-oriented organisation to support one another because of the pressures of working in environments dominated by men. Perhaps women producers and women who work in production have different needs than writers and directors. Perhaps they just like to network and have fun. All of this is fair enough, I reckon.
Whatever the reasons for their high numbers in WIFTNZ, women producers are strongly represented in the NZFC and NZOA statistics, compared with women writers and directors. But it seems that former NZFC CEO Ruth Harley's observation is still true (see Part 1): too few women producers support women writers and directors to realise their projects, whether taxpayer funded or not. This isn't surprising. In other arts sectors too (publishing, theatre, visual arts, music), women have often made a living helping men to realise their artistic visions, marketing the stories men tell, supporting those golden boys, something I too have done.
Conditions for the Writer + Director 16%
Things have changed fast during the four years since I wrote about women directors of feature films in New Zealand for the Directory of World Cinema: Australia and New Zealand. But women producers' limited commitment to women writers and directors hasn't: that's one reason why only one of the five finalists for Best Film in the upcoming New Zealand Film Awards is written and directed by women – The Rehearsal – and women directed none of the finalists in the Best Television Feature (though women wrote two of them and women also produced one of those). But women are much better represented among six finalists for Best Self-Funded Film. They wrote and directed one (Stars in Her Eyes) and wrote or co-wrote three more and/or co-directed with a man (The Great Maiden's Blush, Sunday, Broken Hallelujah). The Great Maiden's Blush was also a finalist for Best Screenplay (with The Rehearsal and four others that were taxpayer funded). And then, The Great Maiden's Blush didn't just win its category. Its star, Miriama McDowell won overall Best Actress.
For the writers and directors amongst us – including the ever-increasing numbers of writers and directors who are also actors – the stakes are different than they are for producers: how do we tell our stories and distribute them to a wide audience, especially stories that have women at their centre, especially when the reality for women is that most of us don't earn as much as men, in the jobs that keep us afloat while we do our work? If you doubt our earning capacity, just take a look at this chart –and consider how the situation is significantly worse for Māori and Pasifika and Asian women.
Women are also often time poor because of our domestic commitments, to children and extended family we love.
Because of this, although some of us are privileged, with jobs in academia where filmmaking is viewed as professional development, with partners and extended family who support us economically and in other ways, with regular television writing or commercials gigs (which do however eat into time for our own projects) or with private income, many others are not: the level of hardship for women writers and directors as high as it is for most women artists in any medium.
But regardless, our commitment to telling screen stories is almost never 'inspired amateurism', as one well-established woman filmmaker told me not that long ago, in relation to a woman making a feature without receiving a director fee. Our commitment is marrow-deep compulsion to tell stories as best and as only we can; and goes way beyond 'career' issues.
It's a given that until the very recent changes we've done this entirely within systems that are unfair and exclude women in myriad ways, systems that are particularly unfair to Māori women, given their status under Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi and particularly unfair to all of us 'other' women, some of whom are also Māori. As a BAFTA report showed just the other day–
Making long-form work is never easy and as we all know, the taxpayer pies at the NZFC and NZOA are small and strongly contested and access to the NZOA pie usually requires another step, past the television commissioners. And, with film, traditionally distributors haven't been much interested in films directed by women, especially if they're about women or girls. Sometimes that's meant that a feature that receives conditional production funding from the NZFC hasn't found a (required) distributor and can't be made. And if the project does find a distributor and get made, potential audiences don't hear enough about them: marketing budgets have been tiny.The structural issues impacting on the sustainability of careers [or a life in which making art is a necessity] creates a high financial barrier for those without backing, personal contacts or the ability to take the risk of an irregular income. In addition, cultural codes and class norms can affect those perceived as not being part of the ‘in’ group.
And even when their projects are taxpayer-funded, writers and directors often subsidise the work. With their NZOA-funded webseries, The Candle Wasters Collective (speaking in Online Heroines) found they couldn't pay themselves properly; and Jackie van Beek reached the point where she was 'effectively paying for the privilege' of making NZFC-funded The Inland Road.
Without a slice of the limited taxpayer pie it's even harder. It requires the storyteller – who in these circumstances is often also a producer – and her collaborators to make new kinds of pie as well as the work itself: crowdfunding, requesting (and reciprocating) favours and identifying and engaging directly with audiences, often without a traditional producer, a distributor or a marketing budget. So it's profoundly inspiring that more and more women writers and directors are working outside the vortexes of the NZFC, the broadcasting commissioners and NZOA (see also Part 4). These include veterans like Andrea Bosshard and Athina Tsoulis; staunch and gifted digital natives who produce vibrant webseries like Pot Luck, Flat3 and Baby Mamas Club, all now taxpayer funded (I think); the participants – and director Louise Hutt – in Online Heroines; and prolific Rose Goldthorp, using a rigorous strategy to work her way from 'featurettes' to features.
It would be great if WIFTNZ publicly acknowledged these difficult facts and the current worldwide focus on writers and directors and took a stronger leadership role in supporting writers and directors. But it's also understandable if the influential and production-oriented 36% of WIFTNZ membership doesn't want to rock the boat and perhaps compromise its own economic security, if it's safer for them to focus on general or other role-specific education, on 'recognising women's achievement in the industry', where there are also unmet needs.
|Kelly Martin CEO South Pacific Pictures & WIFTNZ President photo: NZ Herald|
This activity may help make positive change through working towards more women camera operators and sound recordists – and WIFTNZ can point to 2015's JC Cinefem Scholarship supported by Jane Campion as a model for this. But is it enough?There is a raft of training and workshops available to its members, with a focus on the male-dominated roles in our industry such as camera operators and sound recordists. We are encouraging women to consider roles outside of the norm and this stimulus is only going to grow.
In her article, Kelly Martin does acknowledge the women writer and director problem, as it manifests itself at South Pacific Pictures, where she is CEO and where there's also a producer issue, and where the organisation has always fully utilised taxpayer funding from the NZFC and NZOA –
Two years ago I was shocked to realise that out of 42 hours of drama we had produced, only three of those hours had been produced by a woman and only two had been directed by a woman. Even worse, it was the same woman who had done both. Since then we've been working hard to try and change these statistics and we are making good progress. But there is a long way to go and we have to be constantly mindful that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
People have asked why this matters so much and I think the answer is clear. It matters because unless we have strong women behind the cameras, then our portrayal of women on screens will always be skewed. As creators of drama for New Zealand's ever diversifying audiences, we need to remember that representation is important. It's funny that having more women on a cast or crew is considered 'diversity,' but when you consider women make up over half of the population, increasing the number of women in key roles is an important part of ensuring we are representing our audiences.
But, Kelly Martin is a CEO of a major production house. Most of those other WIFTNZ members who work as producers and in production aren't. Will she be able make WIFTNZ more effectively activist? I have no idea. It's recently surveyed its members about what they'd like to do to improve gender equity in the industry, without – I understand from Patricia – a huge response, though I imagine WIFTNZ will also reach out to key members who haven't responded, to get their ideas.This can become a very sensitive topic when taking our male colleagues into account, who do outstanding work and always have. But it's been quite a closed shop for a long time, in particular around directing. There have been limited opportunities, so when you add the idea of introducing fresh female directors into the mix, an understandable fear factor sets in.
After thinking about all this I reflected on WIFT International (WIFTI) and its aims and how these aims are being interpreted by WIFT chapters in other parts of the world. Then I thought about how WIFTNZ could develop new interventions in the contemporary environment.
WIFT Around the World
In the past, WIFT chapters (32 listed on the WIFTI website, 19 of them in the United States) seemed to avoid association with overtly activist projects. Many, like WIFTNZ, tended to prioritise one of the WIFTI objectives, 'to celebrate the achievements of women in all areas of the industry', with awards nights etc. This priority is perhaps losing steam a little as activists target major industry awards like the Oscars for their sexism and racism and work towards changing that. But any WIFT can justify activism (even if they are taxpayer-funded) by reference to two of WIFTI’s other umbrella objectives: to ‘Develop bold international projects and initiatives’ (which is arguably exactly what WIFTNZ's $228k Up With the Play aims to do) and to ‘Encourage diverse and positive representation of women in screen-based media worldwide’. Many WIFT organisations outside New Zealand embrace these objectives.
Partnerships seem to be vital for the survival of WIFT chapters everywhere, if they are to stay relevant alongside the recent proliferation of other #womeninfilm organisations. More and more often leadership comes from newer groups like the European Women's Audiovisual Network or ad hoc groups, like the one organising the forthcoming Women's Media Summit, or from women's film festivals. There's Film Fatales (now with at least 17 chapters); as well as the F-Rating, there's the A-Rating, (established in 2013 and awarded to films that pass the Bechdel Test, stunningly successful in raising awareness and making change); Raising Films and Moms in Film to support those with caring responsibilities.
And leadership has come from activist guilds, from the actors who speak out about central, complex, roles for women and girls and then create those roles for themselves, from all those researchers who provide the statistics, and the journalists and activists who amplify them, from the organisations set up to produce and support women's films, often as non-profits, from Chicken & Egg to Women Make Movies to Tangerine Entertainment to the 51 Fund to We Do It Together. And from the men who support all this activity.
Some WIFT chapters have understood the need for alliances and worked hard to develop them. Women in Film Los Angeles has established partnerships with the Sundance Institute and others and drawn on activist ideas, including its 52 Films by Women pledge, inspired by Marya E Gates' project.
And in Sweden, WIFT Sweden partners with Ellen Tejle's radical A-Rating. Eva Beling, Chair of WIFT Sweden, explained the organisation's involvement to me–
In the United Kingdom, WFTV partners with researchers, among a range of other initiatives.The A-rating helps us to reach out with an important message. Most people would think that the majority of films would pass the Bechdel test, and just simply because of that it is important that WIFT Sweden supports something as specific as the A-rating. As it is today there is an enormous imbalance in whose story and perspective we receive on the cinema screen. By cooperating with developing the A-rating system WIFT Sweden hopes to speed up this process. If WIFT Sweden's studies and research material (we have published four studies) had been as easily communicated and attractive as the A-rating, a change might already have occurred. WIFT Sweden also believes it is a humorous way to build awareness and hopefully the A-rating will encourage new ways of thinking for both audience and creators of films.
Then there's WIFT New South Wales (WIFTNSW), founded in 1982 to improve 'the position and representation of women in the film and television industries' and until very recently a conservative WIFT chapter. But last year it elected a new committee that aims to rely on 'core values of strong governance, thought leadership and active modelling for the broader screen industry'. AND it is working towards being unnecessary: it has set a 2021 target for ('gracious and thankful'!) self-destruction.
The new committee believes that 'effective advocacy demands swift and decisive action'. It too is committed 'to creating partnerships and common goals with all sectors and service providers in the screen industry'. And just before Christmas it demonstrated advocacy through swift and decisive action when it held its Sausage Party on the red carpet at the AACTA award ceremony, followed by a protest against the decision to hire a Canadian female director instead of a homegrown Australian woman director, for the television remake of Picnic at Hanging Rock, in partnership with the Australian Directors Guild. And their activism has WORKED.
At the moment, it’s unimaginable that WIFTNZ might take the kinds of direct action that WIFTNSW is engaged in, or adopt WIFTNSW’s statement that it is working towards being defunct.
After this little bit of research and reflection I considered how WIFTNZ could prioritise women writers and directors and advance gender equality in a way that fits with WIFT globally, and with their local membership, their aims and their track record. This might seem a bit cheeky, because I'm not a member (though I have been in the past), and I expect to benefit from Up With the Play next month. But regardless, because of the moves towards fairer allocation of taxpayer funding to women-written and -directed projects, WIFTNZ may have to change to justify its own taxpayer funding.
Although WIFTNZ organised that public meeting about the NZFC gender policy and although it's been consulting members about its role in relation gender equality, because the NZFC has got so far now with its gender policy and because some of the other guilds have well-developed gender programmes in which women writers and directors participate enthusiastically, it may seem that WIFTNZ is a bit late to the party. But although the NZFC stats are so hopeful, although the deficit concept has gone, although NZOA has for the first time published its gender stats, the change has just begun. And WIFTNZ has many opportunities to participate in embedding it.
So, here are my suggestions, in case there are some that are useful and/or prompt other ideas. I've tried to be realistic, knowing about WIFTNZ's traditional focus, knowing about that producer/production bloc and knowing that WIFTNZ's resources are limited.
There are myriad options if WIFTNZ simply changes its perspective to focus on writers and directors, and by extension the inclusive crews many of them work with, for the next little while. Why not ask of every upcoming programme: 'How will this contribute to long-form work that New Zealand women write and direct?'
My suggestions take as a starting point the reality that women screenwriters and directors demand immediate critical attention at least partly because historically we/they have suffered access to resources – networks, money, information and audiences. They also begin from the perspective that because WIFTNZ is taxpayer funded, even though it's a membership-based organisation, its practices need to be impeccable if it is serious about supporting systemic change. For instance, to use email notification of its programmes – to members and to those who make it onto a specific WIFTNZ list (as in Up With the Play) – as its primary communication tool is a kind of gatekeeping in industries where women already face far too much gatekeeping.
(March 20: It's also vital that any WIFTNZ research is made public, as part of its accountability and transparency. As the only local go-to and taxpayer-funded organisation re women and film it has – I believe – a responsibility to the public and writers and directors who aren't members, as well as its members.
The 'new' global activist #womeninfilm groups publicly share and amplify the reach of one another's research, knowing how women's advancement has very often been damaged by lack of access to relevant information. It's just not best practice when, after WIFTNZ's recent gender equity survey of its members, the survey outcomes and the organisation's submission to the NZFC are 'confidential' to its members, who now, like the NZFC, Do Know For Sure whether WIFTNZ agrees that the roles of women screenwriters and directors demand immediate critical attention.
How can WIFTNZ's findings be debated or peer reviewed or referenced by others, including academics who are members, if they're 'confidential'? How do non-members – who may nevertheless be directly affected by WIFTNZ's findings and any adoption of them by the NZFC – know whether WIFTNZ's research and NZFC submission affirm the idea of immediate critical attention to directors and writers? Whether we're writers, directors or academics, audiences or other taxpayers, how do we know that the submission isn't entirely skewed to meet the needs of that WIFTNZ producer/production bloc? Does it reflect views from the full diversity of women writers and directors? How can women writers and directors consider whether they need more appropriate research and advocacy, from another source? Making public the research outcomes and submission doesn't have to compromise participants' privacy at all, if the research is properly done, in a way that protects them. Nor does this kind of research require protection for commercial reasons. See also note (1) below.)
As well as advocating for much more outreach to writers and directors and beyond the industry, many of my suggestions refer to partnerships, the kinds of alliances that other WIFTs engage in. I've grouped my ideas within WIFTNZ's aims, except for its first one about providing information and career support, because this is inherent in its current activities – including the WIFTNZ Awards – and in its other aims: offering an educational forum, promoting and safeguarding the interests of women in film and television and in building capacity.
Offering an educational forum
I'd like to see WIFTNZ use its expertise and credibility to expand its educational forums beyond in-house programmes and in-industry programmes. Why not collaborate with filmmakers to co-ordinate and promote national Q&As and /or panels for every single New Zealand women-directed feature, using Skype where necessary? Why not a regular spot on a radio programme? An online presence that includes footage of its workshops and promotes the kind people who donate their time to give them? Yes, this one may require resources that aren't currently available, but it would extend the influence of women writers and directors, support the WIFTNZ members who live outside Auckland, where most of the activities happen and indirectly benefit the industry as a whole. It would also build audiences.
I think WIFTNZ could also offer educational forums about what may or may not be 'different' about women's storytelling for the screen, that educate potential audiences. What if WIFTNZ approached a range of women's organisations, to explore whether and how there might be some synergy?
Promote and safeguard the interests of women in film and television
Many people still prefer the debate about gender equity and its associated intersectional issues to take place behind closed doors, mostly because they're concerned about negative consequences if they speak out. But being highly visible in the media is an easy way to promote and safeguard the interests of women in film and television when there are issues that affect them – when the NZFC or NZOA release gender statistics, when someone like Jane Campion or Chelsea Winstanley speaks up in support of gender equity in taxpayer funding, as well as when WIFTNZ presents its own research. Greater visibility would also enhance WIFTNZ's reputation outside the industry, as an authoritative source of comment. This option would perhaps be more acceptable to WIFTNZ members than the WIFTNSW protests that have achieved such excellent results.
In association with this, improved day-to-day transparency and communication to the public is essential for an organisation that the taxpayer funds, and a way of attracting new members: part of the Go Public option could be redevelopment of the WIFTNZ website along the lines of Script to Screen's, with highly visible information about specific programmes and whether they are open to all or only to members; and about its recent research. Without any additional work of creating new email lists, this information can easily be replicated on the WIFTNZ Facebook page, where there are today 1,411 followers to inform, more than double the number of members.
As a further commitment, more public discussion of what WIFTNZ programmes work and don't work for women writers and directors would be terrific. Yes, the effects of a programme aren't always immediate and yes, some programmes don't achieve their aims, but in this period of immediate and critical attention to the writer/director roles I think it's vital that everyone records, discusses and learns from successes *and* failures.
Create Carer Support Initiatives
A carer initiative would work well for all women who work in film and television? Who hasn't had caring challenges along the way, whether children, parents, partners etc? It's not a controversial initiative and fits easily within the 'promote and safeguard' concept.
Fresh in from London, but without WFTV involvement, is a new Raising Films initiative, the Family Support Fund, in partnership with the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund (CTBF), a charity that supports people working behind the scenes in the UK film and TV industry.
The Fund aims to provide short-term financial support to registered members of Raising Films by contributing up to £75 a day to help cover the cost of care arrangements. Beneficiaries will be able to claim a total of £1,500 a year and to make multiple applications.
Raising Films (writer-director + writer + 3 producers + film critic) asked if CTBF's already-established John Braebourne fund might be extended to cover caring costs. CTBF said it already did, but people rarely applied because it didn't specify. Raising Films then came up with the idea to pilot a specific fund, naming caring costs. That is, support for families who need carers for family members of any age. Who might be a good partner here?
In the States, Moms in Film have another initiative, targeted at childcare only, the Wee Wagon (yes!). They are calling for tax-deductible donations to help them build an innovative and affordable childcare solution for use on set and at festivals. It will have–
...a pumping/nursing station, folding cribs and a changing table; it will be full of soft textures, vibrant colors and engaging toys. A purpose-built environment to engage children at various development stages.Their first and very successful venture was at SXSW.
It's not such a bad idea? Something for larger production companies to consider partnering in?
WIFTNZ could also create partnerships with people outside the industry who lobby for better tax relief for people who have to pay carers in order to do their creative work.
Recognise women's achievements in the industry
The WIFTNZ Awards are a well-established organisational highlight. But there are other ways to recognise women's achievements, like residencies.
Last year, I spent a week alone at a friend's bach in Waiheke, with cell reception available only in a small corner of the sleeping area, no internet, a short walk to the beach and wonderful quietness. I thought how excellent it would have been to spend a month there working on a script, on funding applications, planning for a crowdfunding campaign, or a marketing and distribution plan. And I wished there were residencies for women filmmakers. Most of the established arts residencies exclude filmmakers, though the New Zealand Pacific Studio in the Wairarapa doesn't. Could WIFTNZ support a short-term residency or two for writers and directors at various levels, at the Pacific Studio or the Michael King Writers Centre, or somewhere similar, providing travel costs and carer costs as well as full support to whomever, for a minimum of a month?
It wouldn't be difficult to find partners for this; there may even be matrons or patrons who would offer their holiday homes for use.
Build capacity and benefit the screen industry as a whole
An obvious way to build capacity for work by women writers and directors, in the traditional or new contexts they work in, is to help build their audiences.
Slated's recent in-depth study into gender and ROI found that low-budget films directed by women were the only ones that showed a loss, because–
In the last year or so, I've had a couple of experiences that convinced me the need to develop audiences for women-directed features is urgent, not just because not just because I imagine that more people would like to be better-informed about access to the riches that local women offer or I wished that Cameraperson, or Beyond the Lights or... or... or... had reached New Zealand cinemas (that distribution/marketing problem again).Women are being given fewer films, and not only is that true, but they're having to make their movies with less money, so they're doing it with one arm tied behind their back. That effectively puts less production value up on the screen, meaning movies with a little narrower scope...And once the product is all made, assuming it's as good despite having less money, it's then handicapped by being shown on two-thirds fewer screens. Those movies just don't get seen. So then there's this ongoing perception that women just aren't really into the movie industry, and if they do make stuff, it's not quite as good.
The first experience was last year, when I presented at a specialist symposium on women and gender. The audience, mainly academics, was a sophisticated one that quickly understood the problems I outlined; they saw, for example, that women directors and women who practice law often face similar issues. But when I asked the group to name the last film they remembered which had a woman director, although as a group they seemed to enjoy entertainment and probably had disposable income to indulge their pleasures, the majority found my question a challenge to answer, including one woman who said she always tried to read books by women writers and had favourites, but hadn't thought to choose her films on the same basis. We didn't get to webseries, but I imagine the outcome would have been no different. I think the response would be similar if I asked women in women's gatherings elsewhere.
Then, later in the year, on a weekend afternoon I went to see The Great Maiden's Blush. To my surprise, because it had been on for a while, the medium-size cinema was full: full of women, with maybe one or two men. And when the lights went up there was this flood of conversation. Not about 'Shall we go for a drink?' or 'Where are my keys... I've parked on Taranaki Street'. The conversation was about the film. And it was passionate, in a way I've rarely heard at the end of a screening. No-one was reaching for their phone. Everyone wanted to talk about what the film had given them.
The DomPost critic Graeme Tuckett included The Great Maiden's Blush as the *only* New Zealand work in his Top 10 movies of 2016 (brave man!) and, as mentioned, it's just won Best Self-Funded Feature at the New Zealand Film Awards and overall Best Actress. But The Great Maiden's Blush did not make much money in cinemas.
Why was this? One obvious reason is its lack of marketing budget. It was also self-distributed, and would always fare less well than a conventionally distributed film which had a better choice of session times. Another reason is that it didn't have the heft of NZFC behind it. It was also a little 'different', in its structure, its length, its themes. There may be a lot more of this kind of the kind of 'different' now more funding is going to features that women write and direct and is also apparent in some of the webseries coming through, which are often feature-equivalents on another platform (I watched Pot Luck online in one go and that was very rewarding). The reasons probably also connect to the reasons why women's low-budget generate smaller returns than men's in the United States and elsewhere.
|Pot Luck's director Ness Simons with producer Robin Murphy photo: Tracy Sexton|
One way, as an extension of educational panels, is to organise panels in a film context, like the one WIFT Germany has organised at this year's Berlinale, a session called How to Attract Audiences in a Changing Cinema Landscape – Fresh Ideas for Storytelling and Outreach, with Lone Scherfig and Julie Bergeron, Head of Industry Programs at the Marché du Film in Cannes–
Scherfig, Bergeron, and chair Katja Eichinger will try to answer the question, 'Which new opportunities have evolved in these fields and how can we successfully make use of them?'In the light of continually changing viewing habits, sticking to the existing standards of cinema is not enough. Instead, we need to profoundly challenge the ways we tell stories and develop new methods of engaging our audience.
But this panel is essentially an industry panel; and I think WIFTNZ could very easily reach beyond its established 'educational forum' brief at events like the New Zealand International Film Festival.
I think many members of women's organisations would be interested in the employment issues for women writers and directors and for other women who are camera operators and sound recordists. They'd also be interested in ideas like 'if she can see it she can be it'; and in supporting projects where there was an overlap of interest, as already happens in some cases with self-funded films, both documentary and narrative. Seeking partnerships would raise awareness of the issues, help writers and directors by encouraging conversation about the parameters of women's filmmaking, inform and increase audiences, generate more ideas about increasing audiences; and raise WIFTNZ's profile and increase its influence.
Collaborations with organisations like the National Council of Women and/or the Women's Studies Association, as just two examples, could have real effects not just immediately but over time as part of most of these suggestions.
3. Screening series and festivals
Many potential partners, some of whom could be brands, would respond well to the pure entertainment aspect too. Could WIFTNZ run a monthly programme to be promoted through partner organisations, with films like Cameraperson that aren't being distributed into cinemas, and perhaps with a (Skyped if necessary) Q&A with the filmmaker or with actors, producers, directors of photography? It's completely possible: in London the other day, after a showing of Cameraperson, Kristen Johnson – the film's director and subject – Skyped in for a Q&A led by critic Sophie Mayer, filmed and then uploaded for general viewing. It was terrific (and reminded me of my long-time dream of an online women's film club).
Each film and Q&A could probably be screened simultaneously in various centres, as well, in comfortable and event-oriented venues like the Lighthouse in Wellington. And there are New Zealand-directed features and webseries to consider, too, plus the back catalogue. Imagine Ramai Hayward's Eel History Was a Mystery, followed by Merata Mita's Mauri, followed by a panel discussion led by contemporary Maori women in film.
Then there are specialist festivals. As I know from experience, a festival is a *lot* of work to organise. And again, the local ship may have sailed on this one, except for my next idea, re ratings, already referred to above. The Māoriland Film Festival has a deep commitment to #womeninfilm. Show Me Shorts has a firm grasp on the issues. Even the latest French Film Festival has a strong and well-promoted section of work by women. But could WIFTNZ partner with one or more of these festivals, find ways to help them better celebrate and nourish the women writers and directors whose work they present?
Another possibility is inviting a ready-made women's film festival, maybe one a year and including some local content. There's WIFTNSW's WOW, which travels. There's the Bluestocking Film Series partner to Cinefemme; it also travels all over the place. There's Tasmania's Stranger With My Face, which could travel and as a genre festival would be very popular. And many many more.
Audience awareness and loyalty would also be amplified by local use of the F-Rating and/or A-Rating. WIFTNZ could promote the use of one of these at every film festival in the country, starting with the New Zealand International Film Festival.
The Arts Foundation's Boosted, 'bringing artists and audiences closer together than ever' has been extraordinarily successful as a crowd funding site and includes film artists who benefit from the Arts Foundation's charitable status. But we don't have a non-profit organisation like Women Make Movies to act as a fiscal sponsor for film projects that want to apply to organisations that require a non-profit status: to be able to do this would make a big difference to many, I believe.
OK. That's all I can manage today. I hope this has been helpful. And I hope that WIFTNZ embraces and nurtures the writers and directors among us with renewed enthusiasm and comes alight, in new and exciting directions.
(1) My confidence in WIFTNZ's research and its commitment to women directors – and writers – is not reinforced by this just-announced WIFTNZ Wellington Workshop, slightly edited to provide more details about Stella Reid–
What Does It Mean To Have A WOMAN IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR? A vigorous discussion about the opportunities and challenges for female directors in New Zealand. With Dr Ruth Harley (ex CEO NZFC & Screen Australia), Catherine Fitzgerald (film producer), Stella Reid (theatre director/filmmaker, nominated for and winner of Promising New Director and nominated for Best Director in Wellington's Theatre Awards last year, creator and performer of the multi-award-winning The Basement Tapes and writer/director/producer of Drop Down Globe: Shakespeare on film and by females – remixed, rediscovered and reimagined – one of six short Someday Stories just announced by The Outlook for Someday). Chair: Robin Laing (film producer).
Following on from the WIFT survey of its members on Gender Equity, let’s talk about the steps that need to be taken to achieve a 50/50 funding split for female/male directors. It is not just in the hands of the funding bodies. How do we collaboratively work to ensure that women’s stories are told?
I could be just delighted about this, because it might generate ideas like some I've suggested, better than those I've suggested, about partnerships and opening up to the wider community. With those producers present, it also signals that women producers at WIFTNZ are taking on board their responsibilities to women directors (and possibly writers, though perhaps as that tiny 5% of membership they are not of equal concern to WIFTNZ). So yes it could be wonderful. But.Date: WEDNESDAY 29th March at 6pm for 6.30 start (drinks & nibbles at 6) Place: The Film School, 86 Vivian Street Members Free/Non-members $15Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
This panel can only address what sitting in the director's chair means to an administrator and two veteran producers who have had access to research about the difficulties for women directors for almost a decade, but haven't spoken out about it publicly; and just one exciting but primarily theatre maker and director, who is now making a short film. It privileges their voices and experience and, like that WIFTNZ public meeting in Auckland in 2015 re gender equity, seems resolutely monocultural.
I imagine Stella Reid will be great, but there are so many others who could complement her. I wish the panel represented, in a more balanced and more equitable way, the diverse women who sit in the director's chair, of whom there are many in Wellington, working hard and working collaboratively, with many tales to tell about their problem-solving successes and failures and many suggestions to offer.
And who are 'we'? The wider community? Or WIFTNZ members only? The people on the panel? – in which case, if they truly want to 'talk about the steps that need to be taken', it seems even more urgent that they consult and listen to a range of directors and writers? And provide their research to a wider community which can then respond from well-informed positions?
And it's not just about whose stories will be told but whose stories will reach audiences: what about steps to take to reach and grow audiences?
Furthermore, it's important to acknowledge and include in discussion the NZFC's achievement of a 50:50 funding split for female/male directors in many areas, including feature film production, in the year ending 30 June 2016, thanks perhaps to the gender equity policy already in place (see Part 1 of this series) though it would be good to formally embed the 50:50 policy. How did the NZFC do it? What can be learned from that?
And what about the interests of the writers? Aren't they/we entitled to that 50:50 too?
But of course because of my lack of access to WIFTNZ's research outcomes I may have missed a lot. The email from WIFTNZ that a mate forwarded says–
You now would have seen our Gender Equity submission to the Film Commission, which we stress is confidential to members only.
-----In view of the content of that submission, if you haven’t already RSVP’d for this workshop, you now might want to!
Updated 5 March 2017, to correct an error and add new information; and March 20 to add new information.