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NZ Update #10: 48Hours Aotearoa New Zealand 2017

It's time to register for Aotearoa New Zealand's HP48Hours (48Hours) film competition, founded by Ant Timpson in 2003 and supported by the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), our taxpayer-funded film organisation. So here's my view of the competition, an interview with veteran participant Ruth Korver and an analysis of director participation in 2016, by gender.

I've been curious about 48Hours since 2006, when I started my PhD on the development of women's feature films in New Zealand. What, I wondered back then, are the roles of film initiatives created outside the NZFC? How do they feed into women's opportunities to make taxpayer-funded feature films? How do the NZFC's contributions – if any – to these initiatives benefit women writers and directors who want to make features?

Whenever I've thought about how 48Hours benefits women who want to write and direct features, I've decided “Yes and No”. In 2009, for instance, I wrote “...our 'pathway' representation as writers and directors is ... really low, for example in the 48Hours contest... Last year for the first time there was a prize for an all-women team, which Gaylene Preston Productions sponsored. This was great, because Muriel Niederle from Stanford University and her co-researchers have shown that women and men compete differently; affirmative action programmes where women compete among other women can be very useful in making change”. But although Gaylene Preston and WIFTNZ have consistently supported women's participation in 48Hours over the years, in various ways, I've never been convinced that their support has provided the competition with enough of an affirmative action programme.

But in 2011, I had fun when I participated a little, in two teams that friends were part of, trying to understand why they so loved 48Hours. I also interviewed one of them, Francesca Jago – twice the winner of the Gaylene Preston Best Female Director award – about all-women teams. And that year, perhaps because of 48Hours, there was an unusually large group of women applicants for the NZFC short film programme Fresh Shorts, a well-established step towards feature filmmaking. Lisa Chatfield from the NZFC took a Fresh Shorts promo video featuring some women filmmakers to 48 Hours and told me: “The increase in applications this year is a fantastic result for Fresh Shorts and I think relates to a closer connection between Fresh Shorts and V48Hrs”. I never learned how many women applied to Fresh Shorts – back then the NZFC was less transparent – but that year half the sixteen projects selected for funding were written and directed by women, four at each budget level.

More recently, Hweiling Ow, a veteran 48Hours producer of films that have made it to the Auckland and National finals and twice Best Actress winner, has just been awarded one of two $60,000 awards from the NZFC's Women’s Horror Short Film Fund to write and direct Vaspy, about an expectant mother who suddenly develops strange food cravings after being 'stung' by her child's clickety clack wooden toy, Vaspy. So that's a positive outcome, too.

In 2012, to experience 48Hours more fully, I co-wrote and co-directed a 48Hours entry, Tinkerbell, a response to a poem by Hinemoana Baker, with people I love. I wrote about the experience here, worrying about making fake blood and writing at speed and at night, and here, in an exhausted, appreciative, heap. (Tinkerbell's had a little ongoing life of its own in Germany, as a 'poetry' film, and that's great.)

That year I also interviewed directors Francesca Jago, Laurie Wright and Ruth Korver for a podcast, about their experiences of and opinions about 48Hours, and then interviewed Gaylene Preston, who suggested that 48Hours filmmakers watch The Five Obstructions, about a challenge Lars von Trier created for fellow filmmaker Jørgen Leth, his friend and mentor.

Overall, my experience taught me that the 48Hours culture wasn't for me. It still isn't. All women's opportunities for participation and achievement feel much broader than they were when 48Hours began and that makes a difference. Like everyone now, I can make a short film on my phone or iPad, anytime, in response to a challenge that interests me and within constraints that I and/or collaborators choose. Digital natives do this even more easily. So why would I again direct a short film within what I perceive as a rather bossy patriarchal framework and within a tight timeframe, when the competition doesn't provide me with any additional resources?

It may seem a bit stern to describe 48Hours as bossy and patriarchal. But then I watched One in Five, a new and wonderful film student short about women's participation in the film industry (see below), where critic Mark Kermode (9:33), talks about legendary writer/director Nora Ephron's view of the film industry, which says the same thing more softly. Nora Ephron believed that the film industry, constructed to suit men and to keep women out, was “designed to stop you doing the job”. She refused to work that way. Of course some women can and will adapt to gruelling hours, within a 48-hour marathon or in the wider industry. And they will do well there. But I suspect that just as many cannot and will not and will choose to participate in other initiatives to tell their stories.

After 2012 I moved on to appreciate initiatives that evidence cultures with less constricting timeframes – many of them documentary-based – where girls and young women appear to participate strongly and shine, like the Outlook for Someday and Inspiring Stories competitions and the Māoriland Film Festival's E Tu Whānau Rangatahi Filmmaking.

Māoriland's Native Slam, “an international collaboration where fifteen established international Indigenous filmmakers were brought together and challenged to produce five short films in 72 hours” has also included a high proportion of women; and in 2017 women directed 60% of Māoriland's screening programme, so we at last have a local film organisation that incorporates gender equity within all its programmes and across all age groups. I love the images on Māoriland's Facebook page that convey some of the hard work and joyful achievement inherent in what girls and women do there. Like these–

There's Loading Docs, too, where many women make short films and learn to crowd fund along the way.

Women who make fictional work are also strongly represented among those who write and direct webseries, many of them exploring female protagonism in ways that I admire (and taking fresh looks at portrayals of men). And yesterday, Waiting, directed by Amberley Jo Aumua while she was a student at Unitec, won New Zealand's Best Short Film Award from an excellent group of finalists. It has also been selected for Toronto. The historical 'pathway' to feature film making (NZFC-funded short that does well in A-list festivals, NZFC-funded development) has become more inclusive pathways that we can all celebrate and that can lead to exciting independent features like Andrea Bosshard's The Great Maiden's Blush. This can only be a good thing.

But a few months ago, when I saw this Facebook post from Ant Timpson I renewed my interest in 48Hours. Has the 48Hours culture now changed I wondered (though that fist and some of the aggressive language says no, absolutely not!)?

Hmmmm, I thought, the number of women directors at 48Hours doubled in 2016: that's a big jump! Great that there are now more women directors involved. What's changed?

And then, “What about the writers?” Let's check them out, too.

It matters profoundly, right here in Aotearoa New Zealand, that women writers of feature films are almost as equally under-represented as women directors and that we track their/ our participation as assiduously as we track director participation. For a whole lot of reasons. Because films start with stories, with screenplays that define whose stories get told, whose lives the director illuminates and how. In theatre, the writer's significance is much more fully acknowledged: a Shakespeare play, an Aphra Benn play etc.; and I like that.

Even Jane Campion started out as a writer. This is what she said the other day: “I had these stories and there was no chance of getting anybody else to do them, so I had to become a director of my own work. I never thought I wanted to be a film director. I’m not actually ambitious per se in terms of a career; I’m just ambitious to achieve the stories and dramas that I’ve come up with”.

For women and others historically excluded from filmmaking, there's also the vital issue of protagonism as privilege, articulated as much by writers as directors and within that issue, the debates about female and intersectional protagonism. Ava DuVernay and Jill Solway are my go-to sources for wisdom about this, in articles like this one. Is the increase in women directors at 48Hours matched by bold work about female protagonists? It may be. I saw one project from last year, Rhythm (embedded below) with its entry fee funded by South Pacific Pictures (SPP) through WIFT – and its Bechdel Test light-hearted, playful, pleasures – delighted me more than any other 48Hours film I've seen.

Anyway, Ant kindly sent me his spreadsheet and a lovely mate helped me analyse the director figures, but we weren't able to do the same for writers in the time available, which I regret. I think it would be useful to analyse 48Hours producer genders too: are there – as elsewhere in the industry – far more women producers supporting men to tell their stories than there are men supporting women? (Anyone have the desire, skills and time resource to analyse the writer and producer data?)

And I thought it would be helpful to re-interview Ruth Korver, who now has a central role in the 48Hours management. Like my mates who enter 48Hours year after year she's unequivocal about its excellent value.

Here are Ruth's generous, thoughtful, responses, followed by the stats.

Ruth Korver at work, with Vanessa Patea

Ruth Korver

WW What roles have you had at 48Hours? How have you and your work benefitted from your commitment to the competition?

RK I have entered HP48Hours nine times over the years in a pretty broad range of roles. I've also photo-blogged Wellington teams several times and this is the fourth year I am involved in the organisational side of the competition – managing Wellington and helping Ant with National organisation.

48Hours films I have been in and the roles undertaken–

2004 - Recital in Minor - Musical - Director.
2005 - Bliss of the Kiss - Mockumentary - Director and editor.
2006 - Snow White - Fairy tale - Gaffer, and editor.
2008 - Half a Horse - Crime - DOP.
2009 - Electric Pink Company - Dance/Musical - DOP, editor and dancer.
2010 - The Fabricator - Biopic - Director and editor.
2011 - Ruby Red - Musical - Co-producer, co-director and colourist.
2013 - The Sleeping Plot - Crime - Producer and colourist.

The competition has been a great thing for me and my work as a film-maker. In entering I've ended up with a big body of work. The last entry – The Sleeping Plot won the National final and screened in a number of overseas festivals which was great for things such as funding proposals and my C.V.

It’s also been a great way to find collaborators. Filmmaking is a team game and that stress and pressure is a wonderful way to find out who you work well with. The main team I ended up working with – Traces of Nut – made a feature in 2012 called How to Meet Girls from a Distance. Most of the crew were from the HP48Hours team and that practice under pressure was a great training ground for making a low-budget feature in a short time period with limited resources. I also went on to make a NZFC-funded Premiere Short with Dean Hewison from Traces of Nut (Judgment Tavern, as producer), which screened in the 2016 NZIFF and Vanessa Patea shares a production company with me. Together we have been making documentaries and she is my co-manager for the Wellington part of the HP48Hour competition.

Now that I'm involved in the running of the competition it’s been a great way to meet up and coming filmmakers. I produce films both for creative fun as well as commercially and I love that this is way to connect with talented people for both work and creative projects.

WW Increasing numbers of women are directing at 48Hours, but, as the stats show, participation isn't high and there are more of us among the school teams than in the 'main' competition. What do you think the reasons are for unequal numbers overall and higher numbers within the school competition?

RK I suspect that the reasons we have seen fewer women directing and in key creative roles in the HP48Hour competition are similar to the reasons we have seen fewer women in these roles across the industry. Personally I think it is a combination of a lack of role models alongside lower resilience and confidence in women. It might be weird to quote Cars 3 – but Cruz Ramirez sums thing up nicely in regards to the way women often feel compared with men: She’s talking to Lightning McQueen about why she gave up her dream to become a racer and says – “All the other racers were bigger than me and it made me feel like it was a world in which I didn’t belong”. When she asks McQueen if he ever felt like he wasn’t going to be a champion racer his answer is simple. “I just never thought I couldn’t”. There’s a Spinoff article about it here.

On the positive side, it has been really heartening in the last few years to see a deliberate push by the industry and funding bodies to encourage women into taking on creative film roles and directing. I think that the discussion that is happening around female participation in film is having an impact and the increase in female directors in places like HP48Hours is a reflection of this.

If school teams have a higher proportion of females directing then that is really exciting. It makes sense that as more women take on directing roles and talk about why this is important, there are more role models for young women to see.

(I should note that the schools don’t have a separate competition - there is a best school prize but otherwise they are eligible for everything all teams are eligible for and we are seeing more and more school teams make it into the finals with some pretty astoundingly good films).

WW From what you've learned, how do women benefit from writing and directing at 48Hours? What does 48Hours offer us compared with, say, investing our time in making a web-series or a short film project to go for NZFC funding?

RK HP48Hours is something that is really complementary to developing other projects like a web-series or NZFC funding.

It offers a great opportunity to get a film made really quickly and often cheaply – it’s easy to get a team together to work on a film for a single weekend as opposed to a longer project. This means that for a first-time or early-career director it’s a good way to develop a track record. There’s a lot of competition for funding and without being able to show off your talent it’s hard to convince people to fund your project over others who have already made multiple films.

It’s great practice – you only get better at making films by making films. HP48 Hours is a good way to do this and develop a creative team to do it with.

Creating NZFC shorts or web-series can involve a long period in development. From applying for a Fresh Short it might be a whole year to get funded through to actually shooting it. HP48 Hours is a really good way to keep up your creative motivation through that process. Because you don’t have years of development invested in it you can take risks and try out new approaches to filmmaking. Filmmaking should be fun and this competition is a good way to remember that, and that’s a big reason even really experienced filmmakers come back every year.

And finally – you might win. If you do then you can use your winnings to make that short or web-series without having to apply for funding, and a number of previous winners have done just that.

WW Many of us work in poorly paid jobs that involve weekend work and also are time poor because of our domestic commitments. Those 48 hours are demanding. Of the women you know who compete in 48Hours year after year, how do they best manage their work and domestic commitments? Any tips?

RK The thing about HP48Hours is that not everyone is needed all weekend. If you’re a team leader or a director then yes you will need to be in it the whole time, but it is possible to engage with a team as a writer on the Friday night, cast or crew on the Saturday or post on Sunday. In my experience, when I haven’t had the time and energy to run a team I’ve joined others and participated in just part of the weekend.

Being there all weekend while managing other commitments is difficult and like most creative endeavours does rely on support from the people around you, whether it’s partners or friends and family taking on childcare or work places being flexible it’s definitely an ongoing negotiation.

WW Is 48Hours planning to set up child care facilities – like the Moms-in-Film Wee Wagon in the US, for example – any time soon? (There must be useable childcare facilities in the big cities that are free at the weekend, at least.)

RK No, not at this stage. There are a lot of compliance issues around childcare that put the cost of it out of reach of a community-based competition like this.

Childcare is certainly an issue for filmmakers in the competition, especially now that we’re in the 15th year many long-time entrants have had families over the years and I’m one of them.

In my experience you get to control who you work with in HP48Hours and how you make your film which is a lot more flexible for involving kids in the process. I think you put together the kind of team you want and if childcare needs to be part of that then fold it in. I’ve been on several teams where we’ve had some kids along and they’ve helped out. When Traces of Nut won the national final in 2013 we had the director’s 8 year old daughter with us – she was going to be my assistant – but the writers decided that a child was a great resource and wrote the whole film around her in the lead role. It was a risk – we didn’t know if she could act, but she was marvellous and got nominated for an award in the Moas.

We’ve also seen filmmakers entering family teams and making films with their kids – giving the next generation a go with the camera or tablet.

My partner continues to enter and because I’m now working on organising it I imagine we’ll see him crossing the finish line again this year with our son strapped onto his back.

WW After many conversations about women's participation in filmmaking, I'm unconvinced that a director prize – however wonderful – will necessarily increase women's participation in 48Hours. And I'm learning that, especially in webseries, many women seem most interested in exploring female protagonism for diverse women and, sometimes, new ways to represent men. Would 48Hours consider an award for a female protagonist in an entry written and directed by women?

RK This year the best female director award was led by an offer from WIFT and Gaylene Preston who put their hands up to support female filmmakers and actively encourage them through personal contributions. There has been a lot of conversation that has sprung up from this and I think that it will help to have these great female role models in the industry signalling to women that they are supported and encouraged to take the step and direct. I suppose the proof will be in the statistics but the award is part of a broader push to encourage more women and hopefully the combination of efforts will continue to raise the numbers.

I agree that women are working with more diverse protagonists and an increase in female directors across the industry is opening us up to more stories from diverse perspectives. At this stage we have no plans for a female protagonist award but it is an interesting thought and something to consider.

WW Another rich source of interest for women is the Bechdel Test. Has 48Hours considered adding the Bechdel Test as a genre, as an interesting exercise for everyone?

RK It was!! Last year. We have never released any info about the requirements for each year in advance and won't be doing so this year so unfortunately you'll need to wait until 7pm August 25th [to learn] whether the Bechdel Test will feature again.

The Director Stats

After we worked through Ant's spreadsheet and excluded the projects where information was incomplete, we had 511 projects. Then I spent a long time tracking the names that were not obviously gendered. I figured that because 48Hours is heavily oriented to Facebook I should be able to track down most people and that worked out well. If I was uncertain, or Facebook pages were private, I tracked the individual through the Facebook pages of others in their team. After this, there were just 22 projects with unclear gender for their directors; some of these may be transgender or from one of the other gender options Facebook offers.

After my own experience as a co-director at 48Hours, I was intrigued that those 511 projects for which we had full information had 804 directors: lots of co-direction in there. A third of the directors overall were women, but when we looked at the projects that had only a woman or women as directors, women's participation was reduced to less than a quarter. This supports my perception that 48Hours may offer opportunities for men directors to support women directors to give it a go, opportunities that may not be available in other contexts: great.

Because women's participation as film directors is globally far stronger early on the pathway to feature filmmaking (see One in Five below) and because 48Hours last year had a 2-for-1 registration deal for school teams, I wanted to find out what would happen if the school teams were excluded. And yes, in adult teams there were fewer women directors overall and a smaller proportion of projects with only women directors.

This is a better result than for all feature films made in New Zealand between 2003-2016, but not hugely so.

All feature films in NZ 2003-2016

And it reminded me of Geena Davis's reference to a study of ten important sectors of society. It showed that only about 20 percent of positions in authority were held by women.

In another interview, Geena Davis referred to a study that shows that women's participation often stalls at 17-20%, in crowd scenes in films and in a range of occupations. “What I'm wondering,” Davis stated, in reference to women in front of the camera, “is could it be that the vast amount of media that we consume has trained us to see 20 percent female as the normal percentage of women”. One in Five provides a current example of how this works in film.

In the school teams, the overall proportion of women directors was even higher than the proportion of projects directed only by women and the figures for co-direction were higher than in adult teams. But it's good to see the gender proportions a little more balanced.

If I ever take part in 48Hours again, it's likely to be in a part-weekend role where I want to learn – as an editor's assistant, in lighting, or in sound; and that kind of role may be very useful for other writers/directors, too.

But how might adult women's participation as 48Hours directors further improve? As Ruth acknowledges “If you’re a team leader or a director then yes you will need to be in it the whole time”. How can 48Hours better support women to make that commitment, given the conditions many of us live in? More affirmative action than an award for best female director is probably necessary.

One key strategy could be through providing additional resources like childcare or equipment we might otherwise have to hire (remember that our incomes tend to be a lot lower than men's and even lower if we are Māori, Pasifika or Asian). When Ruth writes that “Childcare is certainly an issue for filmmakers in the competition,” she suggests “I think you put together the kind of team you want and if childcare needs to be part of that then fold it in”. But that's not possible for many women directors, on top of the other demands of the 48-hour weekend commitment. It would be great to see 48Hours prioritising this issue, putting its mind to resolving the compliance problems and taking responsibility for 'folding in' childcare-for-all-parents as an integral part of the competition, at least in the main cities, providing a model for the film industry as a whole.

What else might be good? Would help with the entry fee (this year $195-235) make a big difference, as it may have with last year's Rhythm? According to WIFT, the purpose of the SPP sponsorship they supported was to get women reaching out to each other in the hope they might develop their connections and find other women to collaborate with again. SPP offered to pay entry fees for four teams. The teams had to be all women working in the screen industry, with at least one WIFT member in the team (director, producer, DOP, writer, or editor). But in the end only three three teams qualified. Was this because the criteria were too narrow? Are women working in the screen industry in general not interested in participating in 48Hours because it isn't useful for them? Are women in the screen industry in general not interested in working with other women? Would SPP and WIFT have been better to invest in film students whether or not they were WIFT members? Or?

And what about having an option for spreading the 48Hours over an extra day or over two weekends? It may seem impossible but with good will, it too would attract more adult women directors?

I'd love to hear more suggestions from you. And my guess is that 48Hours would like to hear from you too.

 Check out the One in Five website, Twitter etc.