Issue#2/May 2018: GENDER EQUALITY

Subjects have their time. Some appear suddenly, dominate the public debate for a short moment - and evaporate without much noise and without sustained traces. Others have been on the agenda for ages. They were discussed again and again, sometimes being followed with more attention, sometimes with less, sometimes emphatically and sometimes with boredom. They were there like inevitable companions, being allowed at the table for the sake of (sometimes fake) political correctness and often being considered as an annoying duty.

Hadn’t there been the people engaging themselves restlessly for the good cause some of these core subjects would have lost their impact or have disappeared altogether. Gender equality is such a subject, which is strange because equal chances for men and women should be an obvious and basic condition of us living and working together.

We know this is not the case and also the European Film Academy can, by no means, call itself a glorious exception: Two thirds of the EFA Members are men and only one third are women. Among the directors only 23,07% are women, among the screenwriters 25,62% and among the producers 30,58%.

The first thirty years of the European Film Awards have promoted 504 nominated feature-length films - 423 were directed by men and only 81 by women, this is to say 16,07%. Even worse is the situation when we look at the winners: Since 1988, a total of 126 awards were presented for feature-length films (European Film, Discovery, Documentary, Animation, Comedy) and only 12 (= 9,52%) of these were directed by women. All in all, 113 directors were nominated throughout the history of the Awards, 9 of them female and 104 male. Among the 172 nominated screenwriters, 17 were female and 155 male.

There is, indeed, much room for improvement and we need to develop a strategy to include more female film professionals in the academy and the awards. But the good news is that the EFA Board is composed of 12 women and 7 men!
We dedicate this second issue of the EFA Close-up to the subject of gender equality: We are taking stock of the developments resulting from years of engagement of strong and dedicated women, and of a six-month debate that started with the Harvey Weinstein scandal becoming public and finally got the heavy stone (which has always been there) rolling … and rolling … and it still rolls on. We hear young female filmmakers talking about their experiences, and we give the floor to female key players on the political level.

All their contributions make one thing clear: The wheel can’t be turned back. Let’s grab the chances that result from this debate, let’s live solidarity among genders and let us all work closely together to turn our industry into a good example of gender equality. 

Marion Döring
Director European Film Academy



Introduction by EFA Director Marion Döring

The time Is now: How Europe’s gender equality initiatives are gaining fresh momentum in the era of MeToo by Melanie Goodfellow

Women are the largest group of untapped entrepreneurs and leaders by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society 

Ada Solomon: ‘If a film is made by a man, are we not considering it?’ by Tara Karajica

Anna Serner: Gender equality needs time … and investment by Wendy Mitchell 

Equality is a Core European Value by Lucia Recalde, Head of Unit - Creative Europe MEDIA, European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology

Ursula Meier: Struggling Against the Glass Ceiling by Agnès Poirier 

Filmmakers Profiles:
Anne Zohra Berrached: “Step up and demand what you want” by Kaleem Aftab
Amanda Kernell: You only get one shot at each story by Wendy Mitchell 
Carla Simon: “There are not enough women making films” by Kaleem Aftab
Hope Dickson Leach: Filmmaking Can Be a Political Act by Kaleem Aftab
Ralitza Petrova: We need openness to more kinds of stories by Wendy Mitchell
Houda Benyamina: Cinema Shouldn’t Be an Aristocratic Art by Kaleem Aftab

Where do we go from here? Experts offer practical advice by Melanie Goodfellow



The time Is now: How Europe’s gender equality initiatives are gaining fresh momentum in the era of MeToo

by Melanie Goodfellow

A week before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October 2017, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg adopted a set of recommendations to combat gender inequality across the film and TV industries in its 47 member states.

If implemented, the propositions in the document, going by the somewhat unsexy title of “Recommendation on Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector”, would level the opportunity playing field for hundreds of thousands of women in audiovisual industries across Europe.

Its adoption drew little mainstream media attention at the time but, like many European gender equality initiatives that have been building over the last five to seven years, it has gained traction in the era of the US-born MeToo and Time’s Up movements, sparked by the Weinstein revelations. 

“Those documents are being taken far more seriously because of MeToo and all the other things that are going on. We're getting more visibility because it's become a kind of trendy topic,” says Francine Raveney, one of the key architects of the recommendations, who is also a co-founder of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA). 

She says the current mood is very different from when EWA tried to drum up media coverage for its first networking reception in early 2013. 

“We tried to get an article in a big UK newspaper via one of our journalist contacts and the message that came back from the culture editor was, ‘Why do we need an article about the European Women’s Audiovisual Network when there are no decent female directors?’”

Filmmaker Bettina Förg, a board member of Women in Film and Television (WIFT) Germany, echoes Raveney’s sentiments on making the most of the energy unleashed by MeToo. “We want to use the momentum to firmly embed women's equality in everybody’s mind,” she says. 

WIFT Germany -  laying on networking opportunities and career development workshops as well as lobbying for change all year round - was one of the co-organisers of the “Closing the Gap: How to take action towards #5050by2020” conference alongside WIFT Nordic and the Swedish Film Institute at the Berlinale in February. It was among a dozen such events taking place during the festival this year. 

Anyone who attended the packed meeting in the historic Meistersaal concert hall will testify to the strength of feeling among the almost exclusively female participants as they discussed their sense of being shut out along gender lines at certain stages of their career and that this needed to change. 

Like most female-focused bodies across Europe, WIFT Germany sees the issues of gender equality and sexual harassment as inextricably linked.

“In Germany, the discussion around the Weinstein scandal quickly expanded beyond the immediate focus of sexual harassment, into a debate around misuse of power and gender inequality,” adds Förg.

Kate Kinninmont, CEO of Women in Film & Television UK (WFTV UK), one of Europe’s largest and oldest female professional entities, describes the Harvey Weinstein scandal as “a catalyst” that has served to amalgamate ongoing measures with initiatives that were in the air but have never been formalised.

“It made people who’ve been thinking about doing something sit up and say, ‘That thing we’ve been talking about doing for such a long time, we should get on and do it … now’s the time,’” she says.

The Weinstein scandal made WFTV UK dig deeper into the issue of sexual harassment and how it might have impacted its members.

"I put out a call for any of our members who had had these issues in the past … to find out what would have helped them at the time and what they thought would be helpful now … We got over 100 responses in just two weeks,” she reveals.

For many of the respondents it was the first time to come forward about their ordeals, either because they didn’t know who to turn to at the time or because their harasser was a manager.

WFTV UK has since stepped up its involvement in industry-wide talks across the value chain exploring ways of fostering gender equality as well as eradicating sexual harassment and bullying for everyone. 

Key steps include the drafting of pan-industry anti-harassment workplace guidelines alongside bodies such as the British Film Institute (BFI), the producers’ body Pact and the UK entertainment sector union BECTU, as well as supporting a new 24/7 support line. Spearheaded by the UK's revamped Film & Television Charity, the call centre covers all workplace issues from bullying and harassment to long hours. 

“It's open to freelancers, full-time staff and employers, anyone who needs advice." 

The hotline is among a number of similar initiatives taking shape on both sides of the Atlantic. At the “Closing the Gap” conference in Berlin, the pan-European body Speak Up! was unveiled. 

Daniela Elstner, CEO of Paris-based sales company Doc & Film, who was one of the first European professionals to talk publicly about suffering sexual harassment early in her career, spearheaded the group’s creation.

Its key aims are to raise awareness on the issue in the film industry, offer advice to young professionals entering the business on what is acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour and offer counselling and support to victims of sexual harassment.

“We want to make it clear that sexual harassment will no longer be tolerated,” said Elstner as she unveiled the initiative alongside Polish filmmaker Małgorzata Szumowska.

A growing ecosystem

All of these initiatives are taking flight within a burgeoning ecosystem of gender equality bodies and action plans that have been taking shape across Europe during the past decade.

For many of its activists, the Weinstein revelations and subsequent MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns gave fresh impetus to a crusade begun long ago.

Raveney recalls how she personally decided time was up during a trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, which hit the headlines that year for its failure to include any female-directed feature in its 22-title competition line-up. 

“It became very clear to me that there was a problem and that there simply wasn't a level playing field in the industry. Women could be decorative but not creative. That was an issue for me,” she remembers. 

Raveney decided to take a sabbatical from the Council of Europe’s cultural fund Eurimages, where she was a project manager on its co-production activities.

Inspired by WFTV UK, she spent the next two years setting up the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA), with the support of Eurimages project manager Alessia Sonaglioni as well as Spanish female producers group CIMA.

She gathered data for a seven-country report entitled “Where Are The Women Directors?” looking at gender equality across the European film industry. The findings then acted as the basis for the Council of Europe’s gender equality recommendation.

Now, Raveney is back at Eurimages, splitting her time between overseeing co-production funding and implementing the fund’s gender equality strategy aimed at achieving 50:50 parity by 2020.

This strategy includes the creation of the EUR 30,000 Audentia Award aimed at female filmmakers; awareness and development programmes; and tracking the gender of all the professionals involved in the projects applying for funding. The body also applies the Bechdel Test – determining if a script has two women characters talking to each other about something other than a man – to applications, although the findings do not impact funding. 

EWA, meanwhile, has developed into a thriving umbrella organisation bringing together more than 40 bodies such as the German, Finnish, Irish, Norwegian and Swedish branches of Women in Film and Television (WIFT); Austrian body FC Gloria; Sweden’s Doris Film; and France’s Le Deuxième Regard, which spearheaded a gender equality charter for the French film industry in 2013 and has recently driven the creation of the cross industry Colllectif 5050x2020

“Each organisation has its own focus. However, we are all connected with each other and exchange regularly on our various activities. Having strong partnerships between the organisations helps the general cause of working towards gender equality in the audiovisual industry, as we all share the same goal and want to move forward together. For instance, EWA Network published a joint public statement on the international day of the elimination of violence against women (25 Nov), which was co-signed by a total of 14 women’s audiovisual associations across Europe,” says EWA director Alessia Sonaglioni.

Looking back to the beginning of this journey, Raveney admits it was lonely in the early days. “I had left Eurimages, sold my flat. I felt like a very lone person trying to do something that was incredibly ambitious,” she says.

“I looked for support from places like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, as well as the Netherlands, that were further down the line to bring this crusade for equality forward.”

Indeed, Sweden was becoming a global shining light in the fight for equality at the time following the arrival of Anna Serner as CEO at the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) in 2011, where she set an ambitious 50:50 by 2020 target for film funding. The institute hit the target in 2015. Raveney praises Serner for the lead she has taken in the gender equality fight. 

Melissa Silverstein, the New York-based, trail-blazing founder of website and advocacy group Women and Hollywood, highlights the importance of data gathering now and in the future. 

“In the last six, seven years, what women in Europe and throughout the world have demanded is statistics. By having statistics, people have moved beyond anecdotal evidence about the lack of women into reality. With the data, they have been able to push for significant change."

The sophistication of the data and strategies put in place on the back of the findings still vary hugely from territory to territory across Europe.

While Sweden is approaching parity, much of Europe lags behind. The recent study, “Calling the Shots: Women and Contemporary Film Culture in the UK” revealed that just 14% of the 3,452 features shot in the UK between 2000 and 2015 were directed by women. 

A recent Slovenian study showed that just 10% of films made there between 1995 and 2017 were directed by women. 

Anecdotally, Polish director Szumowska, who lent her support to the “Speak Up!” initiative, says her country’s film industry also lags behind on gender equality. 

“In Poland, I’m the only woman in the commission at the Polish Film Institute who decides the funding for the Polish film industry,” she says. 

Indeed, in a number of Central and Eastern Europe countries as well as the former Soviet states in the Baltics, gender equality awareness is still in its infancy and there are fewer affiliates to bodies like WIFT. 

As the film industry gathers in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival this month, this number crunching approach shows there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Less than 30% of the films across all sections are directed by women this year, dropping to just 14% in the prestigious competition line-up. 

Against this backdrop, the conversations begun in Berlin are set to intensify up and down the Croisette this May. 

Serner will be speaking alongside Swedish Cultural Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke at the SFI panel on 13 May, Silverstein will host a Women and Hollywood event on 14 May, and also that day, the European Council’s lunch debate will focus on “women in audiovisual.” Women In Film and TV International and several of its branches will also host a series of events in Cannes.  At the Israeli pavilion, EWA Network president, Romanian producer Ada Solomon, will moderate a session entitled “Wonder Women – Getting Out of the Corset”.

Cannes itself, in partnership with France's Ministry for Gender Equality, will also introduce a sexual harassment hotline to report any assault or harassment during the festival.

Looking at this year’s Cannes statistics, Szumowska goes as far as to suggest that the time has come for some sort of positive discrimination, although Cannes delegate general Thierry Frémaux has ruled out the festival going down that route. 

“Looking at the numbers of female directors in the main competitions, or even side sections, at the biggest film festivals you see the problem,” says Szumowska, whose films have played in Locarno and Berlin. “After all of these years of being ignored by the industry, we need some sort of support. We deserve that. I don’t know exactly what method should be used but have a strong feeling it might help us to discover an amazing bunch of women filmmakers.” 

Melanie Goodfellow is a London-based journalist covering the film and TV industries of France and the Middle East primarily for Screen International. 

Women are the largest group of untapped entrepreneurs and leaders

by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society 

Women’s empowerment in the audiovisual sector is matter not only close to my heart, but, also one that requires all of our attention and fast action. I deeply believe that each individual shall be given the tools to take control of his or her life, and it is urgent to act accordingly. Today, and even more in the future, we cannot deprive our industries, businesses and societies from women's talents. 


Gender is one of the multiple facets of diversity, which is essential for businesses and organisations to deliver goods and services that are fit for the needs and desires of our fellow European citizens. It is common knowledge that more diverse ecosystems lead to better products and services; gives access to new, different experiences; and improve the work environment and company productivity. Presently, women constitute 52% of the European population. However, they currently make up only 30% of entrepreneurs and 32% of economic leaders. What a paradox! Women are the largest untapped entrepreneurial and leadership potential in Europe.

Women’s economic take-off suffers from a vicious circle of mutually reinforcing gender restrictions, educational bias and stereotypes. Therefore, in the scope of my mandate as European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, I have put forward the recently launched strategy Women in Digital, which hinges on three axes: (1) Fighting gender stereotypes, (2) Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) among girls, and (3) Encouraging digital entrepreneurship for women. Additionally, I am taking very concrete commitments, such as heeding the No Women, No Panel European Campaign, based on which I do not take part in events where women are not fairly represented or where I would be the only woman speaker. 

The audiovisual sector bears a special responsibility. You, the audiovisual professionals, are developing the stories that create dreams, inspire us, and shape up our societies.  Therefore, many regulations at national and European level are addressing the question of equality between women and men, at least via the non-discrimination angle, like in the European Directive on Audiovisual Media Services.

Beyond the regulatory requirements, you have a unique chance to shed light on, and give flesh to the changes that we are calling for, which are likely to help our modern societies grow stronger and more inclusive. In this perspective, special attention will be paid to gender statistics in the works supported by the MEDIA programme. Our ambition is to have a clear state of play for women’s involvement in the works supported at European level, so that our support can positively accompany the changes at stake in the industry.

Let me turn the spotlight on a key condition for the success of our actions, which is acting together. Indeed, when facing the necessity to gather support, we have no choice but to listen to each other, to get out of our comfort zones and build the best solutions in our common interest. Let me make it very clear: advancing women’s rights is not a women’s matter; it should be everybody's business. 

My personal commitment at the European level has taught me the benefits of working in a diverse environment. The European institutions have diversity as part and parcel of their DNA. The equality between men and women contributes to diversity, but it shall not be the tree that hides the forest. The unique richness of our institutions lies in their ability to reflect the diversity of our modern societies. This is the reason why I defend a more holistic approach of diversity, which is not only geographical, but also social, and targets equality between men and women, reflecting the world we are living in.

To conclude, I invite you to have watchful eyes on our actions. Advancing women’s rights is a difficult subject for our society as a whole. We need the commitment of men, women, schools, universities, industry experts, policy-makers, CEOs, and governments. The path beyond us is still long, but I remain confident that by working together, we can make the difference.


Ada Solomon: ‘If a film is made by a man, are we not considering it?’

by Tara Karajica

One of Europe’s top producers, Ada Solomon, says the issue of gender equality in film has always been there, but “apparently, we haven’t been paying enough attention to it”.

She began to think more about it when she was speaking on a panel at the 2014 Berlinale and realised how different the situation was in Eastern and Western Europe. “We are not facing such a conscious discrimination or we don’t feel it because we were not educated like this,” she says of Eastern Europe, adding that communism played a major part in the emancipation of women – “I am not at all someone who will say that socialism was a good period, but it was something that created more conditions for women.”

Looking specifically at the film industry, the situation in Eastern and Western Europe cannot be compared, because, she says, “the level of it in smaller production capacity countries versus the big commercial cinema in the Western part of Europe and, of course, the U.S., is on a different scale.”

Solomon does not have a simple answer as to why there were no women directors making films at the beginning of the much celebrated Romanian New Wave, in which she herself was a key player. “I think that there were much less women studying cinema or having the option to become filmmakers 20 or 25 years ago,” she suggests.

This is not the case in Romania or the rest of the world anymore. Indeed, she applauds the shift in the current film ecosystem in the way it is reshaping itself and recognising the place of women more than ever before. To that effect, she quotes the number of women in this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival – in the Critics’ Week, there are 52% women directors, in Un Certain Regard 47%, 20% in the Directors’ Fortnight and somewhere below 20% in the Official Competition – as an illustration of her statement.

She has a very simple explanation for that: Semaine de la Critique and Un Certain Regard show more debut films and more so by women who come with their special style, distinctive films and unique way of making cinema, “this is related to a younger generation where females are much more present,” she explains. She wants to find ways to help this generation to continuously produce work and always be present: “it’s how to spotlight women, how to follow up on them.”

And, how are things in her native Romania? “There is a whole bunch of new female talent that is emerging,” she says. As someone who hadn’t worked with many female directors in the early years of her career, she is now involved in two women-led projects. Now in final post-production is documentary THE DISTANCE BETWEEN ME AND ME by Mona Nicoara, about the poet Nina Cassian, made with Dana Bunescu, the most renowned film editor and sound designer in Romania.

Certainly, the success of Romanian Cinema at this year’s Berlinale – with Adina Pintilie’s TOUCH ME NOT winning the Golden Bear  - is a testament to this shift, to this emergence of new talents, different voices and different styles, “It’s nothing that has to do specifically with the Romanian minimalism or with what we call the New Romanian Cinema. They are trying different things, they are going in different directions, more commercial maybe, or some very experimental like Adina Pintilie,” she points out.

Yet, this change has its consequences, filmmaking having become a double-edged sword, “I am really afraid that the trend now is to work with women or to have ‘female films’ and I am really afraid that we will go too far with this. If a film is made by a man, are we not considering it?,” she asks. She says she has always chosen her projects from the heart, with quality, art, and the voice of the artist prevailing over a gender tick-box. “Maybe that’s a female thing … not looking into the economic potential of a project in the first place.”

She has mostly worked with men, having, for instance, produced all of Radu Jude’s films, including his latest feature, I DON’T CARE IF HISTORY WILL REMEMBER US AS BARBARIANS, currently in post-production. Her other productions through her company HiFilm include Cãlin Peter Netzer’s 2013 Golden Bear winner CHILD’S POSE; Razvan Radulescu’s FIRST OF ALL, FELICIA; her husband Alexandru Solomon’s documentary KAPITALISM - OUR IMPROVED FORMULA; Ivana Mladenovic’s SOLDIERS. STORIES FROM FERENTARI; and Adrian Sitaru’s BEST INTENTIONS.

Gender quotas trouble her. “In the countries where there is this imposed quota of feminine presence in the basic structure of a project, I think we are heading towards something very, very, very dangerous,” she cautions, without knowing what the solution to this trend is because, “in order to get to a normality, you have to impose in the beginning and to educate by somehow imposing. And this is what quotas are doing now. They are imposing.”

Nevertheless, Solomon has never had to deal with this in Romania. “We never had this in our system of selecting projects; there isn’t any kind of quota imposed,” she observes.

As the newly appointed President of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA), she is hopeful EWA can be a positive force. The organisation has a concrete agenda; less talk and more action – in just one example she takes part in EWA’s mentoring program for young female producers.  Solomon says, “EWA is a wonderful initiative that is really about putting women in the spotlight and highlighting successful women as role models much more than looking into the negative side of it.”

Ada Solomon will moderate the panel Wonder Women – Getting Out of the Corset on 11 May at 11 am at the Israel pavilion in Cannes.

Belgrade-based film critic and journalist Tara Karajica has written for Film New Europe, Little White Lies, IndieWire, Screen International, Variety and many other publications. She is the founding editor of Fade to Her, a magazine for and about women in film.


Anna Serner: Gender equality needs time … and investment

by Wendy Mitchell

No other film industry executive is regularly called a “rock star” and gets standing ovations and shouts at conferences, but then again Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner really has rocked the film world in her work regarding gender equality.

Serner, who has a law degree and previously had studied film and worked in publishing, advertising and marketing, joined the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) in late 2011. Coming in with a fresh attitude, she resolved to reach equality in funding films by male and female directors by 2020. They hit that goal much earlier than expected, in 2015, and in 2016 SFI had a whopping 64% female-led projects backed.

The Institute never insisted on a quota, instead commissioning films based on quality, which they defined based on relevance, originality and craft.

“First and foremost, we have the assignment to find film projects with the potential for quality, and I wanted it to be clear that we hadn’t put that assignment aside, that I was misusing my power in the film area that didn’t benefit Swedish film,” she explains. “Secondly, there is this assumption that gender equality work affects the quality: that we had the best quality already (in the men’s work). As soon as quotas are discussed, it boils down to that it would be a quality problem.  And I didn’t want the work to be about quota or no quota but to actually work with the definition of the quality of the film projects.”

Backing more women inevitably means backing more stories that haven’t been heard before, and that in turn benefits the audience. “Films reflect society and how it is being a human being. Women and men, city people and rural people, rich and poor. We all have our different experiences which will be reflected through the filmmaker,” Serner explains. “With a greater diversity and gender equality there will be more perspectives of life on the screen. More people can reflect themselves, and get insights of how it is being a human.”

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course, Serner has seen plenty of grumbling – especially in Sweden – because of her focus on gender equality. And she also knows the fight is not over. “I wouldn’t say it’s sustainable. That’s why we invented a new action plan, 50/50 by 2020 even though the 50/50 target was reached already 2015. Gender inequality is so integrated in our global culture, it won’t be sustainable in generations I’m afraid. That’s why we need to actively work with it all the time.” To that end, the SFI is frequently setting new goals, including more accounting for gender equality in front of the camera, looking at more diverse representation, and growing its digital resource

With its success so far, and its rock star spokeswoman, Sweden has been an inspiration to other countries and their filmmakers and film institutes. Many have taken up the 50/50 by 2020 challenge, including US agency ICM; Telefilm Canada, the British Film Institute; and a group of 300 filmmakers in France including Céline Sciamma, Lea Seydoux, Jacques Audiard, and Laurent Cantet.

Serner says that while the “quality” approach worked for Sweden, the quota approach might be more realistic in other countries. “Sweden has been working for decades with inequality so we are a much more ‘mature’ market. For other countries, it would just take too long time to start from the beginning. I think they should consider quotas for a start.”

The US has its own set of challenges, she says, because there is less soft money and more commercial financing. “For obvious reasons private money financiers are more risk averse, but that unfortunately means that they miss out opportunities for improvements,” she says. Although American voices for gender equality are growing louder in the #MeToo era.

That commercial imperative is also still seen in Sweden, where men are still usually working with the bigger-budget productions – Janus Metz’s BORG/MCENROE or Ruben Östlund’s THE SQUARE have bigger budgets than Gabriela Pichler’s AMATEURS or even  Pernilla August’s A SERIOUS GAME, for instance.  Out in the wider world, women haven’t yet directed any films in the Star Wars or Marvel franchises.

The next step in the fight is, Serner hopes, for female directors “to get the bigger budgets on a continuous basis. We have seen in Sweden that they have the same potential and capacity as men, it’s just the system (of production companies) that doesn’t trust them [with higher budgets].”

These issues and more will be discussed once again in Cannes, the Swedish Film Institute will host a seminar to look at gender equality. Serner will speak alongside Alice Bah Kuhnke, Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy, Bosnian filmmaker Aida Begic and Toronto artistic director Cameron Bailey, among others.

Like many of her peers, Serner thinks that Cannes itself could make improvements with gender equality. “I think it’s obvious that they need to change something as the selection is so heavily male dominated. Usually it’s a combination of who does the selection and how aware are they in their unconscious biases.”

She praises how a festival like Toronto has been collaborating with “people with other insights and perspectives” for many years and has become a role model to other festivals.

Serner is keen to discuss the SFI’s gender equality model with any interested parties, and is hopeful that Sweden proves it can be done, if you put in some time and resources. “It’s the same work as any change management. You define the problem, put up a target, make a strategy with actions and make sure they have a budget. All changes are investments and that needs financing.”

What she hopes the rest of the globe learns from the Swedish Film Institute’s ongoing work? “That it’s possible.”

As her fans might say, “Rock on.”

Wendy Mitchell is a film programme manager at the British Council, a contributing editor at Screen International, and a consultant for the San Sebastian and Zurich Film Festivals.


Equality is a Core European Value

by Lucia RecaldeHead of Unit - Creative Europe MEDIA, European Commission, Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology.

Films and storytelling are in some way or another reflections of our society. The last year has clearly shown that women in the audiovisual industry all around the world are demanding substantial changes on many levels within the industry, not just behind the camera but also in front of it. Female filmmakers, film workers and actresses have jointly stood up for better working conditions and also for equal pay for the same jobs. 

Women in the industry are increasingly working together in a quest for fairer access to finance and production means. Why? Because almost every storyteller and filmmaker strives for the best possible distribution channels to reach a broad audience with their stories and perspectives. In our view, a good gender balance in the audiovisual industry will bring more diverse stories to the European and international audience. Women are half of the stories, it's that simple!

In today's world we are surrounded by stories, in all kinds of genres and formats, being distributed on all kinds of platforms. You can watch content on your own smartphone or tablet or on the cinema screen at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, Today's audiences are spoilt for choice in our digital world. Although cinemas and festivals are still regarded as the main arena for premieres and screenings of classical feature films, we know that digital distribution of content has for a long time been the natural way of watching and enjoying all kinds of audiovisual content. This is reflected in the MEDIA programme’s support schemes and will not be neglected in the future programme. Better circulation of European works is at core of the MEDIA programme, now and in the future. 

Why is it so important to bring diverse stories to the audience? Why is this value important to flag for the European Union and the Creative Europe MEDIA progamme? European films are by nature diverse, meaning they reflect and represent the diversity of European countries and cultures. But, as women comprise half of the population in Europe as everywhere in the world, we believe that a better gender balance creates and reflects broader diversity and perspectives on our lives and values. 

The audiovisual sector is well placed to shape and influence values, ideas, attitudes and behaviour prevalent in society and therefore the sector has an important role to play. Thus, gender balance in the European audiovisual industry might lead to better possibilities for reaching a wider audience and a better circulation of European films. A better gender balance is also in tune with our European democratic values, which is the essence of everything we do. And finally, gender balance in the European media and film industry will weave more vibrancy, perspectives and diversity into our rich cultural fabric.

So, how can the Creative Europe MEDIA sub-programme contribute – together with other institutions and funds – to a more diverse and better balanced audiovisual future?

First of all, by promoting the need for more diversity in the film industry!  We will put the topic in the spotlight and discuss it in various fora in the future, and we will communicate and highlight female filmmakers supported by Creative Europe MEDIA better, as well as giving more visibility to both newcomers and leading women in the sector. 

In the frame of the 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival, our annual filmmakers lunch will focus on women’s empowerment in the film industry and in our modern society at large, and the talks will embrace topics like: What are the latest developments in this debate? What has it changed so far? Which are the concrete measures to implement? 

The lunch and debate will take place in the presence of European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel and Members of the European Parliament.

The lack of gender equality in the audiovisual industry all around the world has been documented in a number of studies, statistics and articles in recent years.  Looking at these figures leaves no doubt that there is a substantial imbalance between men and women on many levels in the film and media sector, although the number of men and women being educated and trained as directors, producers, script-writers, photographers, actors and so on, are almost equal. We are committed through the MEDIA sub-programme of Creative Europe to put more energy and force into raising awareness of gender equality by measuring women's participation in MEDIA-supportive schemes through data gathering, monitoring and counting. 

We'll first measure gender balance within the support schemes Development and TV programming (gathering data on key positions such as scriptwriters, directors and producers), as well as measuring gender within the training schemes. MEDIA will also support mentoring projects for female scriptwriters (and/or producers & directors). These programmes will be carried out in collaboration with, or by supporting, existing platforms and networks already organising these kind of trainings, for example, EWA (the European Women’s Audiovisual Network). 

Recently we have also supported a project initiated by EWA focusing on "Women Pioneers in European Cinema,” which will presented at the Lumiere festival in Lyon in October. 

Equality, rights and diversity are core values in the EU and Europe, therefore we'll have to work together with national and international funds and institutions to promote and ensure that our objectives are reached. We will continue to strive for the widest variety of European audiovisual stories to be told and seen.  


Ursula Meier: Struggling Against the Glass Ceiling

by Agnès Poirier

The Swiss film director Ursula Meier, head of the Caméra d’Or jury in Cannes this year, knows the difficulty of being a woman in the film industry. When she studied film at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion (IAD) in Belgium, in the early 1990s, she was one of only two women out of 20 directing students. 

(picture by Claude Dussex)

Today, however, film schools attract and accept as many female students as males. “It is wonderful to see that, a generation later, gender equality exists in film schools everywhere in Europe. Now the fight is to get those female students into the film industry so they represent the same percentage of the work force,” she says. “We know as a fact that it is more difficult for women than men to direct a first feature, and even more difficult to get to the stage of directing a second feature. The figures are eloquent. It is crucial to publish them so that people, institutions and professionals reflect and react.”
Meier is interested in facts and figures because they are at once revealing and devoid of sentiment. She points out useful recent initiatives both in Belgium and Switzerland. A Belgian collective of 180 women working in the film industry, called “Elles font des films” has published some shocking figures. In Belgian film schools, 50% of students are women and yet only 20% manage to become a member of the industry, successfully making a living from film.
“I was very lucky,” she says. “My first feature film, HOME, had a relatively big budget for a first feature (around EUR 4.2 million). We built a whole house and transformed a large road into a motorway! However, except for a few exceptions, the reality is that financiers are reluctant to give really substantial budgets to films directed by women. There is this glass ceiling that exists not only in the film industry but also everywhere in our society. I have, for instance, a European film project for a feature set in the US, I already know it is going to be a struggle to fight this glass ceiling.”

“The archetypal Swiss film director is a white male in his 50s”

Recently, the Swiss filmmakers association (ARF/FDS) issued a report asking the provocative question: “Are female film directors simply less talented?” In 2014, male film directors in Switzerland were responsible for 72% of national productions, representing 78% of the total budget share.

Meier would like to start at the root of the problem: “Today, the archetypal Swiss film director is a white male in his 50s. We need more diversity. Also, 31% of film projects applying for public funding in Switzerland come from women film directors. However, the percentage getting public aid is 22%. Why this discrepancy?” 
She also points to the fact that there are more women in documentary filmmaking, which she posits is because budgets are smaller (Meier herself is a documentary veteran having directed AUTOUR DE PINGET and being one of the directors of BRIDGES OF SARAJEVO). “It is a question of power and empowerment. Power is still concentrated in a few hands. We have to help tackle a sexist culture. And if the recent awakening following the Weinstein affair doesn’t lead us to a real improvement, then we might as well impose quotas and look at the benefits. Things must change. Now.” In her view, the Harvey Weinstein scandal has not only liberated women and allowed them to speak up, it also has forced people to stop and start listening to women.
Asked if there is such a thing as “women films” Meier replies: “Men are never asked if they make “men films” or whether they have a “male sensitivity”, whereas am very often asked in interviews about my “feminine sensitivity”! Cinema is a universal art. Film directors are all different and unique. It’s a question of character, not of gender. Films have no gender.”
Looking at her filmography, which also includes the 2012 Berlinale Silver Bear winner SISTER and Berlinale 2018 selection SHOCK WAVES: DIARY OF MY MIND, one is struck by the presence of so many women employed on her film crews. “It is a coincidence. I choose people not for their gender but for their talent,” she says. “I have worked with strong directors of photography such as Agnès Godard and Jeanne Lapoirie. The fact is that, especially in France, there are many women in the film industry, many diverse talents. What we need is more women at the top, in film commissions giving out public funding, in positions such as financiers, producers and directors. When we do, there will hopefully be an organic trickling down effect. Until then, we must fight.” 

Agnès Poirier is a London-based journalist, writer and film critic. She is in charge of pre-selecting British films for the Cannes Film Festival. Her latest book is “Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50”.


Filmmakers Profiles

Anne Zohra Berrached: “Step up and demand what you want”

by Kaleem Aftab

“When I was making my first two films I didn’t consciously think, ‘Let’s do a film with a female protagonist, or let’s do a film for women,” says German director Anne Zohra Berrached. “If I look back, I see it, but I would say that because I’m a woman it’s much easier for me to imagine how a woman would think and feel.” 

Berrached came to international attention when her second film 24 WEEKS arrived in competition at the 2016 Berlinale. Starring Julia Jentsch, it tells the story of a pregnant stand-up comedienne who discovers that her fetus will likely be born with Down syndrome; she must decide whether to have a late-term abortion. It’s an affecting drama with a moral and emotional conscience. Her first film, TWO MOTHERS (2013), about a lesbian couple desiring to have a baby, was made while she was still a student at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.  

Directing was a job that chose her. “To be honest, I didn’t know what to do,” says the 35-year-old. “My family are farmers. I made a little 10-minute film and it turned out to be touching. I sold it to a television channel and that helped me get into film school.” 

When the Erfurt-born director arrived at the prestigious film school, she realised, “Everything that I’ve experienced in my life led me to become a director. My personality sits really well with that job. From a young age I learned to take responsibility for what was under my control – which I need to do on set. Also, my mother would always tell me, ‘It’s great what you’re doing.’ It raised my self-confidence, and if I’m self-confident then I can better cope with the job.” 

She soon realised that she would have to overcome sexism to succeed: “Because this is a job for men. There are nearly no female directors. You are surrounded by men. They give you financing and they are much older than me. You need to step up and demand what you want. But when a woman does this, it’s very easy to say she’s got an ‘attitude’; when a man does this, he has ‘a strong character.’” 

Berrached has smashed down some of those barriers, but she also says she’s not always so full of self-confidence. She questions her own ability as a screenwriter and says she works best when she comes up with an idea and has a scriptwriter help her to develop the idea, treatment and then script. 

However, once she gets on set, she explains, “I throw away the script. It’s important that the script is good, because if the script is good I know what I want, so I know the point of the scene and where it needs to go. But then I improvise a lot on set and tell the actors to say the dialogue in the way they’re most comfortable working.” 

Berrached is currently in pre-production for her next film, which is scheduled to shoot in August. What she will reveal about the film now is that it involves a police investigation. “It’s about the wife of a very famous person and one half of the film takes place in Germany and the other in Lebanon.” 

Kaleem Aftab is a London-based freelance film writer, coffee connoisseur, film producer, occasional actor and East End Film Festival head programmer. He also wrote an authorised biography of Spike Lee. 


Amanda Kernell: You only get one shot at each story

by Wendy Mitchell 

With her debut feature SAMI BLOOD, Amanda Kernell faced the pressure of telling not only her family’s story, but the story of the Sami people.

(picture: Carla Orrego Veliz)

The story, about a teenage Sami girl who faces racism in the 1930s before rejecting her indigenous heritage and running away to Uppsala to assimilate into Swedish society, is inspired by Kernell’s own grandmother. 

“Since I started making shorts when I was 19, I’ve been talking about how I wanted to make a film about the elders in my family. But it felt like a big responsibility to make a film about this history that people don’t know. You only get one shot at each story you make, so it had to be good enough.”

Indeed, it was more than good enough – SAMI BLOOD premiered at Venice Days 2016 and won the Fedeora prize and Europa Cinemas Label there, before playing at festivals from Toronto to Tokyo. Its dozens of awards include the Dragon award for Best Nordic Film at Gothenburg and the LUX prize of the EU. 

Kernell has been surprised by the ways the film has touched audiences around the globe. For instance, an elderly African-American man in Los Angeles spoke to her about how the lead character’s experience reminded him of his own journey before the Civil Rights Movement in the US.

And closer to home, she says, “A friend’s mother went to this school [the boarding school in the film] herself and she said that SAMI BLOOD has changed her life. She said, ‘I’ve had such a hard time with Swedish people, I’ve been angry with them, now I feel like they understand me.’”

SAMI BLOOD isn’t just a historical document, it’s of course more about people and relationships – in this case family bonds and sisterhood in particular.

Her next film, with the working title CHARTER, will also be about family ties, as it tells the story of a contemporary custody case. “One of the worst things in life must be the possibility of losing your children,” Kernell explains. That film explores “relationships between parent and child.”

As with SAMI BLOOD, she will have a complex protagonist that’s not always likable. “I’m not interested in heroes at all. I’m interested in being on the betrayer’s side, with the person that is letting people down, the anti-hero. Now I’m exploring the mother -- everyone has an opinion on what a mother should be and do. I can hopefully make parents feel less lonely about their incapacity to be great parents at all times.”

CHARTER will shoot from February 2019. Meanwhile, she’s also writing a TV series that would be set in a Sami community, and she’s enjoying the chance to go deeper with characters and tell a more complex story across more hours. “Nowadays, there are TV shows that have more opportunities to work in a cinematic visual way,” she says.

Kernell, who graduated from the National Film School of Denmark, now lives in Copenhagen but makes her films in her native Sweden, which is now world-renowned for reaching gender equality for funding at the Swedish Film Institute. “I think they have accomplished getting a wider range of stories on screen which is really good for everyone … SAMI BLOOD is one of those stories.”

Wendy Mitchell is a film programme manager at the British Council, a contributing editor at Screen International, and a consultant for the San Sebastian and Zurich Film Festivals.


Carla Simon: “There are not enough women making films”

by Kaleem Aftab

Director Carla Simón is happy to be spending time writing her second film ALCARRÀS, which is part of the Torino FilmLab’s ScriptLab. It’s time to put SUMMER 1993 behind her.

It’s been a hectic few years for the Catalan filmmaker who was studying at the London Film School when she made the short film LIPSTICK, about two siblings who find their grandmother’s body. Simón recalls, “It was the moment that I realised that children facing death was something that I really wanted to talk about.”

In writing her debut feature, she revisited the most pivotal and difficult moment from her own childhood. “My mother died in 1993,” she says. “My parents had both died and I was six years old, and I moved in with my new family. So the characters the film portrays are actually real, even if it was not exactly as it was and my own summer of 1993 was quite different.”

The film is told from a child’s perspective and the audience is put firmly into the shoes of Frida (Laia Artigas) the young protagonist who becomes the ward of her aunt and uncle.

Simón watched a wealth of films told from a child’s perspective when writing the script; “The film that stands out for me is PONETTE by Jacques Doillon because of his way of working with children. There are also two Spanish films that I connected with, THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE by Victor Erice and CRIA CUERVOS by Carlos Saura. For me, it was important to tell the story from the perspective of the character instead of it being about my own memory.”

SUMMER 1993 won Best First Film at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017 before Simón won the Goya for Best New Director.

As she promoted the film at festivals around the world, Simón realised how unusual it was for a female director to get a film off the ground: “To be very honest, I don’t feel that I had a problem being a woman wanting to direct a film. We were very lucky, I started writing the film in summer of 2014, we shot in 2016 and it premiered in Berlin in 2017. But it’s true – I don’t know how we did that. My producers were all women, as were all the heads of department except the cinematographer. But during the promotion of the film, I realised that there are not enough women making films, which is why it was such a big conversation.”

Many of her favourite directors are female – filmmakers such as Lucrecia Martel, Claire Denis, Valeska Grisebach and Alice Rohrwacher – and she says it’s important to celebrate them because, “Suddenly you see you can make it.” And she’s proud that when Variety singled out 10 directors who are part of Catalonia’s New Wave in 2017, six were female.

For now, her efforts are being put into writing ALCARRÀS: “It’s another story set in Catalonia, set in a rural community, where the protagonists pick fruit. Right now it’s a big ensemble film about a big family.”


Hope Dickson Leach: Filmmaking Can Be a Political Act

by Kaleem Aftab

British writer/director Hope Dickson Leach almost gave up on her hopes of directing a feature film. She had done all the right things. While completing her MFA in filmmaking at Columbia University she made three outstanding short films that played at film festivals around the world, including her award-winning thesis film, THE DAWN CHORUS. In New York, she worked as an assistant to celebrated director Todd Solondz on his comedy PALINDROMES. 

Industry excitement went into overdrive: in 2007 Screen International named her a UK Star of Tomorrow and in 2008 Filmmaker Magazine named her one of its ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’.

Then she got mired in development hell and one night while breastfeeding her second child, she came close to giving up hope. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to make a film, it’s impossible, it’s systematically weighted against me,’” recalls Dickson Leach. “I looked out there and I couldn’t see any [female filmmaker] mothers with two children. There were a handful of mothers with one child, Isabel Coixet, Jane Campion and at that point Maren Ade had not had a second child yet.” 

After further thought she realised, “How crucial it was for me to do the thing that was most important to me to be the best parent and best human I could be.” She believed that the best way to avoid the development delays that had bedevilled her was to write a film that would qualify for the IFeatures Lab, the low-budget scheme supported by Creative England, the BFI and BBC Films. And so THE LEVELLING was born. 

The film stars Ellie Kendrick, who Dickson Leach had first seen at the Royal Court in the play Silly Girl, which the director turned into a short film in 2016. Kendrick plays Clover, a veterinary student who returns to her family’s farm after the death of her brother. The farm is in difficulty following devastating flooding, in a topical, socially relevant storyline that highlighted the tough conditions for agricultural workers across Europe.  Clover is a tough character who seemingly shares some attributes with the writer/director herself: tenacious, loyal, family orientated and refusing to be put off by obstacles. 

The story is full of surprising twists that led to an invitation to premiere in Toronto and saw the British film critic Mark Kermode naming it one of the best films of 2017. 

In addition to making films, Dickson Leach has also launched Raising Films, an organisation with the aim of supporting mothers working in film. “Everyone keeps saying women keep dropping out after their first feature or just before,” explains Dickson Leach. “It seemed very clear to me that this was the moment that a lot of women have babies. We thought this is something we need to talk about.” 

Raising Films has already attracted a lot of attention, producing a report in 2016 that highlighted the need to change labour laws for the situation for mothers and other diversity groups to succeed.  The organisation has just completed a funding round, so it can afford to pay full-time staff. “I don’t want to be a full time-lobbyist,” she explains. “One of the things that I can do is make films: that in and of itself can be a political act. Look at what Ava DuVernay is doing and how she makes film and hires crews.” 

Reflecting the fact that she grew up in Hong Kong, has lived in London, New York, Glasgow and now Edinburgh, Dickson Leach has been developing several projects set around the world, including one in Hong Kong and one in 1870s San Francisco. Ahead of Cannes, she has announced that her next film THE CRADLE will shoot this summer starring Jack O’Connell and Lily Collins.


Ralitza Petrova: We need openness to more kinds of stories

by Wendy Mitchell

Bulgarian filmmaker Ralitza Petrova’s debut feature GODLESS was an unflinching look at the pervasive poverty and corruption in contemporary Bulgaria. The film’s anti-heroine, Gana (newcomer Irena Ivanova) is a nurse caring for elderly patients who steals their ID cards and sells them to a corrupt cop.

“I am drawn to stories that deal with the moral ambiguity of human nature. GODLESS explores a world, where the price of doing “the right thing” is much higher, than that of committing a crime. Each character is, both, an aggressor and a victim, depending on the circumstance. I like being in those grey zones,” the writer/director explains. 

On the international circuit, GODLESS announced a major new voice in European auteur cinema –winning Locarno 2016’s Golden Leopard and Best Actress prizes before also screening at major festivals like Sarajevo (where it won best actress and the jury prize), Toronto, Stockholm (where it won the Bronze Horse), Warsaw (where it won the FIPRESCI award), Cartagena, CPH:PIX (where it won the top award) and AFI Fest. It was also nominated for European Discovery at the 2017 EFAs.

At home, audiences had a complex reaction to the film. “On one side people were deeply touched, on another very provoked,” Petrova says. “The subject matter is something many Bulgarians would prefer to ignore. I am glad the film touches a nerve. It means it rings some truth.”

Up next, she will look at another kind of truth. “I am currently developing two feature films, but it is too early to give details,” she says. “But I promised some of my audience that my next film will be a romantic comedy, to compensate them for the suffering caused by GODLESS (laughs). So the next two films have elements of black comedy. We’ll see about the romance ...”

Being a female director in Bulgaria hasn’t been a specific issue for her so far – but making films in Bulgaria isn’t easy for anyone. It took her seven years from making her 2009 Cannes-selected short BY THE GRACE OF GOD to getting her feature made.  It was financed as a Bulgarian-Danish-French co-production.

“If I am honest, there are so much problems with the way film funding works in Bulgaria that unfortunately gender equality seems like a concern of a far future,” she adds. “I am pleased to see, however, more and more emerging female directors. Where change needs to happen is with the executive decision makers, who greenlight projects at the beginning stage of development. More openness towards different kinds of stories is needed at that top level.”

There are forward strides being made in Bulgarian cinema, she says. “Despite the funding obstacles, Bulgarian cinema seems to be thriving. In recent years many Bulgarian films have been recognised across the festival circuit. This is why it is so urgent to have a reform of our Film Industry Act, a law which governs the state support for film, so that a much bigger number of films gets made.”

While telling Bulgarian stories, she is also inspired by international voices – she says filmmakers she admires include “Wang Bing, Jia Zhangke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lars Von Trier, Ulrich Seidl, Jessica Hausner, Harmony Korine. From earlier times Antonioni, Hitchcock, Bresson, and Lubitsch.”

Petrova, who studied Fine Art before attending the directing programme at the UK’s National Film and Television School, adds, “Generally though, I tend to look for inspiration outside filmmaking. In early life I was making art and when contemplating a film, I tend to look at art a lot. I find it inspiring when, with minimum means, a lot is being said.” 


Houda Benyamina: Cinema Shouldn’t Be an Aristocratic Art

by Kaleem Aftab

When French director Houda Benyamina won the Camera d’Or for best debut film at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for DIVINES, she wowed the crowd with her acceptance speech, which was as ballsy, direct and dynamic as the film she was being feted for: “Women - Cannes belongs to us! It is our place! For things to change, women have to be more present in the selection.”

“Oh I remember that moment,” recalls Benyamina. “For me it was very important, I was in revolt because I cannot see a lot of women directing, not just at Cannes, but throughout the world of cinema. We have to open our mouths and try to find an equality between men and women.”

DIVINES tells the stories of two young girls, Dounia and Maimouna, living in a Romani banlieue on the outskirts of Paris. They rally against the expectations placed upon them by school and their families; they lust after a dancer and deal drugs. “It was important to have these characters with their own goals and destinies,” says the 37-year-old writer/director, who was born in Viry-Châtillon, south of Paris. “So often when a woman is in a film, she is just the accessory of a man. Contrast this with Greek tragedies, where often the female protagonists were more important than what we see depicted in cinema today.”

At the age of 15, Benyamina took command of her own destiny. One of 12 children, she was training to be a hairdresser when she watched Pasolini’s MEDEA. “I love the way that when he makes films they are political films, but at the same time they are human films and he questions society.” Throw Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING into the mix and Benyamina had more inspiration for the plays she would stage in empty classrooms after school.

In 2000, she gained a spot at ERAC, a state acting school in Cannes, but her time there simply gave her insight to the paucity of roles for actors of North African or Arabic heritage.

The 2005 riots in Paris had a big impact on her. Watching the political fallout, she decided she needed to move behind the camera. In 2006, she set up 1000 Visages, which aims to encourage the dispossessed to take up film directing. “The reason I created this foundation is that I cannot see a lot of people who look like me. It’s not so much about race; it’s about where you come from in society, cinema is an aristocratic art and what I want to do is try to open the doors for others. If I see something that I don’t like, I try to find a solution.” 

Benyamina wants to continue challenging the status quo with her next film, as yet untitled. She explains, “When you are black or Arab, people put you in a box: it’s hard to change this mentality. I’m currently writing a new script with my co-writer [Romain Compingt]. For me, DIVINES was just the start, I have a lot of other questions to pose and of course I will be writing films about female protagonists. It’s normal for men to make movies with men, so I choose women, it’s my voice.”


Where do we go from here? Experts offer practical advice

by Melanie Goodfellow

“Public funding is the main source of financing in the European audiovisual industry, and measures should be put in place to distribute this money in a more fair and equal manner towards women if we want things to change. In EWA Network’s research published in 2016, you can see that in seven different European countries, an average of 85% of public funding goes to film projects directed by men, although film school graduates are almost equally men and women.”
Alessia Sonaglioni, EWA Network Director
“I am all for quotas. I don't think quota is a bad word. I think quotas will help mitigate a situation that has been unequal for decades. We need interventions that will create equality. It's pretty simple, you need to fund women 50:50. Part of what needs to change is that institutions and funders can’t throw up their hands and say, "Women aren't applying." What they need to do is find the women. That's not that hard once you actually look for them. We need to empower women back to when they were nine-year-old girls who felt like they could kick ass and take over the world.”
Melissa Silverstein, founder, Women and Hollywood
“Data is important but we've got data and it’s not getting any better. It just simmers but never takes off. The number of women directing the top 250 grossing films has still never gotten into double figures. It might not sound sexy but we need to professionalise our industry. We're in the most exciting industry that anybody could work in but we don't treat our workforce properly. We have to professionalise it. That means advertising jobs. It means choosing the right person regardless of their background and it means working to help people's career paths. We're a freelance industry and we have to be more professional.”
Kate Kinninmont, CEO, Women in Film & TV UK

“Once you have the data you need to lobby and push. You may even have to take the initiative. We as an organisation have taken the initiative in areas where decision makers and organisations were not implementing strategies. Through the data, we identified a gap in the funding for female projects. We found they tended to get support at the script and early development stage but had a tough time accessing development and production funds later on. We created a pilot incubator project called 'In Focus', backed by one of the oldest cultural funds in Finland, which is a private foundation. It raised a few eyebrows but it fills a gap for female-directed films that was not being met by the main funds. If you don’t push, nothing changes.”
Jenni Koski, project manager, Women in Film & Television Finland
“Countries need to read the Council of Europe Recommendation on Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector and implement it where relevant. It's really practical. I know it's not a very sexy title and but implementing that where relevant will really make a difference. It's like a road-map for change. All the 47 Council of Europe members who have adopted it should pick into it. It's not just about the member states. It's applicable at different levels. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland also dipped into it, as have film schools in Germany. It's a powerful tool for change.”
Francine Raveney, project manager, second features and Gender Issues, Eurimages
"Start to educate yourself about structures and power and how it effects your daily work. Learn to avoid unconscious biases."
Anna Serner, CEO, Swedish Film Institute

“The issues of gender, diversity, equality and balance have been very much in the forefront our work at Film and Music Entertainment (F&ME) and on the EFA front, the Board of the European Film Academy has for a few years now had a majority of women and this is something that influences all key decisions affecting the Academy. I’m keen to get out of the area of theory in this field and make sure that it is part of best practice. I have been an equal partner in F&ME for the last 20 years with producer Samantha Taylor – and yet one of the endlessly repeated issues that comes up again and again is the assumption that I am the boss of the company.  Because I am the man.  Infuriating as this is -  the only thing to be done is to firmly but kindly educate people that their assumption is wrong and that we are equal partners. I think the most important area to look at, though, is in the content of the work that we do.  That we have a broad range of representation.  I’m happy and proud that our latest movie HOW TO SELL A WAR has two very strong female leading roles who are the driving force of the narrative – but some of the bigger countries of Europe still have problems – look at the UK for example – the BFI’s new Filmography shows 31% of actors cast in films produced 104 years ago were women, with 2017’s figure 30% - worse than in 1913.  And how will this look when the guiding light of EU diversity, which is very strong, is extinguished?  Go figure.”   
Mike Downey, film producer and Deputy Chairman of the European Film Academy


Editorial Committee: Marion Döring, Mike Downey, Pascal Edelmann
Editor: Wendy Mitchell
Please address comments and proposals to: