Cannes and Gender Equality, the work continues on site

By Moira Sullivan

May 22 event hosted by Women and Hollywood and Anna Serner

May 22 event hosted by Women and Hollywood and Anna Serner. Photo by Moira Sullivan.

While it may seem ironic to do so at a film festival that so seldom honors the work of women behind the camera, women still gather and use festivals like Cannes to network with other women in the business. Film festivals provide market opportunities, and Cannes has one of the largest markets of all international film festivals. As Women and Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein argued, unless you have a million dollars, there is no place to be but in venues that extend their resources to help the urgent and important issue of gender equality in film. This year, the Swedish Film Institute, along with Women in Film and Television in Nordic countries (WIFT Nordic), was able to book one of the theatres in the Palais for an event on May 20. Women and Hollywood and Anna Serner of the Swedish Institute also hosted a gathering of women in the film business at the Scandinavian pavilion on May 22. Since 2015, similar events have been arranged by the Créteil International Film Festival and the Society of Dramatic Authors, and by the Swedish Film Institute and Anna Serner in 2016.

Melissa Silverstein, Women and Hollywood. Photo by Moira Sullivan.

Behind each event this year was the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, Anna Serner. It is not only Serner’s success in actually reaching the goal of equality in Sweden in her capacity as CEO well before its 2020 target, but her clear and enthusiastic communication skills, which have allowed her to build bridges of understanding in other countries. Her efforts have helped inspire programs of equality for film production in Sweden and other countries such as Great Britain, Canada—especially in Montreal—Ireland, and Austria. The progress made in Sweden is not without misunderstanding exactly what equality entails. As an example, Serner had to correct the assumption that all films have to pass the “Bechdel test.”

The 50/50 seminar on May 20 featured two successful women behind the camera: the award-winning Polish film director Agnieszka Holland, and equally honored Austrian director Jessica Hausner. Holland spoke about working as a director at a time when women’s rights are being diminished, explaining that she understood this better than her male colleagues. Also present was James Hickey, CEO of the Irish Film Board, who suggested that we need to begin to think about equality in the primary schools. Sindre Guldvog, CEO of the Norwegian Film Board, claimed that producers should consider that their films could get more money if there were more women in major roles. Also present was US producer Lydia Dean Pilcher, and Michèle Maheux, director of the Toronto Film Festival.

On May 22, women working as producers in women’s festivals or groups, or on national film boards, met to inform each other of their progress in achieving gender equality in the film business to date. This event was arranged by Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood, and hosted by the Swedish Film Institute, along with Anna Serner. Silverstein is another enthusiastic virtuoso of outstanding networking skills and knowledge about the industry. Silverstein created the successful blog Women and Hollywood, and is in direct contact with many of the women’s organizations that spoke at this seminar. She is working to create an international contact organization of women in film to be hosted on her blog.

Dr. Annie Doona, the president of National Film School in Ireland and chair of the Irish Film Board, was present (and was highly praised by James Hickey at the 50/50 seminar on May 20).  Ireland has a six-point plan to achieve 50/50 gender parity by 2019, but Doona admitted that in 2017, they are still not there. Five women and two men are on the film board.  She reported that in Ireland, consciousness raising is important to inform production companies of financial incentives, and to also create female led co-productions.

Directors Agnieszka Holland and Jessica Hausner; James Hickey, CEO of the Irish Film Board, Sindre Guldvog, CEO of the Norwegian Film Board, US producer, Lydia Dean Pilcher, and Michèle Maheux, director of the Toronto Film Festival. Photo by Moira Sullivan.

US producer Lydia Dean Pilcher encouraged women to cull as much data and put it together, as has been done in the female-led “Women and Hollywood Ms. Factor Tool Kit” created by the Producers Guild of America, Women’s Impact Network, and Women and Hollywood. The kit is designed to provide the tools for filmmakers and producers to successfully pitch female-driven content. Looking at statistics is extremely important, emphasized Pilcher, because market studies show that female-driven content is profitable. She argued that the statistics can counteract the myths that female-led content makes less money.

Another one of the many groups that reported on their work is Raising Films, a UK-based group campaigning to improve working conditions across film and creative industries for parents in the film industry. They help to provide financial assistance for child and elder care, and their goal is to encourage the industry to create better working conditions for parents who are caring for children or elders. The group is a frequent collaborator of agnès films for activist initiatives. Raising Films arranges career development days for parents who have taken a career break, and this model has begun to be adopted by film festivals around the world.

Christina Essenberger, managing director of the International Women’s Film Festival at Dortmund/Cologne. Photo by Moira Sullivan.

Christina Essenberger, the managing director of the International Women’s Film Festival at Dortmund/ Cologne, was present to invite women to this yearly event where women can network and share skills. Women at the Dormund/Cologne Film Festival are trying to persuade German politicians to adopt gender equality programs for film production, and there will be an election in the autumn. Essenberger mentioned that with the upcoming election, this is a good time to try to influence the politicians to do something about gender equality.

ReFrame is another organization created by Women in Film Los Angeles and the Sundance Institute. Its crucial ambition is to challenge Hollywood studios and their working methods of hiring and promoting films by creating a program of ambassadors who serve as mentors to mid-career filmmakers. One of the ambassadors is Kimberly Peirce, who was honored to be asked to do this.

Several more groups spoke on May 22 and it was inspirational to hear about the many professional efforts in creating alliances among women who work in film. An international contact list is hosted by Women and Hollywood, so interested groups who want to network and be on this official list should contact her.

Be sure to check out Moira’s profile here.

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