By Georgia Gilson
“Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys seem to eat all the cake,” said renowned New Zealand director Jane Campion at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Campion’s words were amplified globally and reverberated back to her home country, where the film industry is still grappling with gender balance that is, frankly, out of whack.
The New Zealand Film Commission states that between 2011-2016, 19% of feature film development applications that received funding specifically included a female director. Marian Evans explores this more in-depth on her blog Wellywood Women, which is part of her post-doc project pushing for gender parity in feature filmmaking.
It seems to be marginally better for female television directors, according to the NZ On Air (NZOA) 2017 Diversity Report that showed among TV directors, 65% were men compared to 64% in 2016. But why is there still such a marked gap in film, when it’s already 2017? Is it that women are not capable of directing quality feature films or shorts? Certainly not. Are they not applying for funding? Nope, that’s not it either.
Many people in the industry are in agreement that it’s not necessarily that there are barriers set up to see female filmmakers fail, but rather that men tend to benefit from systematic advantages throughout their lives and careers. The suite of advantages particularly benefits men of European/Anglo-Saxon heritage, which is especially relevant considering the importance of New Zealand’s Māori and multicultural creative communities.
Louise Hutt, a Hamilton-based director who made Online Heroines docuseries on Kiwi women in film, shared with me an article written by Deb Verhoeven around creative networks. Verhoeven writes, “Using a technique known as Social Network Analysis, we are able to observe how the film industry operates as a series of creative networks in which male-only or male-dominated creative teams thrive.” Now, Verhoeven was referencing the Australian film industry (which DUB explored in another article), but let’s assume the basic principle is the same. Kiwi female filmmakers are out there and doing great work, but it’s harder to break into those creative networks.
A director at the beginning of her career, in her early 20s, Hutt’s own experience largely mirrors this trend. She remembers attending a film festival award ceremony where she had been a finalist and finding that the men only seemed to want to talk to one another. “Myself and the two other women directors there were being quite openly ignored by other far more numerous male directors in the room, despite attempts to network and discuss our films outside of the people we knew there.”
This is where women supporting women is particularly essential. Through her work interviewing female filmmakers in New Zealand, Hutt was bowled over by the outpouring of support from other women in the industry to read scripts, give advice and be a mentor. “It completely changed the way I felt about the film industry as a community, to hear women be really excited and passionate about supporting other women.”
Some of the key themes that came up in Hutt’s docuseries were around the invisibility of women filmmakers, lack of mentors and financial insecurity, compounded by instances of sexism and discrimination on set. So, it begs the question: how can the industry tip the gender scales?
The director of acclaimed short film Tree (which was shown at this year’s DUB), is Auckland-based Lauren Jackson, who says it’s hard to speak in general terms about how men can help improve the situation for women in the NZ film industry. Throughout her career as a filmmaker that began when she was a teen, Jackson has generally found the men she works with to be collaborative and supportive. “Including women in the process just broadens everyone’s creative horizons.”
In Tree, which was made with 30K funding from the Fresh Shorts fund, Jackson created a young Pasifika female character ‘Alisi’, who finds her independence while dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Jackson workshopped the script extensively with Pasifika actors to ensure the story was approached respectfully and truthfully. “As I was dreaming up Tree I was experiencing fertility issues myself and contemplating how a pregnancy can be met with such extremes of emotion – from joy to dismay,” says Jackson. “I was reminded of my mother’s stories of her friends who had suffered various ‘solutions’ to their unplanned pregnancies.”
Like Jackson with young Alisi’s story, informed by her own experiences and understanding of women’s spheres, women and men alike can do more to fund women to bring their stories to the screen. Louise Hutt puts it perfectly: “We can tell interesting, awesome, nuanced stories just as well as anyone else… Being interested in films by women isn’t a niche.”
Georgia Gilson is an Australian freelance writer and communications consultant living in Berlin. She works predominantly with German start-ups as they launch into English-speaking markets, as well as tweeting and blogging about culture, news and politics.
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