by Dov Kornits

The Australian film industry is undergoing major change, striving for gender parity through various programs, and the latest one is the introduction of SAFC’s ‘Return to Work Rider’, ‘Keeping Your Hand In’ and ‘Doing it Differently’ initiatives, to be introduced from January 1, 2019.

‘Return to Work Rider’ requires that any project that receives over $400,000 in state funding, engages at least one crew member, key creative or Head of Department who  is returning to work after time away as a carer. To support industry to deliver this, the agency will create and maintain a Return to Work Directory of practitioners ready to return to work.

‘Keeping Your Hand In’ is a program designed to support people taking time out as carers to keep pace with changes in production methodologies, trends, technology and skills, so that they don’t lose ground or disappear from the industry.

‘Doing it Differently’ is a new development and production initiative, to develop and ultimately provide production investment towards projects that break the mould in terms of production methodology. This particular strand is inspired by the South Australian made 52 Tuesdays, which shot once a week for a year to produce the film.

Appropriately, that film’s producer Bec Summerton and director Sophie Hyde were in the room for the announcement, along with Hyde’s now grown daughter Audrey Mason-Hyde, who also appears in a prominent role in Fucking Adelaide. One of the main points brought up by participants was that the film industry needed to retain talent, who have accumulated knowledge and experience, but after having children too often do not come back to the industry.

Facts and figures were presented by Megan Riakos (President of Women in Film and TV [WIFT] NSW and board member, WIFT Australia), which were part of the Raising Films Australia Screen Industry Survey, amusingly titled ‘Honey, I Hid the Kids!: Experiences of parents and carers in the Australian Screen Industry’.

But the results of the survey are no laughing matter.

74% of respondents reported that the impact of caring work on their role in the industry as negative; 60% of carers within the industry are freelance or self-employed and state that long hours, financial uncertainty and unpredictable work commitments are the major concerns.

Other experiences reported include people hiding the fact that they have children, people taking on more than a full-time load in order to survive, through to those who have had to leave the industry altogether, resulting in an industry-wide loss of knowledge and expertise.

“Freelancers, the majority of the industry’s production workforce, already operate outside conventional maternity leave entitlements and guaranteed return-to-work provisions. This, in addition to fear that employers will discriminate against carers, contributes to a screen industry culture that lacks transparency and that
limits the opportunity for open discussion about workplace flexibility or broader industrial innovation,” the report stated.

“The survey findings are a call out to the screen industry to recognise the impact parenting and caring is having on the careers and livelihood of those working in the sector, especially women,” said Megan Riakos. “The facts and figures give us the evidence we need to drive change to not only support working parents, but to enact a more inclusive industry that benefits us all. I look forward to working in collaboration with the sector to achieve this change.”

And the call has been answered by a few already, including SAFC. “Enabling parents and carers to find working conditions that match their capacity to work will safeguard our investment in screen practitioners and preserve the vital cultural output of Australia’s screen industries. Not caring about caring is simply not an option anymore,” said Courtney Gibson, CEO of the SAFC.

Another organisation that was quick to adapt was the Screen Producers Australia industry body, whose annual screen industry conference event SCREEN FOREVER will be taking place in Melbourne in November. They recently announced their first ever free creche, funded by the SAFC and Create NSW, recognising the importance of access to the intelligence and opportunities that come with attending the annual conference, and in supporting a sustainable and diverse screen industry. The creche was booked out within days of the announcement.

On hand at the Raising Films launch, SPA President Matthew Deaner teared up when reading an email sent to him by one of his members commending them on the initiative.

Further developments around the issue include WIFT NSW launching its Making It Possible pilot program supported by both Create NSW and Women NSW, a free course to assist women who’ve had careers stall due to the impact of parenting and caring. Additionally, the full findings of the research will be presented in November, with broader strategies to address the issues raised in the report fleshed out in an industry forum to be held at the Australian Film TV and Radio School (AFTRS), in Sydney on December 6th.

The Raising Films Australia Screen Industry Survey can be down loaded at https://www.wiftaustralia.org.au/surveyreport

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