Made by Men Film Festival?

December 8, 2015
Not only were the female filmmakers MIA at the Made in Melbourne Film Festival, the depictions of women on screen painted a pretty disturbing picture.

Women are featuring strongly among the killer elite of the Aussie media scene at the moment. Projects like The Dressmaker, Gayby Baby, and The Katering Show have been massive successes with their respective audiences. Backed by the ADG and the indefatigable Gillian Armstrong (Gillian, babe, call me), Screen NSW has introduced a 50/50 gender equity initiative, and other states will hopefully follow. Break out the celebratory choc tops – it’s an exciting time to be a woman working in film in Australia.

So you can imagine my surprise when I attended the opening night of Made in Melbourne Film Festival – a showcase of emerging filmmakers and low budget film made in Melbourne – and learnt that not one of the nine films programmed for the evening was directed by a woman.

Surprise turned to a tennis match between disappointment and distaste as we sat through a program of thinly-drawn female characters mostly depicted in a context of voyeuristic sex and/or violence. In three of the nine films, a woman was brutally murdered (twice in a domestic setting); another film slut-shamed prostitutes for not adhering to patriarchal norms of ‘real love’. Two more shorts featured females who existed only in relation to a man: ‘girlfriend’, ‘one-night stand’ or ‘office crush’, with no personality and few lines. Add to that two absolutely unjustified and tasteless rape scenes and you start to question what era you’ve stepped into. Houston, we have a problem.

My friends and I perused the festival program and found that only 20% of the fifty directors represented were female. Of these, the majority were in the music video and high school category; only 8% of any of the narrative films (short, feature or animation) were directed by women.

8% – that’s not that unusual a statistic, though, right? Well yes, actually, it is. Not only does Screen Australia put the number of female Aussie directors at a significantly higher 15%, that’s established filmmakers. Made in Melbourne isn’t about established filmmakers. It’s about new filmmakers, the side of the spectrum where things are actually pretty equal gender-wise. I can tell you from first-hand experience that jumping from the ‘emerging’ to the ‘established’ side of the business is like jumping from everyday life into an Olympic swimming pool of capital-B blokes. Why aren’t women surviving the plunge? Gillian Armstrong suggests that it’s because young female practitioners aren’t afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. While there are also wider social issues at play, you can see why Made in Melbourne’s significant bias is therefore a damaging one.

I received only one response from Made in Melbourne, over Twitter, saying that they were “quite aware of the lack of female film makers” that entered the festival. Yeah… nah. This isn’t (just) an issue of female entrants. It’s about an offensive attitude towards women incredibly evident in their opening night programming. As a festival that has been running for seven years now, Made in Melbourne should know better. Although they later deleted their tweet, they are still yet to apologise, respond or reach out. Oh, to live in a universe where deleting something makes it all go away.

If Made in Melbourne truly want to represent this incredibly diverse city and its creative industry, it’s their duty to support and encourage healthy and balanced representation. They should be aware of the socio-political issues at play both in the films screening and outside of them, creating an inclusive space for minority filmmakers to display their work. To take a passive stance – aware of the issue, but inactive – is harmful ignorance at best and willful stupidity at worst.

Perhaps surprisingly, what I’ve taken away from this is not despair and alcoholism, but rather a new confidence in the state of the local industry and in one’s ability to make a difference. While I’m not usually one for public confrontation, I’m inestimably glad I decided to say something here, because the results have been nothing short of stellar.

Multiple sponsors of the event – including Madman and Open Channel – wrote back to me and mentioned that they had or would talk to the festival director to ensure that things were rectified in future years. Melbournian film legends Cinema Nova got in touch with a long letter of support, calling Melbourne’s women filmmakers “an enviously talented bunch”. FilmInk asked me to write this piece. It’s abundantly clear that there are so many powerful organisations out there that are passionate about equality and young filmmakers. I sincerely appreciate their support.

So ladies, and friends of ladies: don’t ever think you have to sit there and take it. If you’re uncomfortable about representation and attitudes – whether that is race, gender or sexuality on film – say something. There are people out there who are listening.

Emma Roberts (pictured) has been a production manager and freelance producer for four years across TVCs, music videos, documentary and short film projects. Follow her on Twitter here

The festival directors of the Made In Melbourne Film Festival responded to this opinion piece here.

 

Comments

  1. Mike Jones

    I think the writer is confusing the depiction of certain people in certain ways with condoning what is done to those people, tacitly or otherwise, and believing that a negative representation of a character (or simply a representation she doesn’t agree with) means the writer/director is misogynistic, transphobic, slut-shaming or whatever label she might care to use. Having programmed a film festival myself, I know that it can be incredibly difficult to find a diverse array of interesting, well-made films; this is even more difficult if one has to use a “tick-the-box” formula in order to satisfy certain groups of perpetually offended people. Films aren’t meant to be “safe spaces” (unless they’re G-rated or utter drivel) that include “trigger warnings” in order to mollycoddle audiences; if you want that, then stick to fan fiction on Tumblr. I can understand wanting to see more female directors, but expecting every film to conform to your world view is nothing short of deluded.

  2. Richard

    Who is this lady? Everyone that goes to the MIM film festival, knows if the lady’s don’t submit films, then how can they be chosen in the festival, I myself have visited and acted in a lot of films in these festivals, and know that the claims in this article are false and miss leading, this lady’s film was obviously rejected as were many of the films put forward, she is just a bitter lady, and needs to get a life, and I will enjoy going to rest of the festival, even though there is a bitter director not happy she didn’t get in this year, lol

  3. Michael Taylor

    I’m genuinely going to try and address Emma’s main point and avoid going after ‘the man,’ (sorry, the person).

    Emma is one of those people actively trying to destroy the arts through her insistence that political correctness should come before quality of filmmaking. She doesn’t seem to fundamentally understand the purpose that the arts serve in our community.

    Emma, in the world of the ‘arts,’ there are no rules. The arts world is a gritty place where people should be free to express themselves without reprisal. It’s what I love about real artists. They don’t give a shit if they offend anyone and they unashamedly express the thoughts and ideas that swim around in the dark recesses of their minds.

    Emma (and many people like her) need to stop trying to clean up the arts. What she doesn’t seem to realise is that her insistence on gender equality actually makes it harder for talented filmmakers to be noticed.

    We all know that the state of the Australian film industry is dire. Therefore, all that should matter is that talented filmmakers find suitable avenues to have their work seen. Film festivals shouldn’t be ticking boxes to keep the PC police happy. I recently expressed my joy in an opinion piece about the death of Tropfest. I celebrated its demise because the only thing I truly care about in filmmaking is storytelling and I don’t feel that Tropfest rewarded quality storytelling. In film, all that matters is storytelling, irrespective of who the hell is telling the story. It doesn’t matter is a film is made by a man, a woman, a man who looks like a woman, a woman who used to be a man, a man who wants to be a woman, or a man who sleeps with a lot of women. A good story should always be recognised. Unfortunately, films like ‘Australia’ get made because people like Emma seem to believe in a clean, sterile and inoffensive society.

    The arts are under attack from rabid, politically correct, left-leaning ‘liberal’ militants. These people become part of the arts because it’s cool to be part of the arts, because artists are open-minded and anti-establishment, and these people feel they are too. These are the same people who believe that the 9/11 planes were holograms, that the US government poisons the water supply and that ISIL is a legitimate sovereign state. These are the same people who demand for politically correctness in film but then whinge when the films suck.

    These are the same people who secretly love Goodfellas and Fightclub.

    We’re at the precipice of a potentially major conflict in the Middle East at the moment. A proxy war of sorts, between the West and Russia. If this thing escalates, it could get very bad, very quickly.

    But when the world someday slips into an irreversible nuclear apocalypse, people like Emma Roberts will be sitting in bars arguing about the under-representation of women and the LGBT community in film while a billion children starve to death in Asia.

  4. Angela Perry

    Since our film (I am the Producer and my husband, Rahul Prasad is the writer/director) was one of the films attacked in the article, I feel obliged to at least inform the writer of a few facts.

    Some Kind of Beautiful is loosely based on a true story. In 2008, Tyler Cassidy, a 15 yr old troubled teenager was shot dead by police in Northcote skate park. There were 6 cops, 10 shots fired and 6 of those hit Tyler. He had a knife in his hand and while repeatedly asked to surrender, he continued his threatening behaviour and left the police on the scene with no choice. Rahul was on a tram coming home the next day and read the article in the paper and followed the story over the course of the next few months. He was personally deeply affected by this tragic incident as we live very close to the scene of the tragedy. A tragedy that could have been averted if someone had intervened early enough in Tyler’s troubled life. Our film follow’s a fictional female, Sarah’s and her last day as she battles a monster in her house who is sexually abusing her as a result of which she is drastically changing her look to make herself as unattractive as possible to her predator. But because of her sudden withdrawal and her changed appearance she is also being shunned at school and being bullied by her so called friends.

    As a film-maker, the decision to make this film was not easy. The first person my husband shared this script with? Me, Angela his wife. I read it and found it incredibly touching and affecting and offered my full support. As respectful and caring film-makers, we discussed the sexual abuse and rape scene and decided to show it but to do it in a tasteful manner. For the record, the actors taking part in that scene were made aware at the audition stage of this scene and we shared our film-making ideas around this scene and asked them if they had any concerns to share with us openly. The scene was the second last scene shot on the final day of a 5 day shoot and was a closed set. Even I, as the director, was not in the room. The two actors were fully-clothed and besides the cinematographer and the assistant, no one else was allowed in the room. All actors were 18 and above and there was no hint of any nudity. Our actors were comfortable and we finished the scene within the time-frame allocated for that scene.

    We also did our research before we decided to include the rape scene in the film. I have personally been affected by rape and sexual abuse and understand what goes on in the mind of the victim. There are traces of that trauma that stay with me even to this day. Some of the dialogue in the film is EXACTLY how I described my experience. It was an extremely difficult and traumatic experience to relive some of my memories with my husband and Jana (who played Sarah), but my decision to do it was based on my belief that it could prevent this from happening in the future to other women.

    During editing, we had a choice whether to show or not show the rape scene. In discussion with my editor Ben Joss (Spartacus, Wentworth, Red Hill, Sanctum etc.) we collectively decided to show the scene for a few seconds at the start and that’s all. Our decision was based on the reasoning that we wanted this to be a powerful film and the audience needed to be jolted and made to feel uncomfortable. It goes back to the reason why we wanted to make this film in the first place also. If by sharing this story, we were able to save at least one teenager’s life, it would be worth it. If we made people aware, perhaps some of us would change how we look and approach troubled teens in our society.

    I remember showing the final edit to my sound designer Keith Thomas (Mary & Max, A Beautiful Mind etc.) and upon seeing it, he had tears in his eyes. Keith is a father to young girls and obviously struck a chord with him.

    Just recently, we screened as part of the International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts in California and an actor friend of mine based there accompanied me to the movie. She had no idea what she was about to watch and when the lights came on, she was in tears. She went on to inform me that as a young teenager living in Europe she had been drunk at a party and had been assaulted. She had not spoken to anyone about that incident but that night after the screening she and I talked at length and I believe it bought her some level of acceptance and how to deal with her emotions about that incident. This was not the only person in our social group who shared with us a story that had been hidden for many years.

    Our film isn’t tasteless. Does it make you uncomfortable? yes, does it ask you to think about yourself and how you approach life? yes. Does it encourage others to talk about what they have been through? I think it does. Collectively, we are proud of this film and we applaud Made in Melbourne for having the courage to to show it.

    To have someone brand your vision as being tasteless without having explored it in detail or having spoken to the film-makers is not nurturing.

    And finally, let’s address Emma’s lack of effort in writing an informed article piece. I attended opening night as the Producer and a female. Our two lead actors (females) Jana Gousmett & Annette Crockford, both attended the screening. At no stage after the screening did anyone of us hear from Emma and her concerns. The judges on the night including Sue Maslin, Paul O’Brian and Richard Sowada are some of the most respected and well-known in the film industry. They bestowed on our film the honour of Best Actor on the night and afterwards congratulated us on our film and it’s tough subject matter and our willingness to tackle it. At no stage in the days after or the weeks after did Emma contact any of us for a quote, comment or clarification. I thought good journalism was based on facts, not opinion pieces. Our film was produced by a female. The two leads and one of the main supporting actors were females. Our production designer was a female. Our costume designer was a female. Our make-up artist was a female. Our colourist? You guessed it, a female! We have made another film since. We actively chose to work with a female DoP and our 1st AD was a female. We are conscientious filmmakers and choose actively to work with young and upcoming talent (especially women). To be blatantly and wrongfully attacked by someone is unwarranted. Instead it would be great to see people supporting, encouraging and informing independent filmmakers, independent cinema and a festival like Made in Melbourne that supports them rather than taking delight in single-handedly bringing a festival down! I have met the organisers of the Made in Melbourne film-festival myself on a few occasions. They are passionate about film, about giving local Melbourne films the opportunities that sometimes don’t exist elsewhere. They are wonderful, professional, passionate and hard-working individuals who don’t stand to gain very much in giving their heart and soul to this venture. For that, they should be applauded and supported and encouraged, not publicly shamed. We stand by Sarah Jayne & Ivan Malekin and the entire Made in Melbourne film festival team. We will continue to make films that challenge and create healthy debate about burning issues in our community. Your voice and others like you is the reason why young females do not have the courage to speak up for fear of being branded or blamed.

  5. Steve Griwowsky

    I agree with Emma.

    Hopefully next year there will only be 8percent males represented in the program.

    And if there are not enough submissions from female directors they should just cut the program back to make it fair.

    If only two female directors submit they should then show just half a male directors film.

    I think that works out to 18percent?

    1. Mike Jones

      That doesn’t sound at all like equality, Steve; in fact, I’m not sure if you’re trolling or if you truly believe what you’re saying, but I’m assuming the latter.

      Cutting back the program just to ensure that there’s an even gender split is quite silly, and shows that you don’t know anything about programming film festivals.

  6. Dave

    Just one question needs to be answered by the writer… how many films were submitted to the festival by female directors?

    I’ve just been involved with a film festival where a similar argument could be leveled at the festival… that being there were a large number of films by male directors but only a couple by female directors. But all the films submitted by female directors were screened. A film festival can only screen what is submitted.

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