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.