As an emerging filmmaker, it’s often difficult to understand how one turns what is, for all intents and purposes, a side hustle into a long-term, sustainable career. When you add gender into that mix, the equation becomes far more complex. For every one female director there’s fifteen males – glaringly bad statistics and a strong warning to gals like me who definitely would like to progress beyond various unpaid gigs. If you’re a cinematographer or composer the landscape is dishearteningly grim, with less than seven percent of the workforce female.
So what do you do when the numbers are stacked against you and government agencies refuse to institute quotas? Especially if you were one of the three hundred or so creative teams (mostly emerging practitioners) who didn’t benefit from the one-time-only Gender Matters funding? The obvious answer is to keep waiting and hope the system changes, but considering the numbers haven’t budged in forty years, more than likely, you’ll be in for a bit of a wait.
I for one found myself a bit fed up at the end of last year. It was a long and grueling year, releasing my first feature, supporting the distribution of another and witnessing my many, many female filmmaking peers swimming upstream against a string of rhetoric espousing the benefits of confidence building, self belief, training, mentorships or attachments. Looking at female filmmakers in Australia, often we point towards the Greatest Hits (Campion, Shortland, Lang, Armstrong) but rarely do we interrogate the plentitude of One-Hit-Wonders, the women who managed the impossible, only to find the glass ceiling more impenetrable than ever. Knowing the cold facts behind the cold reality was partially the reason we took a stand at our now-infamous Sausage Party protest at the AACTA Awards night. We wanted to give voice to two female filmmakers who the industry was quietly shuffling into the corner.
It caused a welcome ruckus and facilitated some overdue conversations about the paucity of women filmmakers along the entire spectrum of development, funding and awards. However, knowing how quickly a hot sausage becomes yesterday’s media leftovers, I did something I had been meaning to do for a long time and sent an email to the only woman I knew of who gave me some glimmer of hope that change is indeed possible. That woman was Anna Serner.
I sent this email on December 9, 2016:
My name is Sophie Mathisen and I’m the President of WIFT (Women in Film and Television) NSW. I don’t know if you caught it, but we recently staged a protest at the AACTA Awards, taking a stand against the disproportionally low number of female nominations in the feature film category. Two WIFT members submitted films for consideration however were rejected. When we dug a bit further, we found that of the 28 films ‘pre-selected’, 7 did not even meet the direct eligibility criteria and when we asked for clarification on this, we were ignored.
Female filmmakers in Australia need serious support to help force the case for quotas or further affirmative action as already it seems to be a ‘back-to-business’ approach for our national funding body after the completion of Gender Matters, with just one of the following twelve funded productions having more than one female in a key creative role.
We are active, early career filmmakers and we need change now. I’m hoping you may have time to skype or talk further so I can begin to understand how you managed parity within the Swedish Film Institute in such a short time. We are a rag-tag bunch of women currently dressing as foodstuffs to get our point across so some guidance as to what we can and should be doing in our next steps would be ever so helpful.
All the best,
Those who know me, know I love to send a bonkers email because honestly, with odds this bad, being ignored by the known and the powerful is nothing new. To my gleeful surprise, Anna responded quickly and positively, having caught the protest and she was interested in the public response.
And, like the legend she is, she made space as soon as she could, which happened to be Christmas Eve. Despite a dodgy internet connection, I spent close to three and a half hours listening and learning from a woman who had literally scaled Equality Everest, turning numbers into action and turning action into a movement. In just three years at the helm of the Swedish Film Institute, with stats that put Australia further to shame (in 2011, 26% of feature funding was going to female directors, a figure Serner called a “catastrophe”), she had successfully raised the number of female directors in Swedish productions to half.
As a grown woman working in the entertainment industry I try and maintain a level of composure around people with status or sway but safe to say in the (virtual) presence of Serner, I was probably closer to a fan-girl. How on earth did you do it? How hard was it? Do people hate you? Do they say in Sweden, like they do here, that if women were better they would already be employed? Have you seen much Australian cinema? Can you move here?
Ms. Serner was incredibly forthright about her experiences, the trials and the tribulations she encountered and the reserves of patience and steadfastness she continually tapped to push an unwanted agenda into a centuries old system. I was so buoyed after the chat that later in the cinema watching Jyn Erso stand virtually mute as her male counterparts plotted, planned and rolled out a resistance in Rogue One, I could only smile and think of the real Resistance a curly-blond Swede had quietly waged and won, some fourteen thousand kilometres away. If I could only convince her to say what she had said to me to the industry folk here.
December 24, 2016 11:30pm
Sorry to interrupt your break and I know this is probably unlikely, but what are the chances you’d be free to come down under late April?
Anna Serner is delivering her first Australian Keynote after presenting at Cannes, Berlinale, TIFF and NY Film Festival. She will be joined by The Ethics Centre’s Kym Middleton, Professor Deb Verhoeven and Adam Ferrier for a round table discussion entitled The Quality in Equality on Wednesday April 26.