Film festivals that promote female filmmakers should not exist.
As the director of such a festival, one might consider this a contradictory or confusing position to hold. Surely, it must be my dream to watch my festival grow into something huge, for it to be a raging success. It would be in my interest, career-wise, to keep gender an issue – to constantly rally against the almost-century-old Hollywood gender bias, which keeps mainly men in the director’s chair – and to carve out a female-focused cinematic niche for myself in Melbourne and beyond.
The truth is, an ideal world would have no need for a festival that promotes female filmmakers, because that world would, without need for special arrangement, give them due time and respect.
Currently, film school graduates are roughly in equal proportion between the genders, but the film industry has an incredibly difficult time in allowing that equality to continue past the school gates.
The Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that, ‘Women comprised 16 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors, working on the top 250 (US) grossing films of 2013,’ a decrease of two percentage points from the previous year.
This has knock-on effects. The same study found that, ‘Females accounted for 15 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters and 30 percent of all speaking characters.’
It’s difficult for some to imagine what this disparity ultimately means to our culture. Young film enthusiasts have, for decades, consumed the films of Scorsese, Hitchcock, Godard, Kubrick, Welles and Bergman – to name a few – and were rightly inspired by the artful wonders each of them brought into the world.
Does it stretch the imagination though, to consider that a budding artist might not wholly identify with these men?
Might a young Chinese or Iranian or Zimbabwean girl look at this list and wonder why there is no one like them?
It is unfortunate that, due to the lack of representational equality in the creative industry, we are compelled to distinguish female filmmakers, as if to constantly prove their skill and artistic merit. That this occurs in other sectors of society, such as politics and science, perhaps speaks of the larger problem at hand.
Julia Gillard, first female Australian Prime Minister; Maryam Mirzakhani, the first female Fields Medal recipient; Kathryn Bigelow, the first female to win an Oscar for Best Director.
No one can argue the importance and impact that these women have had on society, nor can we deny the gradual shift – however painfully slow it might be – towards accepting men and women as equals.
The point is, though, that progress isn’t made by idle dreams. It is still a struggle against indifference, the doubtful, and established thought.
And this is not to say that women are not unique in their voice or vision, and certainly showcasing their works from a curatorial perspective is not out of the question. But it is a rather curious occurrence that male filmmakers rarely lay claim to having their own special category in film.
Have you seen many “Top Ten Male Filmmakers” lists?
Real diversity is not yet a given, and I, for one, will continue to strive for a world where the films we see are lauded for content or for technique, not for the gender, age, sexuality or race of the filmmaker.
A society where festivals that celebrate female filmmakers are no longer necessary.
Seen & Heard Film Festival
ACMI in Federation Square
13 November – 16 November 2014