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“Women directors represent only one in every five films – we want to see a change”

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Francine H Raveney • Audiovisual consultant/EWA Network head of public relations


- At the Berlin Film Festival, Cineuropa had a chat with Francine H Raveney, of the EWA Network, to discover more about the presence of women in the film industry

Francine H Raveney  • Audiovisual consultant/EWA Network head of public relations

We spoke to Francine H Raveney, of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, at the Berlinale to find out more about what can be done to increase the presence of women in the film industry.

Cineuropa: What is the role of your organisation, and how it was born?
Francine H Raveney:
The European Women’s Audiovisual Network was born out of a need to bring together women working across the entirety of the European film industry, but we entitle the network “audiovisual” bearing in mind the changes in the industry, which meant there’s much more cross-over between digital, TV platforms, TV, video games, etc. So it was covering all the different spheres. And I studied Women’s Studies at Oxford University, so I was always very sensitive to questions of gender equality, and when I was working at the Eurimages film fund, especially, I was very surprised that, in the liberal, arthouse film sector, so few female directors seemed to make films: they didn’t seem to match. And so I did some research, and I identified that approximately 16.6% of films supported were directed by a woman director, and across the board, women weren’t so present.

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Following that, I took a two-year sabbatical to found and set up the European Women’s Audiovisual network, with the aim of, first of all, carrying out research and data monitoring to have hard facts, to be able to show to politicians at the EU level, at the Eurimages level or at the national level this big problem of inequality. The second thing was to organise training courses to empower women in the industry. And the third thing was to actually organise outreach events, so to actually provide a platform for women in the industry, and men as well who want to support women in the industry, to connect via an online platform. We also do outreach events. So that’s how the network was born.

Can you tell me some of the main issues or some of the main results of your research?
The research was carried out across seven countries: Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK. And the main finding would be that across all of those seven countries, with the exception of Sweden, female directors are only representing about 10% of films which are being supported, whereas the proportion of girls coming out of film school, after studying Directors’ Studies, is at 44% across the board. So there’s a drop-off between graduation and actually having your films made.

So what the report does – it’s actually quite a detailed report, which will be at least 300 pages and which will be available on the internet from early March on the EWA website – is that it provides, in addition to a lot of really good facts about what’s happening and the fall-off rate across the board, it also includes 15 recommendations about how to redress the problem of gender imbalance, and they’re actually outlined in the executive summary as well. And because what we want to do is now, not just have another study in three years’ time that says the same thing: women directors represent only one in every five or one in every six films. We want to see a difference and we want to see a change.

One of the things that we’re doing is already to start having meetings at a political level with European Parliament representatives. So we’ve already met with Silvia Costa to talk to her about how we can convert what’s happening into EU policy, to bring about change. And so we’re having a strategy on that at the moment.

At the national level, we are now organising symposia following on from the different findings per country, because the research report includes, at the end, annexes for the seven countries and it explains what’s happening in each country, so the specificity of the countries involved, including Italy. Next, we’ll be organising an event at the Cannes Film Festival, hopefully in partnership with Kering. They have woman-in-motion talks, and the idea is to present the research in the context of one of the women-in-motion talks, and that will be confirmed in early March. That’s to raise awareness across the board, at the international level, of the need for change. Whereas, in the other countries, we’ll be organising especially symposia to raise awareness. So, bringing together political decision makers who can bring about change, film funds and practitioners, so that we can all discuss the issues and find ways that are country-specific. Because a proposal like a management target that you have in Sweden, where you ringfence, say, 40% of the money if a film has a female director, might not work in another country. So it’s about finding the positive matters that could assist in the various countries involved in the study, and then also advising other countries that aren’t involved with the study, how they can start to do data monitoring. And the big aim will be to have a database full of information on statistics from all the different countries, just to make sure that we’re monitoring what happens and not letting it worsen.

How do you explain the fact that there are so few women directors? According to your results, they represent only 45% of graduates and only 10% of films?
There are a whole lot of different factors, and the report goes into a lot of detail about the reasons why women don’t manage to have their films financed, on so many different levels. One of the main things would be the financing issue: women directors are always seen as a risk, and so, if they’re seen as a risk, financiers aren’t necessarily going to want to finance films. That’s especially true for private funders, but even within some producers, for example, there is a fear of, “Is this a risky film?”

The second thing would be, in terms of distribution, even acclaimed-at-festival directors who are women, who have managed to have their features made, you’re not going to have a guarantee that they’re actually going to have those films distributed. If we look at the film Learning to Drive by Isabel Coixet, it was a runner-up at the Toronto Film Festival two years ago, and yet it didn’t have a theatrical release, either in France or in the UK. So there are a lot of issues that are hindering women, especially women directors, in the industry.

And then the other thing is, without making women into victims in any way, there’s a problem of maybe being very hard on yourself as a woman; always apologising. And we’ve been organising some training courses on how to pitch, how to really sell yourself in the industry. What we found was that a lot of the time, especially the women who were learning pitching skills, began standing on stage by saying, “I’m very sorry,” and “I’m sorry about this,” and they were already apologising for so many things, when they had nothing to apologise for. It’s not true for all women, of course, but that’s one problem.

In Germany, for example, we’ve had some other feedback which is a little bit depressing. The rates are very low in Germany for women directors, and one of the findings that we made when we’d been interviewing women directors in Germany is that they’re often talked about, especially by their TV crews, who will say, “Well, that German female director, she’s so bossy. We don’t want to work with her anymore.” So this kind of bossiness factor was not appreciated. Whereas I think it is more accepted culturally for men to be leading. They’re a few of the issues, but of course it is much more wide-ranging than that. And the study provides a lot of ideas about how we can address that.

One of the other things that the Swedish Film Institute always says as well is that there’s always a fear, an identification, that a female director means a poor-quality film. It’s just a misconception because, so far, in their canon of directing, so many of those leading directors have been men as well.

Have you extended the research to non-European countries such as Africa?
Not yet; the whole point of this study was that it was the first piece of research – it was very hard to pull together, because we had to find financing in the seven countries, and we didn’t have any global financing for this study. And what we can use it for now, we hope, is as a stepping stone to do more research in different areas. And so, in terms of my role, in the EWA, now I’m really going to focus on the research angle, and we’d really like to do research studies on different subject areas and also extending the findings of this.

We’re also in contact with the Geena Davis Institute in the US, and they’re hosting a conference in August in Brazil, for example. They’ve already asked us if we want to be involved, if we want to be invited. So we already have some transatlantic collaboration as well.

What kind of training do you offer?
We have three kinds of training courses. The first is purely empowering for our members. They have a free, one-hour Skype coaching session when they join, on request. It can be on financing, with a finance expert, or it can be on troubleshooting a project, with someone with more of a production background, and we even have some pitching experts who could specifically help with the hour on pitching. That’s the basic training, the one-hour Skype training. We then have ad hoc training courses, which are often on subjects like financing or pitching; we did one on new business strategies in Istanbul. These happen at different locations in Greater Europe, so including Istanbul and Albania. They’re normally short, three-day courses, so it’s easier for people to get away if they have professional and family commitments – three days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then, finally, we have the Multiple Revenue Stream Training for Future Films, which is our big, Creative Europe-supported training course, and this is a really innovative course. We’ve just finished our first round.

And this training course was in response to a frustration that I felt, in terms of producers in Europe not always thinking about the importance of the audience. Traditionally, the important thing, and this is quite normal, is to raise funding to develop and then to produce your film. But that means that at the end of the process, you might have just broken through, you might have your film seen at a few festivals, but if you couldn’t get a distributor or anyone else involved, nobody sees your project. The idea of this training course is to empower the filmmakers so that from the start, as a developing project, they think about raising funding in different ways – not just the traditional financing models, but also where else they can get the money from, maybe through crowdfunding. We are also carrying out audience-development initiatives, and we have an online marketing expert called Koby Shelly, who comes from Israel, who’s one of our tutors. He’s really training everyone on the project as to how they can become more empowered using new digital technologies. And I have two or three very good examples.

One of them is a lady who’s a script consultant in Germany, Susanne Heidel, who’s one of our first-year graduates, and she used the course to promote her own work, as a script consultant. She especially identifies novels that could be converted into films. Thanks to the course, she learnt the skills to really market herself on the internet through Facebook, quite inexpensively. As a result, she was headhunted by a major German studio, to have a year-long contract identifying novels to become scripts. So that was a really great outcome.

In Italy, there’s a lady called Claudia Tossi who’s making a very difficult documentary about women politicians. And finding that funding has been nearly impossible for this project, because she felt that she wouldn’t get more than a small amount of regional funding. So she’s got a different method, which is to identify, to actually identify her audience in advance: they’re paying the entrance or the cinema ticket in advance, €5, and then she’ll have enough, €150,000, to actually produce the film to be seen, and that’s really exciting.

It’s been three years now since your association was founded, correct?
Yes, three years – of hard work!

Do you have any concrete results?
The main thing would be the partnerships we’ve created across Europe and internationally. When we started this project, there were zero euros available for the project, and people didn’t know a lot about it. Now the project has become very well known, so in terms of raising awareness of the issue, that’s been very successful. In terms of the partnerships, we’re already now in contact with the European Union, the European Parliament and obviously the Council of Europe through my connections there; there have been some real developments thanks to the partnerships we’ve made, and a lot of the national-level organisations – like we have in the UK, Women in Film and TV UK, Raising Films… There are lots of different associations nationally. We meet up with them; we stay in touch, as well, to strengthen that partnership. So there’s a real sense of bringing people together as well, which is a success in itself for me; that’s the outreach work.

As for the highlights of doing this, one of my highlights was meeting Jane Campion at Cannes in 2013. She said, “What you’re doing is so important.” In her opinion, public funding should really be made available to represent society, so there should be equal distribution. And she said that, as a female director, you have to have rhino skin to be able to withstand all the bad things that are thrown at you, and I thought that that was a great moment, and there was a lot to learn from that.

For example, you said that, in terms of submissions, there are equal submissions from women and men, or is that not the case?
No; it’s more complicated than that. It depends on the country, and it depends on the situation. And that’s one of the problems that we’ve identified as well: it’s that very often, there’s a self-censorship by female directors themselves, even before they apply. But they would have to already have a producer attached to their project before they can apply. So there’s that element as well; they haven’t been able to get the producer on board the project, so then the application is made on their behalf as well.



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