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Industry / Market - Europe

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Europa Distribution’s EDMentorShe wraps its third edition

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The mentorship programme for female distribution professionals held a successful closing session in Brussels

Europa Distribution’s EDMentorShe wraps its third edition

After two successful editions (read the news about the second one, and the news about the first one, organised at the height of the pandemic), the closing session of Europa Distribution’s third edition of the EDMentorShe was held in Brussels on 23 June.

It all started in 2018, when Europa Distribution created a female think-tank within the association with the aim of tackling the lack of female representation in managing positions. The mentorship programme was then developed and started in 2020, the idea consisting of pairing junior distribution professionals with experienced mentors from all over Europe. For the 2022-23 edition, over the course of the year, the pairs had the opportunity to meet online and/or in-person during film festivals and professional events, to share experiences, career advice, challenges, and professional goals.

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In this final session of the programme’s third edition, the six duos of mentors and mentees were reunited in Brussels to share the outcome of their experiences. From Belgium, The Searchers’ Elise Van Marcke was paired with Modern FilmsAnna Germanidi (UK). Working in Austria for Filmcasino & polyfilm Betrieb GmbH, Sabine Hoffmann was paired with Ela Tahmaz from DCM Film Distribution in Switzerland. Camera Film A/S’s Mette Sogaard (Denmark) was paired with Austrian company Filmladen’s Sophie Stejskal. Vanessa Depoortere from Belga Films was paired with Soli Beraha, working in Greece for Feelgood Entertainment S.A. Also based in Belgium, freelance distributor Katrien Volders was paired with Anna Senfeldova from Aerofilms (Czech Republic). Formerly at Imagine Film Distribution and now a feature film consultant for the Netherlands Film Fund, Vi Nguyen was paired with Peccadillo Pictures’ UK-based Amelia Gardiner. (Apart from Ela Tahmaz joining via Zoom, and Katrien Volders being unable to attend, all the participants were present.)

Various topics emerged during the discussions between the duos in final session in Brussels. Even though participants had different personalities and different roles within their respective companies, they often faced similar issues. Exchanging differing perspectives on how to deal with them, both through the year and during this final session, proved to be very useful for all, especially since participants were from different age groups and from different parts of Europe. This made for an interesting discussion on film culture and education, which vary from country to country. The question of cinema attendance has become central since the pandemic, and the public's relationship to their local cinema is no longer the same. How do we ensure that the films we passionately seek to share reach their audience in the best possible way? Germanidi mentioned seeing notable differences in attendance in local cinemas between the UK and the Netherlands, due to a strong cinema culture in the Netherlands, where average attendance is 2,9 times per person per year. The question of filmgoers’ age was also raised, as well as the rise of streaming platforms since the pandemic. 

The question of female solidarity quickly arose as an important topic as well. Practically all participants mentioned how the programme has helped to strengthen ties between female colleagues in the industry, both in their own company and in general. The idea of setting up workshops, whether online or in person, to strengthen the links between women in the industry and create a solidarity network was mentioned. The creation of an organisation for this purpose could be useful. The activities led by EWA, the European women's association, came out as a potential tool uniting women in the industry - although a quick check by some participants showed that they were mostly focusing on creators and producers. While there is no organisation covering the whole audiovisual industry yet, the solidarity already created during EDMS programme is certainly a solid start for distributors. Nevertheless, more initiatives like these would be useful to help overcome the loneliness that some have mentioned sometimes feeling when arriving at festivals. Of course, things have changed in recent years, and the #MeToo movement has contributed a lot to collective awareness. But there is still a long way to go, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion - an aspect that again should not be entirely the responsibility of women in the industry but a shared responsibility.  

Another subject on which there has been a lot of progress but clearly not enough is that of motherhood. While some participants mentioned very positive examples of change in mentality among their colleagues, particularly those of the younger generation, the mental burden of children remains mainly a women's issue. While Covid brought about changes in flexibility and helped rethink business models, there is still need for government support to achieve equality in terms of parental leave. Only then hiring a man or a woman won't make a difference.

In the current economic context, the issue of funding quickly emerged as a concern. Particularly in terms of structural support needs or alternative ways of financing. The presence of more women in leadership positions can also bring fresh thinking to the industry in terms of new ideas and new ways of approaching traditional ways of working. 

All these questions and sharing of experiences have been beneficial to both sides of the programme. Both mentors and mentees highlighted learning a lot from each other equally, and stated they felt a difference being mentored by a woman through this programme. But despite all of this, one can sometimes grapple with impostor syndrome. For some people, creating a positive image, linking your name to successes, is something that feels unnatural and uncomfortable. Having a mentor figure to help you as you hone your skills in the trade is invaluable. Some participants explained how at the start of their careers, they only had male mentors – or similar authority figures that took them on and showed them the ropes of the industry - as there was no access to women in leadership positions to take on that kind of role. While the situation has slightly evolved today, choosing a mentor can still be a difficult ordeal – who to choose? How to ask? That’s the kind off difficulty that the mentorship curated by ED can help to overcome.

The conversation among the participants led to other broad topics of discussion yet to tackle. Like how to be a good leader, buyer eagerness and remote working after a pandemic, how to remain flexible without losing the teamwork factor… As one participant said, “deep change takes time.” Lots of perspectives and inspirations for the upcoming fourth edition of EDMentorShe.

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