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Cannes Dispatch: Women Directors Panel Reveal It’s a Man’s World, Suggest Gender Quota

Cannes Dispatch: Women Directors Panel Reveal It's a Man's World, Suggest Gender Quota

Not many
topics make people squirm more than gender-based quota systems, but after
hearing significant statistics about women in the film and television
industries, a somewhat ambivalent panel at Cannes started thinking more
seriously about their necessity. An unfortunately titled Cannes-hosted conference,
“Girls Just Want to Have Film,” was sponsored by the European
Audiovisual Observatory (EAO). 

The full-house
session was framed by summary presentations of three extensive reports on women
in the industry conducted by the EAO, the CNC of France, and the British Film
Institute (BFI). Other European countries could only envy the depth of these
reports, all of which confirmed everyone’s worst fears about the deplorably low
percentages of women in top creative roles. The findings demonstrate the grim
reality of women averaging 16.1% of the director chairs in Europe from 2003-2013,
with France on top with 33% of sophomore works directed by female filmmakers, although calculated
on the basis of population the Netherlands actually ranks highest. But the
panelists noted that even in a gender-progressive country like Sweden, the
statistics are pathetic. In the UK there is a distressingly shrinking
percentage of women directing drama in television, currently standing at about

As in the US
and Canada, European women dominate in more traditionally “female” roles, such
as costuming and make-up. And they fare slightly better as producers than they
do as directors, but only slightly. Otherwise it’s a resoundingly European
man’s world. Although the Strasbourg-based EAO report offers statistics on the
full range of roles in 9,349 films, the focus of the conference was on
directing, and why women continue to be left out of the top creative jobs in
both film and television. 

French boasts
of top-ranking status notwithstanding, here we are at Cannes with only two
women directors in official competition, as Cannes jury chair Jane Campion has now
famously observed. The cold facts delivered by the EAO panel challenged anyone
under the impression that things were getting better for women filmmakers. A
second panel of European representatives explored the whys of the situation, and
aimed to be more encouraging about how to remedy the sad trends. The extraordinary
domestic demands of women’s lives were briskly dismissed by BFI panelist Beryl
Richards as a lame excuse. Just do it, she said. A small percentage of time is
actually ever spent shooting. The ramp-up to the event itself happens largely
at home, anyway. There are no excuses, she insisted.

Finally, the panel turned to
the contentious issue of quotas. If things are going to change, they need to do
so by ring-fencing top industry jobs for women, it was suggested, and,
possibly, targeting women for financial support. The European industry works on
a foundational public funding model and so mandating quotas is possible, if
there’s political and public will. Tilde
Corsi of Italy
admitted that before she saw the statistical
findings of these reports she was loath to support a quota system. Now she is thinking
they are absolutely necessary.

Noreen Golfman is a professor of film studies at
Memorial University of Newfoundland and founding director and chair of the
board of the St John’s International Women’s Film Festival in Newfoundland,
Canada, now in its 25th 

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