Gender parity in the film industry: 50/50 BY 2020?

Since the accusations against Harvey Weinstein kick-started the #MeToo movement a few years ago, it has become necessary to address the subject of gender (in)equality in the film industry.

It is a widely reported fact that women are significantly under-represented in all levels of this industry. Fewer women are employed as directors or occupy key creative positions. Besides, most of the work by female directors is limited to lower budgets. According to a study made by Le Collectif 50/50, only 23% of the films made between 2006-2016 were directed by women.

In an effort to work towards gender parity, the Swedish Film Institute introduced the „Fiftyfifty by 2020“ initiative at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Its main objective was to achieve equality in film funding distribution by 2020. Inspired by this initiative, many other national and international campaigns emerged in the last years to raise awareness on the issue.

One of the most prominent projects is the 5050×2020 campaign launched in 2018 by Le Collectif 50/50. This campaign called on film festivals to sign a specific pledge committing to the ultimate goal of reaching gender parity in film by 2020.

By taking the pledge, festival organizers agree to compile statistics of gender and race of the directors of all the films submitted to selection. They must also make public the gender and race of all the members of the selection committees, programmers and board of directors and commit to a schedule to achieve parity in the executive boards.

Most international film festivals have now signed the pledge: Cannes, Berlin, Locarno, Venice, and Toronto, among others. But are these pledges being adhered to? We are now in 2020. Have we achieved – or are we close to achieving – gender parity in the film industry?

We spoke with Stéphane Mitchell, co-president and one of the founders of the Swiss Women’s Audiovisual Network (SWAN) to shed some light on the situation in the Swiss film industry. SWAN has campaigned towards getting leading film festivals in Switzerland to sign the pledge for parity and inclusion.

This interview was carried out before the majority of the film festivals around the world were forced to cancel due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Is there gender equality in the Swiss film industry?

SWAN: In 2015, a national study conducted by the Association of Swiss Film Directors ARF/FDS, the Foundation of Continuing Education in Audiovisual FOCAL and the umbrella organisation Cinesuisse concluded that women directors and screenwriters were seriously discriminated against in Swiss public film funding.

In 2013, only 20% of the funded films were directed by women, with only 17% of the total allotted funds. In 2016, the Federal Office of Culture added a gender criterion to support female filmmakers and in 2019, the percentage of funded feature films directed by women has jumped to 36%, receiving 38% of the funds. A serious improvement!

Gender inequality also affects cast and crew, (women are still a minority, and mostly in low positions – no official data though), as well as the Swiss Film Academy where women make only 34% of the voting body. Which Swiss Film Festivals had signed the 5050×2020 pledge?

SWAN: Locarno Film Festival, Solothurner Filmtage, Fribourg International Film Festival, Visions du réel, Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, Zurich Film Festival, Shnit worldwide have signed the pledge. All the festivals sponsored by the Federal Office of Culture will also now start collecting gendered data on film submission/consideration and selection, even the ones that have not signed the pledge. We are now in 2020. Do we see any progress on gender parity in the film festivals (European and particularly Swiss) that have already signed the pledge? Are these pledges being adhered to? Have we achieved – or are we close to achieving – 50/50 in film festivals?

SWAN: The pledge is a commitment towards gender equality. It asks that the signatories commit to transparency and parity in governing bodies and selection committees and gender data collection on film submission/consideration and selection. So far, the Swiss festivals that signed the pledge a year ago (Locarno, Solothurn) have followed through on their commitment for transparency and parity, as well as data collection.

The other festivals have not yet happened (the FIFF just got cancelled) and therefore, it is too early to tell. But SWAN trusts that they will keep their commitments. It’s important to understand that the pledge is a commitment and not a quota. Locarno and Solothurn’s numbers of selected films directed by women showed a rise from previous years, but we are not yet at 50/50.

SWAN believes that the pledge is an amazing sensibilisation and monitoring tool. Other steps are complementary and necessary within and outside the festivals, to achieve gender equality and diversity.


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