We had the chance to interview Dr. Susan Liddy after the launch of her new book, entitled Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power and published by Palgrave Macmillan. The scholar edited it and coordinated a group of researchers to document the struggle for gender equality in film industries across 17 countries.
Liddy is currently a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communications Studies at University of Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College (Ireland). Her research interests relate primarily to gender issues in the Irish film industry; motherhood and the film industry and the representation of older women on screen and behind the camera. She is also chair of Women in Film and Television Ireland and of the Equality Action Committee as well as a board member of Women in Film and Television International, the Writers Guild of Ireland and Raising Film Ireland.
Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power was launched during CARLA 2020’s online conference on August 22. The three-day event, which ran from August 21-23, was hosted by Women in Film and Television International and the Carl International Film Festival and supported by the Swedish Film Institute, Eurimages, the Canada Media Fund, Screen Ireland and Women in Film and Television Germany, among other partners. This year’s programme covered crucial topics such as mechanisms of power, racism, unconscious bias, intersectionality, sexual harassment, safety on set and decolonizing narratives, all within the framework of the audiovisual industry and the growing global movement for constructive social change.
DAVIDE ABBATESCIANNI: You’ve launched your new book Women in the International Film Industry. Policy, Practice and Power during this year’s CARLA conference. Could you tell our readers what is it about?
SUSAN LIDDY: I was delighted to launch Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power at CARLA 2020. It is a comprehensive collection about women’s struggle for equality in the contemporary international film industry. I think it offers a unique opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of equality policies and practices in 17 countries across the world. This book will fill a gap in our knowledge by establishing the range and scale of gender inequality and the urgency, or lack of urgency, with which the issues are being addressed from country to county.
ABBATESCIANNI: How did you work on the book? How did the idea come about?
LIDDY: The idea for the book stemmed from the realization that we know a lot more about the film industry in Hollywood, or Sweden, for its trailblazing leadership, than we do about other parts of the world. I had already published a book on the Irish film industry entitled Women in the Irish Film Industry: Stories and Storytellers [published by Cork University Press earlier this year]. I felt a similar book was needed to assess the international context. So I gathered together scholars from all around the world to interrogate the situation in their own country.
ABBATESCIANNI: What are the researchers’ main findings? Which countries are setting the example or at least showing more efforts in reducing inequality?
LIDDY: Women are still underrepresented in the industry as screenwriters, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors and crew and that’s true across the world. They are less likely to be funded and when they are, they get less money. In places that have implemented policy change – Ireland and Australia, to give two examples – progresses have been very slow. And, of course, while awareness of the desirability for change is widespread, which is positive, awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to action in all cases. All in all, slow and inconsistent is how I would characterize things.
ABBATESCIANNI: How would you judge the Irish context? What role is Women in Film and Television Ireland playing?
Women in Film and Television Ireland (WFTI) is playing an important role in building bridges, forging allegiances and uniting activists, researchers and practitioners across the world. We share a common vision and under WFTI’s steering group we will continue to work together for change. I’m proud to be the chair of the organization and also a newly elected member of its board.
Over the last five years, there has been a significant cultural shift in Ireland. Industry discourse has become infused with the importance of gender equality. The country’s audiovisual agency, Screen Ireland, alongside the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, have implemented gender policies and put in place initiatives to increase the numbers of women in the industry. There’s a long way to go yet but a good start has been made aided by the support of stakeholders such as the Writers Guild of Ireland and WFTI itself.
ABBATESCIANNI: What is the main challenge of today’s activism?
LIDDY: Amplifying gender equality issues and keeping them to the fore politically is always a challenge. Together we need to find new ways to build on our gains and not lose our energy in the process. Gender fatigue can set in and momentum can be lost which we need to be mindful of.
ABBATESCIANNI: What is the impact or importance of events such as CARLA 2020?
LIDDY: CARLA 2020, and virtual events like it, are very important. They bring like-minded people together, and give us space to debate and reflect on the burning issues of the day, such as intersectionality, diversity, gender equality and so on. Yes, it’s virtual but it’s amazing how quickly one gets used to that.
CARLA 2020 was very ambitious in its reach and it was staggering to see so many discussions, so many people from all corners of the world coming together like that. In these COVID-19 times there is a real yearning for connection and I think people embraced everything the three day event had to offer, from the serious talks to the lighthearted mingle! The line up was staggering and gave us a unique opportunity to hear from a wide range of very impressive speakers.