On 21 May, the Main Stage of Cannes’ Marché du Film (17-25 May) hosted a special event organized by the Swedish Film Institute. As many European and international industry stakeholders already know, the goal of gender equality permeates everything that is done at the Nordic body – from production funding to promotional activities, from curating the archive to the recruitment of new staff. 

The 21 May event represented a unique opportunity to share the results of the institute’s gender equality strategies as well as to launch its brand-new report on the topic, titled “406 Days – It’s About Time.” In detail, the document looks at gender disparity in the production process with the main goal to identify areas of focus to implement better policies.

The gathering was introduced by Anette Novak, the new CEO of the Swedish Film Institute who is set to continue the illuminated work carried out by her predecessor, Anna Serner. In her opening speech, Novak highlighted: “Gender equality has its own intrinsic value, but it’s also an essential tool for economic prosperity. Societies that value men and women as equal are safer and healthier. Companies with gender-balanced management are more profitable than those which are male-dominated.”

“The film industry has the unique opportunity to expose the audience to a wide range of perspectives: narratives contradicting stereotypes, stories that have the potential to decrease our implicit, often unconscious biases and to decrease or totally eliminate gender inequality.”

The floor was then given to Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Nordic Affairs Anna Halberg, who spoke about the government’s commitment to promote gender equality and to unleash the local industry’s potential, both “qualitatively and commercially.”

Next, Josefin Schröder, the institute’s Head of Analytics, talked through the report’s key findings. Interestingly, the titular ‘406’ is the difference in number of days it takes for fiction feature film projects with female screenwriters to be completed, in comparison with the projects led by their male counterparts.

Surprisingly, the trend is opposite for documentary makers. Nevertheless, it brings no good news, as it takes longer for male filmmakers to complete their projects because they are usually larger and better funded.

Another key funding highlights that women tend to drop along the way. In broader terms, far more men apply for new fiction and documentary projects. The tendency is also for female filmmakers to drop later in the process than their male counterparts. They also spend more time in the more vulnerable phase of film production – namely, the development stage. One possible explanation for this trend, Schröder argues, is that it is harder for films led by female filmmakers to be funded. “It’s all about money. Research in the field of venture capital and academia also points to structural inequalities when it comes to access to financing,” she said.

Schröder also joined the subsequent panel discussion moderated by Petra Kauraisa. The other participants were Dame Heather Rabbatts (CBE and Chair of Time’s Up UK), Helene Granqvist (President of Women in Film and Television International) and Helge Albers (CEO of the MOIN Film Fund Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein).

Rabbatts talked through Time’s Up’s mission “on tackling harassment, abuse and bullying in the industry” since 2018 but also its priority on “shifting culture in film and television” to favor inclusion and diversity. Among the team’s numerous commitments is ensuring that more women (including women of color) are slated as directors. In particular, she mentioned the partnership with British studio Working Title, which has slated six women directors out of 11 films produced over the course of this year: “More women of color directing also means more diverse crews. It’s about shifting the balance of power.” She also talked about the commitment to ensure the presence of intimacy coordinators, which recently became an industry standard.

Later, Albers explained that the fund he works for has been tackling gender equality issues for three years and “from a holistic position.” The body’s actions focused on three main areas: internal communications and recruitment practices (“How do we reach out to the different underrepresented groups?”); the appointment of decision-makers (“How do we form the juries distributing the funds?”) and the application process (“How do we make ourselves visible and accessible?” and “What type of partners are we looking for?”). He also pointed out how learning from past mistakes and analyzing data are crucial to implement new policies and practices.

Rabbatts agreed with Albers, even though she wondered how much data we still need to gather since it’s crystal-clear that minorities and women are underrepresented and something needs to done. “My plea is about leadership, about saying: ‘I’ll be judged in five years’ time.’ If I’m running Cannes [I should ask myself]: How many directors who are women and people of color walked those steps on the red carpet? That is fundamental.”

She also shared her new effort, namely the creation of a new body, the Independent Standards Authority, which comes to the rescue for those who have been victims of bullying and harassment. Set to guarantee the highest standards of confidentiality, the organization will investigate and make perpetrators accountable. Streaming platforms, studios and talent agencies are welcoming the initiative and offering their support.

The panelists: Josefin Schröder, Dame Heather Rabatts, Helene Granqvist, Helge Albers and moderator Petra Kauraisa. Photo by Hampus Svensson

Granqvist said that “there’s a lot of silent knowledge about how yo do things” and many don’t complain or report irregularities fearing for repercussions: “And, just because we work in the cultural sector, this doesn’t mean we have a good culture.”

Albers added that there is already a body similar to the Independent Standards Authority in Germany, currently controlled by the Ministry of Culture. It fights discrimination and harassment not only in film but within the wider spectrum of the creative industries. He also touched upon ARTEF, the anti-racism taskforce spearheaded by the European Film Academy and managed by a number of public funding bodies and institutions.

Towards the end of the panel, Granqvist talked about the hard task of dismantling European institution’s systemic fallacies, the role of education and the necessity to reflect on white privilege.

The speakers also agreed on the urgency to find and experiment new solutions – even through mistakes – and how the efforts to make the industry more just should come from everyone. “We’re creating this industry, it’s not creating us,” Granqvist concluded. 

You can read or download the full report here: 406 Days – It’s About Time: Gender Equality Report 2021/2022.

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