New goals needed to reach gender parity in film industry, say experts

Gender equality came under the spotlight at the European Film Academy’s awards weekend in Seville. Anna Serner, CEO of the ground-breaking Swedish Film Institute (SFI), which has achieved gender parity in the number of films it now backs, gave the keynote address. 

Anna Cerner, CEO SFI
Anna Serner, source: SFI

Anna Serner explained commissioners are instructed to make funding decisions based on relevance, originality and craft, and not (just) by setting quotas.

“We want to find the women who have potential,” she explained.  “Potential is not [only] male.”

“The men in Sweden have shaped up. It’s harder to get our money now,” Serner said. “We used to have 80% [applications rejected], and now that is 95%. It’s tougher to get our money, but we are showing the world it’s worth it.”

The SFI released a report about financial inequality for female filmmakers last week that revealed female directors in Sweden are still working with lower budgets than their male counterparts.

Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s longtime producer and co-founder of the UK’s Sixteen Films, joined Serner after her keynote for a panel discussion. She pointed to strong momentum in the UK now, such as Emma Watson donating $1.4 million to the Justice and Equality Fund, and BAFTA’s adoption of the BFI’s Diversity Standards for its two British film-focused awards.

“As a producer back in the 80s I worked on a film which had an almost entirely female crew, except for a few electricians, as an experiment,” O’Brien recalled. ”And I thought, ‘Here’s the ball rolling.’ It’s similar with black and minority ethnic stories. Back in the ‘80s I was working on multicultural TV series. This was nearly 40 years ago. I thought that engine would start the stories rolling, but it’s taken until this decade for things to really happen. It felt like it went backwards. The intention was there so maybe we went about it the wrong way.”

She added the approach now was more successful: “Looking for stories relevant to our times …. can be a much more powerful engine.”

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