Yesterday we went to a good discussion on feminism, curated by performance artist Bryony Kimmings at Soho Theatre in relation to her show there at the moment, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model. Although we disagreed with quite a lot of what one panellist said, everyone there was well aware of issues of underrepresentation of women in the arts world and we left reassured to hear good practices being discussed to improve the situation.
Then we went to our first set of short films at the 2013 London Film Festival.
I'm a big fan of short films and generally go to a lot of the programmes of these that the LFF curate. This year we've booked five, and our first was a comedy lineup. Before the screenings began, five of the directors stood up - and they were all men. Sure enough, all eight films turned out to be directed by men.
Aside from our concerns about the apparently sexist selection practices of the BFI's curators, this lack of women clearly translated into the films' content. Below I have listed all the female characters from the eight films - I think you'll see what I mean. Those with an asterisk are the only ones who actually appeared in a majority of their respective films.
- Young girl victim of bungled kidnap plot (possibly the strongest female character of the whole evening, oddly enough!)*
- Kidnapper's pregnant wife/girlfriend (quite a cliched nagging type)
- This was a weird, scribbly animation and I couldn't remember what characters were in it but my wife recalls some women firing guns and/or having large breasts.
- Hackneyed, cliched, nagging, somewhat-unpleasant-but-probably-not-as-much-as-the-director-likes-to-think-if-he-only-developed-her-character-a-bit-more girlfriend of the lead man*
- Supportive, forgiving wife of idiot lead man (she - OMG - beats him at arm-wrestling, triggering a major crisis of masculinity, obv)*
- The (three) wives/girlfriends of the other three men at their dinner party, one of whom has her chest admired by the lead man at one point and rides on her partner's back (that's it for notable appearances by these three).
- Female panda (it's an animation about pandas) brought in by zoo in hope lead male panda will mate with her
- The wife of the lead man (spoiler: turns out she's been having an affair with another main character)
- [Spoiler] Two women police officers pretending until the last moments to be submissive sex workers.
That's it. Women may make up half the world's population but they just aren't interesting enough to make films about.
Films 4 and 6 were the comedy highlights - Talking Dog For Sale, 10 Euros, and Pandas [Pandy] - with Film 1 - Penny Dreadful - an enjoyable watch too. But the rest largely left us cold and we were particularly irritated by the lack of women.
So today I thought I'd check over all nine programmes of short films from this year's LFF and see what the gender balance in the directors is across the lot, in case we'd had an unrepresentative view last night.
Almost inevitably, the average is more than none, so to that extent, we had - but the picture is not good.
Of 72 short films across the nine programmes, only 11 have women directors. That's just 15%, less than one in every six shorts.
The figures for the nine specific programmes are as follows:
- The Best Medicine (in the Laugh strand): 0/8.
- Bizarre Ride (in the Thrill strand): 0/8.
- Freaks 'n' Geeks (in the Cult strand): 0/8.
- Love Will Conquer All (in the Love strand): 1/8.
- Everything Good Is Happening Somewhere Else (in the Journey strand): 1/8.
- London Calling (best new up-and-coming London directors): 1/7.
- Animated Shorts (for children, in the Family strand): 2/9.
- Shiny Happy Fits Of Rage (in the Debate strand): 2/8.
- You Took A Child And You Made Them Old (films starring, but not for, children, in the Dare strand): 4/8.
Just one programme achieves gender parity.
And as bad luck would have it, the five we're going to are among the worst, so we'll only be seeing two shorts directed by women out of the 39 we're seeing.
If I were the BFI, curating the London Film Festival shorts programmes, I'd be asking whether it's really true that 85% of the world's best short films come from male directors, or whether there might be something amiss with the selection process.
P.S. If LFF going leaves you too with a slightly nasty taste in your mouth around this issue, here are a couple of festivals coming up in the next few weeks which we've heard about recently and sound like good antidotes:
Calm Down, Dear - Camden People's Theatre's Festival of Feminism
Underwire Film Festival - loads of shorts by women - it's almost like they do exist after all!
And Birds Eye View continues to do great things with women filmmakers, and holds a festival in the spring.
Paul S. is a SE London feminist arts-lover who tweets @bitoclass
Republished with permission.