In the wake of Cannes jury president Jane Campion's condemnation of the "inherent sexism" in the film industry last month, the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA) has called for concerted action to promote equal representation in European filmmaking.
The only organisation which represents directors across Europe, FERA made its entreaty after the results of a study it commissioned from the European Audiovisual Observatory were published, which showed that the work of women directors amounted to only 16% of European films released from 2003 to 2011. The Federation appealed directly to the legislative bodies of the European Union in its recent press release, demanding the European Parliament and Commission take action on the issue, and calling for the implementation of "targets for women directors, based on the percentage of female directors in the workforce."
FERA CEO Pauline Durand-Vialle credits Sweden with playing a major role in inspiring the push for gender equality by directors in the European industry - a country which has long been at the forefront of progressive policy-making in this area. The current Swedish National Film Agreement's equality directive demands funding be divided equally between women and men (in the key positions of director, screenwriter, and producer) on projects funded by the country's Film Institute. FERA has similarly placed the issue of funding at the heart of its call for policy initiatives designed to promote equality.
As Durand-Vialle told Women and Hollywood:
In countries such as France and the UK, the issue is starting to be more openly talked about between directors in their national guilds and the relevant stakeholders (public funding entities as well as broadcasters employing directors and/or financing their projects): that's already a huge step.
It felt necessary for our Federation to back up those initiatives here in Brussels; we co-organized an event last December to get through to MEPs in Strasbourg [the event is detailed here], and considered that we need concrete goals to actually get somewhere: the issue is more trendy than it ever was at European level, but that's not enough yet.
FERA has chosen to begin by calling for the implementation of targets based on the proportion of female directors in the workforce in the hope that this will level the playing field for women currently in the industry. The Federation has close ties with the European Women's Audiovisual Network, whose continued research into the number of female professionals attaining key positions it hopes will further discussion on these issues, and provide sufficient momentum to prompt film funds at a national and European level to take action by the end of 2015. Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s support fund for European cinema, has already taken significant steps towards addressing the problem.
FERA's decision to lead with an appeal to European policy-makers is a reminder of the power there is to be harnessed in a filmmaking culture in which state financial support of the industry plays a vital role. The potential impact of achieving such wide-reaching policy changes cannot be overstated. While this may seem of little comfort to those fighting for gender equity in the US industry, it is encouraging to see that the kind of concerns which are provoking debate and action in Europe are being voiced more and more in Hollywood contexts. FERA's highlighting of the "risk-averse decisions" which so often dominate film finance and production - and prejudice against women filmmakers - is something which is increasingly being echoed in the US (a recent example being Cate Blanchett and Kerry Washington's comments on just this issue at Women in Film's Crystal + Lucy Award Ceremony). We will certainly be following the progress of FERA's call for change with keen interest.