The BFI's Stats Yearbook for 2013 was published this week and provides an unsettling wake up call for women working as screenwriters and directors in the UK. Only 25 of 187 screenwriters with films produced and released in the UK in 2012 were women, a drop from 18.9% in 2011 to 13.4% in 2012. As for female directors, only 14 of 179 credited directors in 2012 were women, that's 7.8% compared with a relatively robust 15% the year before.
The news and figures should be read in context. When one considers the last five years (2007 – 2012), the statistics don't suggest a tailspin or even a general decline - the numbers go up and down. Screenwriting numbers happened to be very high in 2011 and has dropped back to a little below the average over the 5 year period -- which is just under 15%.
Directing figures are a little harder to justify, increasing from 6% in 2007 to a high of 17.2% in 2009 before the drop over the last three years to 7.8%. On the positive side, women have doubled their numbers over the 5 year period insofar as only 7 women had directing credits in 2007 while 14 have credits in 2012.
The BFI's own strategic plan for 2012 - 2017 pledges to support diversity of talent in terms of gender (among other factors). The fall in numbers will undoubtedly prompt nervousness and anxiety among our aspiring women filmmakers who will be asking whether or not there is a place for them in the current market. The concern is that the 10% funding cuts due to hit the BFI will compound the effect on struggling women filmmakers, setting the numbers back to pre-2007 lows.
The BFI's Heather Stewart insists that this will not happen, reminding us that 80% of the BFI's Film Fund First Feature Awards have gone to women directors (with 60% awarded for screenplays written by women) and 30% of the BFI Vision Awards went to companies led by women. She believes that we need to have faith in the long term strategy saying: "We are investing in the future of film through our education strategy. We want to show girls that writing, producing and directing are all possible, and one of the best ways to do that is to catch them with our 5 - 19 years education strategy. As with any field where women feel excluded, [it's important to] give them role models and access to education."
Director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) is next due to direct a film about the suffragettes - it is written by a woman (Abi Morgan), produced by women (Ruby Films' Alison Owen and Faye Ward) and has Carey Mulligan attached. Here's what she said about the state of women filmmakers and why women need to keep going:
I became a director because I was inspired by the work of women filmmakers. These women became my role models and gave me the confidence to move into film. I am lucky now to be working with some fantastic women in film, from writers to producers and commissioners. It is vital that we take the necessary steps to push through the female talent and help change these statistics.
At this point, while the statistical evidence is lagging there is always hope on the horizon and there are important role models emerging including Clio Barnard whose The Selfish Giant was critically acclaimed in Cannes, and director Amma Assante whose film Belle has been selected for Toronto, and also Abi Morgan's back with the script for Ralph Fiennes' The Invisible Woman which will also premiere in Toronto.