Eurimages Working Group on Gender Equality in conversation with Stienette Bosklopper and Diana Elbaum
Moderated by Patricia Pisters, Film professor at the Media Studies Department, University of Amsterdam & Director of the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, Stienette and Diana talked about strategies to reduce gender inequality in the film industry. Diana talked about her yet to be unveiled initiative Bootcamp. Read Stienette’s key note speech here:
Key note speech Eurimages in Amsterdam 20 juni 2016 – Stienette Bosklopper
With a company named after Homer’s infamous sorceress and a purple coloured logo, Circe Films began as a three women collective in the early nineties. Fuelled by an empowerment subsidy from the city council, we started making children’s tv. How typical! In those days, we thought feminism was something for middle aged, turned-sour, bra-less ladies with red died hair. We were young urban professionals who doubted whether we even wanted to have kids. Why then profiling ourselves explicitly as a women’s company? With a purple logo and the name of a witch?
In retrospect we weren’t as confident as we tried to make ourselves believe. We needed to define ourselves as an ‘all-female company’ exactly becáuse we were women. We were actually insecure whether we would survive in competition with the established companies mainly driven by men. And because we hadn’t the faintest clue how to combine babies with a career, we said we didn’t want them at all. Quite soon our trio fall apart for all kinds of reasons and at the end of 1996 I was alone in charge of the company, pregnant of my oldest daughter.
When my daughter was born there was a long waiting list for the better kiddy centres in town. Because I had to go back at work quite soon, I had to leave my 8 weeks old child in a nursery that didn’t fit to my quality standards. After three days of worrying in the office, I took her out of the place and took care of her myself at home, bickering with my husband about who had to stay at home when. Then, thank god, there was a unexpected vacancy in a nursery of our liking because another mother couldn’t even handle bringing her child thére. At the time we had our second daugther, my company paid 1.400 euro’s per month for child care. My husband’s employer at that time didn’t compensate for it. I was hardly able to pay myself a decent salary, let alone afford an extended staff. My husband – who seems to have forgotten all about this now – was asking on a regular base whether I thought my company was ever really going to work.
In my career I’ve hardly felt bias against being a female producer. There were funny remarks sometimes like a former staff member of the Filmfund who asked whether Nanouk Leopold and I shared hotel rooms when we went to festivals, suggesting making all these films together must have a secret reason. A female decision maker told others I must have a rich husband, reducing my career to a bourgeois woman’s fancy. Another assumption was more persistent and dangerous though. It appeared male directors decided against working with us because they assumed ‘we’ at Circe didn’t want to work with men. When I found out this became like a trend, I decided to openly scout for male filmmakers.
While preparing this speech on gender equality on the eve before the Amsterdam Eurimages 2016 session, I catched up a bit on statistics. 25 years after me-not-needing-feminism-anymore, statistic reality is harsh. It seems like time has stood still. Did I perform differently in the same period of time, being the woman in charge, free to decide who I wanted to work with? Besides making short films and tv drama, I worked as a producer and coproducer on 26 feature films. Of my ‘own’ films, meaning I was the leading producer, 11 out of 12 had a female director. Of the films I coproduced, 3 out of 14 had a female director. Of the films where I was the leading producer, 6 films had a female lead, 5 a male lead and 1 a mixed lead. Of the coproductions, 10 films have a male lead over 3 with a female lead and 1 with a mixed lead. We also employed equally significant numbers of female key crew, like writers, editors and production designers on our homebased productions.
So, I think we can conclude this sorceress driven company has succeeded at least a bit in compensating for the male cultural footprint. But I’m afraid I can’t take all credits here. I probably was helped by the fact that over the years an increasing share of decision makers in the Dutch industry became female. Next to that, I think we can say that a soft money environment tends to be favourable for women, because the institutions distributing it are at least partly guided by progressive policitical agenda’s. These secondary mission obligations in combination with the larger group of women safeguarding them, tend not to disfavor women.
One of the explanations why the top grossing US films blatantly underrepresent women, is that the worst positions for women in general appear in environments with extreme competition. So usually those places where it’s not partly about money or prestige, but mainly about money and prestige. In these highly competitive places, men and women alike tend to team up with people whom they expect to deliver under strong pressure. I don’t think one could say there is a general fear that women wouldn’t be able to deliver under strong pressure. What I do believe though, is that women with children or other intense domestic obligations are considered riskier hires.
I think the effects of family life on female filmmakers is still strongly underestimated, also in our country. The 1,5 Dutch model where the men work more or less full time and women temporarily take a less ambitious position to keep up their career, has disastrous effects on high profiled career tracks like in film. With many emotionally charged obligations pulling at them, women’s creative visions tend to get blurred or diluted. The effect is that women lose some of their original gusto.
Women want to be liked and unfortunately they tend to be liked best when they are modest. Their modesty explains for the lower directing fees and budgets for their films, as published by Eurimages. But for the scope and stories of their films, women tend to be modest too. Like other minorities, women have a tendency to make films about their own, closed environments. In a relatively protected, government supported environment like we have in the Netherlands, there is still space for such voices and such worlds. In the dark and dangerous world of glory and fame though, such stories tend to be trampled upon.
The most difficult thing in a filmmaker’s career is not to start but to stay. When speaking to distributors and festival curators, the mantra is: a filmmaker has to grow. This means trying to maintain hold of the general attention by making highly charismatic, commercially viable films. When looking at the main program of topknotch festivals like Cannes we see – just like with top grossing US films – that these films are seldomly made by women. So the infamous glass ceiling exists at the Croisette just like everywhere else in the world. I think Thierry Fremaux in itself is right when he says his festival does well in comparision to the overall participation of women in filmmaking. But his festival can do better by making an active choice in favor of woman just like there have been many examples of this kind of support for groups under pressure in the past. Women are overlooked in this more strictly political sense and that’s why a meeting like the one we are having now is so important, to keep ourselves on the agenda and to shake off modesty. The fact that Toni Erdmann – such an extremely clever and profound film – was selected but largely overlooked with the awards at the last Cannes festival, is a sign on the wall. It makes one wonder whether La Vie d’Adele would have had the same success if it would have been made by a woman or worse, a lesbian woman. The fact that women tend to niche-in a film whereas men seem to be able to un-niche the same product, is my biggest worry. Because we will always stay women and how can we change what we are?
Female filmmakers must keep pushing for valid family support systems and they must aim at getting equal wages for the same work. But as their fees are directly related to the prestige and budget level of their films, they need to activily to work on developing material with sufficient charismatic appeal so as to attract substantial support from the market. Female film makers must tell their own stories but also have to go outside and see what’s there. Female stories have to become less modest and could aim at being a bit more of a shocker. To conclude on this: female filmmakers must work hard to un-niche themselves.