Nfld. & Labrador

Women filmmakers call for gender equity in male-dominated industry

A national summit of women filmmakers is calling for gender equity when it comes to funding Canadian screen projects.

Summit held at St. John's Women's Film Festival

Sharon McGowan, Molly McGlynn and Kay Armatage talk about the gender imbalance in Canadian film and TV 4:26

A national summit of women filmmakers is calling for gender equity when it comes to funding Canadian screen projects.

The summit of 14 leaders of women's media organizations and unions says despite the fact that half of new filmmakers have long been women, big budget film and TV productions are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Filmmakers and other industry representatives were told only 6 per cent of Telefilm Canada's feature film funding in 2013 went to movies directed by women. Telefilm administers the Canadian Media Fund.

The summit announced seven recommendations during a forum Wednesday at the St. John's Women's International Film Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. 

Among the recommendations: 

  • Public investment in media industries should be tied to a requirement to demonstrate gender balance
  • Recording, and annual reporting on gender and racial representation should be part of applications and delivery requirements for public funding.

Summit member, and U.B.C. film professor, Sharon McGowan wants public agencies such as Telefilm and the National Film Board to demand gender equity plans from producers before handing out public money — plans that guarantee jobs to women on either end of the camera.

She said those agencies used to observe gender equity guidelines for in-house productions, but 20 years ago they moved to a grant-giving system.

"The more experienced producers tended to be men, and tended to have established companies [that] were able to access that funding at a much higher rate and to hold on to it. So that's where the shift happened. I don't think it was through any malevolent force," she said.

McGowan said women tend to be over-represented in low-budget arts projects, or work in traditional roles such as costumes and make-up.

"I think that a lot of them feel that they're inadequate perhaps. That's why they're not ahead. They don't see systemic barriers as quickly as people like I do. They may feel that maybe there work isn't strong enough or they're not assertive. That is absolutely not the case," she said.

Kay Armatage, a former Toronto International Film Festival programmer said women were making progress, then the tide turned about twenty years ago.

 "Someone who was a major honcho in Telefilm Canada said to me, 'You can't play the gender card anymore, Kay." And it dropped off the table," she said.

Armatage said it's time Canada follow the example of Britain and Sweden who have both spelled out gender equity guidelines for publicly-funded films