Women in the audiovisual industry. Flash in the pan or rising trend

La directora Neus Ballús (a l’esquerra) i la muntadora Ariadna Ribas (a la dreta) amb els premis Gaudí que van rebre per la pel·lícula Sis dies corrents. © Acadèmia del Cinema Català - Manu de León / White Horse

The number of female filmmakers has been burgeoning in the past few years. The presence of female directors, screenwriters, producers, and so on, is growing in the audiovisual industry. In recent years, female filmmakers have picked up many of the most prestigious awards. The question is whether this will stop at a collection of outstanding first films or whether each female filmmaker will be able to pursue a career consistent with their talent. Nine professionals from the industry lend us an insight into why they believe this phenomenon has come about and what course it has taken.

The Golden Bear picked up by the female director Carla Simón for Alcarràs at Berlinale 2022 has brought to light a reality that has been brewing for years: the greater presence of female filmmakers both on billboards and at festivals in the audiovisual industry. It seems that women are conquering a terrain that had been dominated by men until now.

If we cast perceptions aside and zone in on the figures, we can see that they are not consistent across the board. According to the Catalan Institute for Cultural Companies (ICEC), which has been applying measures to foster gender equality in audiovisual production since 2017, of the 78 subsidised film projects in 2021, half were directed by women and 70.5% – almost three out of four – had a female screenwriter or co-screenwriter. One year earlier, the percentages were 42% and 51%, respectively.

The figures contrast with the appraisal of the industry, based on the 2022 Gaudí award nominations, carried out by Dones Visuals – an organisation that advocates for women’s presence in the audiovisual industry –, in cooperation with the Catalan Film Academy and the Colectivo Ficcial cultural consultancy. This study shows that, although the representativeness of female directors, screenwriters and producers – which is known as female leadership in audiovisuals – has grown in the case of feature films, the rise has stagnated at around 30%. “A ceiling that has not been broken for three years”, Dones Visuals point out.

The organisation considers that, under the most favourable conditions, parity will have been achieved by 2031, “without taking other discrimination into account, such as age, ethnic or racial origin, sexual orientation and functional diversity”, they emphasise.

Those consulted believe that progress towards parity is being accomplished thanks to grants, the presence of female reference points and widespread access to good-quality public higher education. Even so, we still have a long way to go if what we are striving for, besides women’s greater presence in the audiovisual industry, is diversity in the broadest sense of the term.

Retrat de Judith Colell

Judith Colell
Director, screenwriter and producer. President of the Catalan Film Academy

We have managed to get to where we are today thanks to the nascent emergence of inspiring examples. When I was young, Spain just had a few female filmmaking role models, Pilar Miró and Josefina Molina, and the international scene only had a handful too. Today’s generation has had more, because there are quite a few of us, about to turn fifty, the women who have directed and produced films, and some of us have won awards at different festivals.

I had always wondered about the so-called “glass ceiling”, until I realised that it referred to not having anyone to look to, someone who has carved out the path. And this happens in every profession that is exceedingly masculinised, such as film directing, but also orchestral directing, for instance. And now that reference points are beginning to emerge, we shall see them steadily grow.

Something else that makes me assert that there isn’t a boom, but that the current trend is set to continue, is that universities are full of women. I have more and more female students in my classes who wish to direct, produce and write scripts, and they voice their aspirations serenely and decidedly. And that’s brilliant!

We women have shown that, when we are present, we are great. There was something holding us back, but now there’s nothing to stop us!

Retrat de Alba Sotorra

Alba Sotorra
Film director, screenwriter and producer

Film schools have always seen the enrolment of more female than male students, but the female students got lost along the way. We are now at a very particular juncture in which women have made headway and different factors come together, such as the influence held by public intervention policies in this regard. From women’s associations, such as the Associació Promotora de Dones Cineastes i de Mitjans Audiovisuals [Association of Female Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media] (CIMA) and Dones Visuals, among others, we have engaged in a great deal of political advocacy so that the Film and Audiovisual Arts Institute (ICAA), the institution financing cinema, adopt measures to redress a serious inequality: there is no parity in the world of cinema, where it is necessary because the audiovisual realm wields tremendous power when it comes to creating or dispelling stereotypes and reinforcing the vision of the world or helping to develop a new one.

If women are a significant minority – roughly 12% or 15% – in the film industry, the audiovisual products that we consume and that influence society are biased, needless to say.

Thanks to this impetus, projects led by women or that assign women to senior positions, have a higher score. And although this score is small, it has been an incentive for producers – who always work with the same male colleagues – to pause for a moment to reflect and consider whether there are women who can join their teams. And they’ve realised that there are lots of them and that they’re great.

Retrat de Neus Ballús

Neus Ballús
Film director and screenwriter. Promoter of the Dones Visuals association.

There are a few women who are much talked-about because they have made films that have won awards at festivals and, all of a sudden, they gain a great deal of visibility and impact. But we must exercise caution because, if we consider the total volume of production, the concept of a boom is not taking place, because the proportion of films made by women is still very low, which means there is no parity in the film industry.

What we have seen at Dones Visuals is that having films led by women – directing, script writing and producing – implies a renewal of the content, but also of the teams. Women are taken on board as team managers in sectors that were highly technical and masculinised, such as photography directing and editing.

I have a theory that women-led projects have had to go through so many filters to be able to be carried out that, at least, they are characterised by quality, originality and a new perspective. In the last year, all the big festival awards have been won by women, and festivals and academies recognise originality and innovation. The incorporation of new points of view, of people who until now did not have the chance to build the story – whether women or other minority groups –, provides this novelty that the public later acknowledges and appreciates.

What has not yet happened is for the industry to commit to these points of view. For the time being, festivals and awards are spearheading it, but we still don’t have the industry’s full support.

Retrat de Nathalie Modigliani

Nathalie Modigliani
Cultural manager and film programmer for adult and child audiences

Cinema made by women is by no means a flash in the pan. We have a generation of young female filmmakers and this trend will not dwindle. Since Tres dies amb la familia [Three Days with the Family] (2009), by Mar Coll, who kicked off this new batch of filmmakers, strong women on the national and international scene have been on the rise. Other examples include Neus Ballús with Seis días corrientes [Six Ordinary Days] (2021); Arantxa Echevarría with Carmen y Lola (2018); and Érika Sánchez with Panteres [Panthers] (2020).

What’s more, women’s presence is not only increasing in the realm of production; technical and artistic teams are also seeing the growing participation of women. This applies to Alcarràs, where women’s presence in senior positions is significant in the fields of production, photography, editing, art, set design, costumes, etc.

In turn, women’s films reach us more because they tell everyday, intimate, sensitive stories that are a reflection of the complexity of society, but from a very personal perspective. And this is how feelings and emotions show through.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to achieve a balance in the audiovisual world. Despite the favourable developments that have come about, many inequalities endure. In France, a study by the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée [National Centre for Film and Moving Images] in 2017 revealed that only 23% of national feature films are directed by women. The potential is enormous and must be tapped into.

Retrat de Isaki Lacuesta

Isaki Lacuesta
Film director and screenwriter

Cinema made by women cannot be a flash in the pan, because the lack of women filmmakers was an anomaly. In the 1990s, when we were students, there was already parity in the classroom that later wasn’t carried on to the professional world. Having said that, we mustn’t take anything for granted. We need look no further than the testimonies filmed by the filmmaker Delphine Seyrig in the 1970s (in the Defiant Muses exhibition) or to read the conversations between Marguerite Duras and the journalist Xavière Gauthier (in the book Les parleuses [later published in English as Woman to Woman]) to realise that we are just beginning to witness a situation of equality that fifty years ago seemed to be the start of an unstoppable process. Everything can easily backslide.

I don’t like to call these steps towards normality a boom; the word boom seems to describe a specific anomaly. For decades no correlation between emerging talent and professional production has been perceived. Now that we are in the throes of great economic crisis, the audiovisual world works the other way around and needs professionals more than ever: we must ensure that women’s work does not lose ground when the crisis hits the audiovisual industry. Work that cannot be limited by the confines of pre-defined styles. Women can and do make action movies, horror films and comedies, brilliant movies and terrible ones.

Retrat de María Adell Carmona

María Adell Carmona
Professor and co-director of the Department of Film Studies at ESCAC [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia] and of the university master’s degree in Film Studies and Visual Culture

The change is global and permanent. I don’t think there is any turning back or that we can return to an industry, an audiovisual ecosystem, where diversity is not borne in mind. The facts are there and they are obvious: the award-winning films at the most prestigious festivals over the last year were directed by women. Added to this is the fact that Catalan filmmakers such as Carla Simón and Nely Reguera have been able to get films off the ground and direct second films – which, after a successful first film, is always the big challenge – that have gone onto prestigious festivals and have received wonderful reviews.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done as regards quotas, inclusion and diversity to consolidate filmmakers who have made excellent first films and who should be able to keep on working and directing their films.

Why has this boom not happened before now? I think that a number of factors have converged: a global, social change has brought about another change in the industry’s mindset, which has translated into a political will to legislate to redress that inequality (the famous quotas). And I sense – and there are research projects at universities and groups such as the Associació Promotora de Dones Cineastes i de Mitjans Audiovisuals (CIMA) that have analysed the issue – that the role of film schools has proven fundamental in facilitating female filmmakers’ access to the audiovisual industry. Another key factor is that many of those who are active are also teachers, which can make them role models for female students to aspire to.

Retrat de Blanca Almendariz

Blanca Almendariz
Promoter of educational projects in cinema and the visual arts, professor at the UOC [Open University of Catalonia] and founder of Col·lectiu TARA

There have always been women filmmakers, but they have not enjoyed visibility or their circuit has been less commercial, more alternative or more marginal. Today’s boom is a phenomenon unfolding in different artistic manifestations. Behind the boom is very important work, carried out over years, which is to afford visibility and show the work of many women who have dared to experiment with the camera. This is possible when home cameras are used and many women make films on a low budget and manage to enter the industry’s circuit, making their work visible.

I think that this boom is also related to many female thinkers and activists having entered the academic world. The fact that there are more female directors and more female professors encourages many young women to embark on a career in the world of cinema.

The counter argument I’m making is that projects today are being carried out with more limited budgets, small productions, and women have shown that we have a great capacity to tell stories without having to resort to big budgets. Still, it’s not fair, because we can make movies that call for big budgets. And then there is the question of whether women should take on jobs that are more precarious. We are where we are on our own merits, but maybe also because there is a crack, a clear precariousness.

Retrat de Míriam Porté

Miriam Porté
Film producer

Historically in our sector, like in many others, equal opportunities didn’t exist. When measures are taken to redress this imbalance, it is seen that female directors who have worked very hard to get to where they are do very well and achieve great results. This has also meant that the new generations have points of reference such as Carla Simón, Clara Roquet and Neus Ballús, among others, and that they dare to take the plunge to be directors.

Besides that, facilitating access for female filmmakers is proving to enhance quality in the film industry. When project leadership is realigned and balanced among women and men, we can talk about meritocracy. Before, however, it is very hard, because women were not present and they have hardly had the opportunity to demonstrate their talent.

Without corrective measures, we would probably be almost in the same situation as we were ten years ago. As much as the social transformation seems to have kicked off, we sense strong resistance to change. Audiovisual production is very costly, filmmaking is expensive, and it is feared privileges will be lost. If change means that a woman wins and a man loses, that is not always to everybody’s liking.

Corrective measures are imperative to bring about this change.

Retrat de Tono Folguera

Tono Folguera
Film producer

The current boom in female filmmakers is not owing to one factor alone. The measures to foster female talent have been applied at a time when there is a generation, emerging from universities and film schools, that is really talented and very well prepared and eager to do things. This generation of female talent was already strong and has been given greater impetus thanks to the quotas established by the government, which encourage and promote the production of films directed by women or with female teams. This has borne an immediate impact and for about three years production companies have had greater incentive to produce films with women at the helm, but it is something that is adding to the momentum that was already gathering. We, for example, long before the quotas, already supported directors like Eva Vila, Elena Martín Gimeno and Clara Roquet.

Still, Catalonia boasts a long tradition of female directors, such as Maria Ripoll, Laura Mañá, Isabel Coixet, Mar Coll, Sílvia Munt, Sílvia Quer, and so forth. We were not starting from scratch, despite the need for corrective actions, not only in the realm of management, but also in terms of technical teams.

Where I have noticed more change is in the presence of female cinematographers, editors, musicians, etc. Now there are lots more women in an industry that had been hugely imbalanced until recently. Today no one is taken aback when a woman wins in the photography, editing or special effects category at the Goya awards. What should be the norm has taken several years to accomplish; now it is starting to be the new norm, but there is still a long way to go.

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