Europe’s Leap Towards Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector

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Europe has vaulted ahead in gender equity in film, thanks to September’s comprehensive Council of Europe Recommendation on Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector (Recommendation) and then October’s Gender Equality Strategy 2018–2020 (Gender Strategy) from Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s organisation for film co-production, theatrical distribution, exhibition, promotion and gender equality.

(Eurimages has 37 members from among the Council of Europe’s 47 member states; and Canada is an associate member. I’d love Aotearoa New Zealand to become an associate member, too.)

Through establishing principles of a wider scope than anywhere else in the world, the Recommendation aims to rectify the following, not just in film and television, but throughout the audiovisual industries: watch out, gaming! jump to attention, music industry!––

  1. Lack of awareness of the prevalence of gender inequality.
  2. Conscious and unconscious gender bias at all levels of the industry.
  3. Lack of willingness to invest in financially ambitious female-created audiovisual content.
  4. Unequal distribution between women and men of funding for audiovisual content.
  5. Unequal investment on the part of equity investors.
  6. Unbalanced support for the dissemination of female-created content.
  7. Low representation of women on commissioning and funding panels, as well as on supervisory and executive bodies.
  8. Unequal pay between women and men.
  9. Failure to support parents and carers, and non-reconciliation of work/life balance in the sector.
  10. Unequal access to employment opportunities between women and men.

The Gender Strategy provides Eurimages members with the tools to implement the Recommendation.

I’m really impressed by both initiatives’ links to human rights legislation and that the Gender Strategy includes a commitment ‘to prevent violence against women and to enhance respect for their dignity’. This gives all the Eurimages members a strong mandate to respond with vigour to the recently exposed and pervasive sexual violence within the global industry, even though the Recommendation’s list does not explicitly refer to it.

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Francine Raveney

I interviewed Francine Raveney back in 2014, when she was Director of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network (EWA). Now she’s based at Eurimages, as Project Manager for Gender Issues and for Second Features, and ideally placed to provide some details about the Recommendation and the Gender Strategy.

WW I track the enactment of this Recommendation back over seven years of patient and persistent group and individual feminist activism, from the Compostela Declaration formulated by Spain’s Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media Professionals (CIMA), through the founding of EWA, to activism within EWA, to your leadership there and then your return to the system, to Eurimages. It feels like an activist triumph. But maybe I’ve missed some things?

FR You’re absolutely right: these are some of the key moments which helped the Recommendation come into existence, but there are some missing factors to add too. Here are a few to flag up.

1. Eurimages began to work on gender equality in 2013, around the same time I took my sabbatical from the fund to found the current incarnation of EWA — from November 2012, alongside Isabel de Ocampo, CIMA’s former Director who had been involved in the Compostela Declaration and was keen for us to take the project on to a more European level.

Eurimages had been inspired by our wonderful ‘ringleader’ — for want of a more eloquent expression — namely Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute. She had given a presentation to many heads of European Film Funds early in 2012 as part of the Medici training course, including the Executive Director of Eurimages, Roberto Olla, and this talk inspired many decision-makers, including Roberto, to instigate urgent policy change to ensure greater gender equality in the audiovisual sector and to make the industry more of a level playing field.

Carol Comley from the BFI (l) and Holly Aylett (r)

2. The EWA ReportWhere are the female directors in European films?(2014) provided hard facts, a presentation of the current situation and proposals for change. It was a huge piece of collaborative work between four universities and six research centres linked to European funds and involved an enormous amount of good will from many people who worked for little or nothing. The project was helmed by Holly Aylett (Birkbeck College, University of London) and looked at the situation in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. What is crucial is that this was a very useful reference document for the working group of national and industry experts (CPP-ESA) who drafted the Council of Europe recommendation. [Wellywood Woman response to the report here.]

The Sarajevo conference

3. We must thank our friends from Bosnia and Herzegovina… During their six-month Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in 2015, their politicians and diplomats in Strasbourg identified greater gender equality in the audiovisual sector as one of their main priorities and were keen hold a conference on this subject during the 2015 Sarajevo Film Festival. The resulting Sarajevo conference Declaration on Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector paved the way for the drafting of the Council of Europe Recommendation.

Our usual friends such as Anna Serner and Holly Aylett, Beryl Richards (Directors UK), Sanja Ravlic (Croatian Audiovisual Centre), Carolina Lasen-Diaz (Gender Equality Unit — Council of Europe), Iris Zappe-Heller (Austrian representative to Eurimages and ad hoc President of the Eurimages’ Gender Equality Working Group) and Isabel Castro (the former Deputy Executive Director of Eurimages) and many more all had a hand in making this conference a success and the Permanent Representatives of Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Germany to the Council of Europe were particularly instrumental in ensuring the conference Declaration was adopted.

I had to negotiate every word in the Declaration text from centre stage at a lectern in City Hall Sarajevo, having to discuss and agree on everyone’s proposals while typing them all up on a Bosnian keyboard!

Francine and her keyboard at Sarajevo

WW What was it like, moving from Declaration to Recommendation?

FR This effort required stamina, patience and real commitment. The Recommendation required administrative hurdles that bureaucracies specialise in — three months to draft the terms of reference of the working group to draft the recommendation — very formal invitation letters… but it was worth it! Negotiating the text within the working group, especially the performance indicators in Appendix II of the Recommendation, was also challenging, but we made it!

I was thrilled that the Recommendation was so well received…

We presented it to the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) — one of many administrative steps before adoption of such a text can happen in an organisation like the Council of Europe — and I was prepared to answer questions about the translation into French or criticisms, but we received overwhelming praise from those present. This, along with the final adoption of the Recommendation, was a moment of great joy for me…

One of the Spanish male managers in the organisation mentioned that he felt quite overwhelmed/outnumbered by this highly vocal group of twenty or so women from throughout the world, all demanding very precise changes in the text… BUT he turned out to be one of the Recommendation’s biggest supporters and his expertise in the selection of certain phrases and avoidance of other vocabulary, as well as his own lobbying for the Recommendation, were invaluable factors in it being adopted so quickly…. I am very grateful for his input and commitment and firmly believe still that men and women working together does make the difference in the battle for greater gender equality.

WW What’s your favourite thing(s) about the Recommendation?

FR Gosh, there are many favourite things which make me proud… — its existence!; — that it is so long and detailed and is really a practical tool for any member state of the Council of Europe to adapt policy in this area; — that we have a really detailed list of monitoring mechanisms and performance indicators; — that we give specific pieces of advice as to how to bring about change; — that we’ll monitor the situation in 5 years to see what has changed. I wouldn’t want to have added anything extra personally…

All of the Council of Europe member states have adopted this Recommendation. For this reason lobby groups, such as CIMA in Spain, can use it as a tool to meet with their governments and decision-makers and encourage them to bring about change in their countries. At the Council of Europe, we will have a 5-year monitoring of the situation.

WW As a screenwriter and/or director, what practical improvements will the Recommendation make next time I seek funding? (I’m thinking of women in places like Germany, where the taxpayer funds have resisted gender equity policies; and Ireland where they are working towards gender equity but it is going quite slowly). And how will this recommendation help women screenwriters and directors who are also members of groups whose stories are marginalised other ways, because they are eg from minority ethnic groups?

FR Well, this is where I would mention the Eurimages Gender Equality Working Group and the Gender Equality Strategy 2018–2020.

I recommend that everybody has a careful read through this strategy because it outlines practical ways in which we can change the real-life situation for female writers/directors — see especially the action plan in Appendix I. It aims for 50/50 distribution of public funds for female directors by 2020, in line with our Swedish friends. We have a timer on our website to see how we’re doing — currently 35%, so already a considerable improvement on the situation a few years ago — and all of the Eurimages Board of Management representatives, from 38 countries including Canada, are committed to acting as ambassadors for change. This is crucial. They are the decision makers in their own countries and they can help bring about change. We have small scholarships for female writer/directors attending Cinefondation, Berlin-Nipkow and Venice Biennale too… as well as the Audentia Award, a €30,000 prize for Best Female Director at a different festival each year.

All members of Eurimages Film Fund have approved the Gender Strategy and are working with Eurimages to promote equality at national level. We intend to speak at conferences and festivals and share best practice and set up meetings with authorities, time and money permitting…

On top of this we are doing follow-up work to ensure that the Recommendation has an impact — both in relation to Eurimages at our quarterly Board of Management meetings, where we meet with professionals and government representatives to raise awareness and promote best practice, and also at the upcoming Berlinale, where we aim to host a press conference, and then down the line at conferences and events throughout the years.

Francine, US-producer Amy Hobby and Anna Serner debate measures for improvements in terms of gender equality in film production, at the Berlinale 2016

As an example, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has already drawn on the information in the Council of Europe recommendation to inform its own gender equality policy. Anna Serner is spearheading a gender equality working group within the Heads of European Film Funds and we will all work collaboratively to bring about change. The Council of Europe covers quite a range of countries so filmmakers from minority backgrounds throughout our member states are completely included in the outreach work we are doing to bring about change in the industry.

WW I love the references to human rights legislation, in both documents. Were these intended to deal with the issues we’re currently hearing so much about?

FR The incarnation of EWA that I developed from the start of 2013 came to me as a concept out of the identification of a need for change. I found Cannes in 2012 an extremely sexist location and I wasn’t even scratching the surface of sexism… it had an underlying violence to it, which I saw one evening. When the taxis were on strike women had to get around town to industry events alone. I was personally followed in a back street by a group of threatening men, but managed to stay on my mobile phone and stay in the light. It could have been worse. So everything I’ve worked on since has been in the light of this identification of the problem of violence against women in the sector…

WW Were there other reference points that could have been used instead of human rights legislation and if so, why was this one chosen?

FR Because of the Council of Europe’s expertise in the human rights field, it is standard procedure in Council of Europe recommendations to go through relevant human rights legislation. Although this particular subject has received very little attention at international level, it was interesting to look back and see just how many instruments were in fact highly relevant. On top of that we added an Appendix III — again not usual! — full of reference documents from other organisations so I think by Council of Europe standards it’s pretty exhaustive…

WW We know that women have just as many conscious and unconscious bases as men do. So why is it important to insist on including women among the decision makers?

FR This is a really good point, and one I completely agree with you on. As Kate Kinninmont, CEO of Women in Film and TV UK, frequently says, it is not just having women gatekeepers that will make the change. I have two points to add to that:

1. We do mention unconscious bias training for all in the Recommendation and are very aware that it is crucial…

2. In some areas such as film festival juries, I do think that greater diversity in terms of equality, but also people with different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, can make a difference to the films which are selected and then awarded prizes. If we remember Jessica Chastain’s comment at Cannes film festival this year, after she had been on the jury of the official competition… she didn’t see women in those films who felt anything like the women she knows in the world around her. There is an argument for diversity on festival juries for sure…

WW What are the likely effects of the Gender Strategy on feature film statistics? How will the strategy be monitored?

FR The main thing is having a goal — aiming for 50/50 by 2020. We will have our Board of Management meeting in June 2020 in Stockholm and our aim will be to have met this goal and if not we must be ready to see why! Regarding statistics, we are in discussions to see how particular attention can be paid to this area and from 2018 we should have some positive news on this.

WW Where next for you?

FR I’m looking forward to ensuring that the recommendation and its findings are shared in the coming years and the data monitored by 2022. And in terms of my work for Eurimages, I look forward to trying to make sure the Gender Strategy is implemented as planned and that the action plan is completed.

I work part-time in Eurimages as I coach at film schools throughout Europe and during festivals (the next one will be at Tarragona festival at the start of December) in my spare time and one of the most rewarding elements for me is sharing my know-how, e.g. how to apply for Eurimages funding, how to make a co-production, how to pitch your project and to make your idea become a reality…

Nisan Dag, Film Fatales Istanbul branch, Simona Nobile from EWA, Francine Raveney, Debra Zimmerman of Women Make Movies & Moderator Nurcan Gurzel, Turkish distributor at Antalya Film Festival

On Monday this week I presented the Recommendation and the Gender Strategy during the Antalya Film Festival — on a panel alongside representatives from Film Fatales, Istanbul, from EWA Network and Women Make Movies. The audience was 50/50 men and women and after the panel event I was inundated with producers and directors — men and women — coming to me for advice. As long as I can help make people’s dreams become a reality and the world a more gender equal place I will be a happy person. Funding is always a must though and this is where we need to do even more work… to ensure these good aims transpose into cash to support equality in the industry.

Look how happy these activists are… beautiful.

Originally published at

Written by

Marian Evans. Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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