Gender Equality in the Film Business Still Far Off, Venice Seminar Reports

“Aiming for 50:50 by 2020” is the outdated slogan from a Council of Europe recommendation on gender equality in the audiovisual sector, as advertised on a pamphlet available at the third “Annual Seminar on Gender Equality and Inclusivity in the Film Industry” at the Venice Film Festival.

The event took place earlier this week at the Venice Production Bridge film market, but a raft of statistics, shown at the afternoon session, proved that this goal has not been reached.

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“20:20 by 2050,” quipped one panelist during the event, which was presented mostly in Italian, with the exception of a moving speech in English by the first female Afghanistan film topper, Sahraa Karimi, who recently fled the country.

Karimi’s candid tale of her recent ordeal, balanced out the data-heavy session, which included a slew of recent studies that show how far there is to go.

“I’m not a victim. I’m a fighter. They said, ‘Just stay at home and we will call you.’ I didn’t. I came out,” said Karimi.

The Taliban doesn’t just shut down women’s marches. It also calls them names.

“You know what they called me at the end?” she added. “‘She is a prostitute who pursues the Western agenda in Afghanistan.’ I took years of my life to develop film policy for Afghanistan.”

It was an uphill battle even before the latest turn of events in Afghanistan.

“There were many struggles. When they say you cannot and you show you can do more than they think, it makes them unhappy. They say, ‘She is a woman. She cannot face corruption. She cannot. She cannot. She cannot. Everyone looked at me like a piece of meat they should have sexually harassed,” she said.

Many of the statistics presented on Tuesday showed that not only in her home country, but here in Europe, parity is far from being achieved. “When we talk about gender equality it is an illusion,” said Karimi.

Several delegates spoke from the La Biennale di Venezia, including Alberto Barbera, artistic director of the Venice Film Festival; Roberto Cicutto, La Biennale’s president; Debora Rossi, its deputy general manager; and Andrea Del Mercato, its general manager.

A number of statistics were shown from the Biennale and Venice Film Festival.

At the 78th edition of the film festival, from 3,500 overall submissions, 1,037 (29%) were from women, and 2,416 (69%) were from men. From the 1,765 feature films submitted, only 24.5% were directed by women.

Italy fared worse. From the 404 total submissions, only 19.5% were from women.

From this year’s selection, 24.6% of directors overall were female. There were only 20.8% women directors in the competition. The most encouraging statistic was the number of female directors in the college section, Biennale College Cinema, at 67%.

Venice Production Bridge submissions were 31% female.

The Council of Europe launched its Recommendation for Equality in the Film Business in 2017. One of the statistics presented by the Council showed that in 2012, 93% of their funding (20.2 million Euro) went to male directors, with only 1.5 million Euro going to female directors.

In 2020, 64% went to male directors, or Euro 14.2 million, compared with the Euro 7.2 million that went to women.

A Council study from 2016-2020 looked at women’s roles in the projects submitted to them. Only 9% had women as composers; 13% had female DoPs; and 37% of editor roles were assigned to women. Four percent of the mixing jobs were occupied by women. It rose to 9% for sound engineers, and 94% female costume designers.

Luisella Pavan Woolfe, director, Council of Europe Venice Office, said: “The Council of Europe firmly believes in equality in the film industry between men and women. Cultural rights are a fundamental right of every human being. Achieving gender equality is one of the great priorities of the Council of Europe.”

She added: “We have made tremendous progress. We are at one to three. We have not yet reached 50:50. It’s important to give access to funding, to remove women’s invisibility in the industry and to overcome sexism.”

The Council’s goals include increasing female-led projects, upskilling women, and increasing their participation in technical and creative roles.

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