Grace Corry attended Spotlight at the IFI, a day dedicated to focusing on Irish film and television; reviewing the past year and considering current trends in production, distribution and consumption of new work.
Every year at the IFI, bands of filmmakers, film lovers and film academics gather together to take a look back at the year in film and television, picking apart and analysing all that went into making our indigenous industry tick the way it did. The focus this year drew on the huge disparities between men and women working in film and television, and although gender inequality has been a hot topic in the last number of years, particularly in the Arts, the statistics never cease to amaze.
Kicking off the day with a retrospective, Dr. Roddy Flynn (DCU) returned for another session with collaborator Dr. Tony Tracy (Huston, NUIG) to examine evolving trends in Irish cinema. Together they have written extensively on the history of cinema in Ireland and are primarily concerned with policy, lending this knowledge and research to the exploration of common themes which were not previously considered essential to Irish film. This change, they argue, has allowed Irish films to travel and to revel on the international stage. In its new found plurality, Irish cinema has become unconcerned with regionally based storytelling, stepping away from the common themes of history, family and criminality towards the glimmer of transnationality, centering “on the now”. That is, films that work for everyone but are “not necessarily trying to fit”, argued Tracy, “they just do”.
Also under consideration by the pair was national identity; how, in the light of all this change, can Irish film be identified as Irish? To be financially viable, film production requires international collaboration and the product needs to be able to travel. Room had Canada, Mammal had Luxemburg, Viva had Cuba. Even most of our biggest names like Fassbender and Aiden Gillen have become international characters – Brooklyn was the coveted Saoirse Ronan’s first Irish film, a fact that demonstrates and ties into Tracy’s final point in which he invokes Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, that we are letting go of what was previously considered definitive and embracing a deep, human imaginative curiosity.
Beginning the days gender-focused talks in the later morning session was esteemed guest Francine Raveney, the head and founder of the European Women’s Audio-Visual Network (EWA) to talk through some of the measures being taken by the organisation to address the gender imbalances in indigenous industries across the continent, working with Eurimage (Council of Europe Cinema Support Fund) to promote gender mainstreaming and encourage reflection on stereotypical gender assignments, such as those working in technical posts. Several countries, including France, Germany and Sweden, took part in both qualitative and quantitative research into how many women were working in their respective industries, and also reviewed responses from over 900 professionals working in these countries about their experiences. The EWA also acts as a watchdog and works with these countries to implement models like those adopted in Sweden (50/50 quota policy) and Norway (Moviement) – strategies for achieving this included offering targeted training courses, providing network opportunities and carrying out research and follow on advocacy work.
The pan-European research for policy change spearheaded by Raveney found that many countries were unaware of any inequality (94% of Germans), as low as 12% of targeted funds go to first-time directors where only half of the 44% of female graduates were working. Women just aren’t trusted to do the job, a myth that was echoed throughout the day’s presentations. There is a brighter side; the EWA and Eurimage have announced a new strategic policy for 2016/17 which includes new studies, new prizes awarded to female directors only and masterclasses designed to cater to working mothers, for example.
An energetic panel discussion between script consultant Mary Kate O’Flanagan, Dr. Annie Doona of the IFB, Dr. Susan Liddy of UL, Francene Raveney, and chaired by Siobhan Bourke of the Abbey filled the afternoon slot, each taking to the podium to raise issues stemming from the ‘unconscious bias’ that plagues the industry. Coming from various places in the industry, it was a heated, informative and maddening analysis of what has been happening across Europe. Susan Liddy presented responses she had collected from women who had applied to the Irish Film Board, ranging from anger to shear disappointment. One wrote about how she was simply ignored by the IFB, another felt that the notes she received back from the reader were diabolical and personally offensive, and others wrote about lip service and the lack of leadership, summarising with a simple question: what are the IFB doing differently to implement their six-point plan? Dr. Doona, acting chair of the IFB, stood firm in defence but was well tested by the other panellists, as well as fending off questions from the roving mic where attendees put forward their own issues, ageism being a big one as well as the gender imbalance of the IFB readers. The absence of others bodies was also noted – until recently the BAI didn’t even acknowledge that there was an issue. It goes without saying that it was like watching five old friends back and forth over a topic that had compelled the people in IFI’s cinema 2 to gather. After listening intently for over an hour, I can safely say that any despair I felt for missing that sacred day in the Abbey last November had lifted.
Lunch was followed by a screening of Where My Ladies?, a DIT documentary by female graduates, where interviews with women working in the Arts helped to cast a further light on the issues of the day. Amongst others, Maureen Hughes and Dearbhla Walsh talked about their own entries into the industry, as well as what had kept them there and the issues currently facing young women. Joy McKeon, one of the filmmakers, stressed that aim of their film was not to point blame or to exclude, they hope for as much of a male audience as female, and a collaborative effort between the sexes in creating awareness. The film will be hitting the festival circuit.
Ireland’s longest standing female director, Pat Murphy, took the soap box in an address that was, as expected, the cherry. Spanning back to her work as part of the first wave of Irish filmmakers, she spoke about her current work teaching in Singapore, and traced her career, turning each of the ups and downs into a point of encouragement, points warmly welcomed to those aspiring to someday be successful in their own right.
Wrapping up the day was the newest addition to the annual event, In the Pipeline, where producer Katie Holly (Queen of Ireland) and documentarian Ken Wardrop (His and Hers) talked about their upcoming films, their own industry backgrounds and the best ways to get into the business (which naturally opened up some contentious comments from the floor), and, most notably, spoke about the breakdown in the dividing factors between policy and cultural influences and the propagation of gender mainstreaming.
The day can only be described as a big success. It was, as always, efficiently facilitated by Sunniva O’Flynn and her team, and it will be a day that is repeatedly referred to in the ongoing battle for equality.
Spotlight took place on Friday, 15th April 2016