June Butler praises Susan Liddy’s edited volume which explores the contribution of women to the Irish film industry as creators of culture – screenwriters, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, animators, film festival programmers and educators.
Women in the Irish Film Industry: Stories and Storytellers by Dr. Susan Liddy, presents an interdisciplinary oeuvre of painstaking research in depicting women as worthy contributors to Irish Film. Her studies are both impressive and meticulous, providing a long overdue account of (at times) a shamefully overlooked narrative in the Irish film industry. Liddy has written an essential guide on this topic and has brought together an impressive list of creative minds: directors, screenwriters, producers, editors, cinematographers, animators and film festival programmers – women who have studiously shaped a different but no less valued impact on the past, present, and future of Irish film.
Susan Liddy is a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication Studies in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick (MIC) and is dedicated to deciphering gender issues in the film industry with a view towards assisting and encouraging participation of, but not exclusively, older women in film. In her book, she has placed women at the centre of a cultural and social construct – enabling them to allow their voices be heard alongside the process of bringing their individual expertise to the practice. Liddy interrogates the rationale towards visible gender bias in the industry, what is behind that mode of thought, and how things might change in order to make the profession more accessible to women. She lists contextual, historical and cultural ways in which prejudice occurs and positions those stances within a male-dominated profession while equally supporting and encouraging change.
Liddy’s work is thorough and painstaking and she has sought written accounts from a wide variety of erudite female scholars in relation to the subject thus ensuring the variety and styles of the separate writers will capture the reader’s attention.
Dr. Ruth Barton is among the eminent contributors to the book. Associate Professor of Film Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Barton is one of the most important and well-known theorists on this issue. She has written a number of books on cinema – Jim Sheridan: Framing the nation (2002), Irish National Cinema (2004), Acting in Hollywood (2009), and Irish Cinema in the Twenty-first Century (2019). Barton’s essay expounds on masculinity in the movies and specifically targets the changing societal validity of women in Irish cinema. Ruth Barton maintains that despite a most commendable effort to effect advances on behalf of women, Irish film has struggled to adequately respond, particularly in the area of their kinship to motherhood and the home. It is her opinion that there is less focus on females because of a more pressing need to place emphasis on male subjects and, more specifically, masculinity in crisis. Barton asserts that Irish films continue to cover the topic of male dilemmas possibly due to the fact that most Irish directors are men and because central to their interests is the objective of unravelling their own enigma.
Dr. Liddy’s approach is to give the issue of female representation in the film industry a concrete set of absolute terms – underrepresentation, occupational segregation, discrimination and unconscious bias. While Ruth Barton notes the ramifications of male presence within the profession, Susan Liddy assertively outlines what occurs when portrayal of one gender supersedes another and when that depiction does so to its detriment. Liddy maintains that when women do not adequately feature in a business that desperately requires an even and fair approach, the ultimate outcome becomes a skewed impression, a lopsided narrative and a socially-destructive, knock-on effect that can have immense consequences for society as a whole.
However, Liddy goes on to assert that Ireland is separate from other countries in the steps that the film industry has taken to amend the problem. According to Liddy, “what distinguishes Ireland from many other countries is the relatively early introduction of a gender policy by Screen Ireland, formerly the Irish Film Board (IFB)” (p. 51), who, by early 2016, had put into place a six-point strategy. The plan was to introduce a more forgiving line of equality driven measures – ones that included mentoring, training and education with the inclusion of a 50/50 gender-based employment target over a period of three years. The purpose of gender funding was aimed at financing the number of female screenwriters and directors.
Significantly, Screen Ireland undertook to collate and make known, data relating to gender from applications and decisions regarding subsidies – without such statistics, it would have been more difficult to accurately state the level or extent of female underrepresentation. There has been some increased improvement in the quantity of female writers and directors with regard to funding awards, however, according to Annie Doona, chair of Screen Ireland, progress thus far has been “glacially slow” (p.52). It must be noted that film plays an enormous role in shaping a perception of the world and therefore it is essential that depictions within those systemic boundaries, be comprehensive and allow expression by women to hold equal value. The causal effects linked to a dearth of female storytellers underscores the knowledge that only half the story seems to have been heard and a potentially valuable input disregarded.
In addition to Susan Liddy’s own writings and those of Ruth Barton, Women in the Irish Film Industry: Stories and Storytellers, covers a germane range of topics on the ascendancy of women into the profession. Díóg O Connell writes about Ellen O’Mara Sullivan and her links to early Irish cinema. Sara Edge discusses Feminist Reclamation Politics while Maeve Connolly investigates changing Irish production cultures and women cinematographers.
Susan Liddy has provided a timely and original narrative to the oft overlooked theme of female inclusivity in the Irish film industry. She positions current developments at the forefront by allowing relevant debates take place and challenging the status quo, thus ensuring continuing emphasis in this area. Liddy has ensured that all voices are heard by providing a succinct, apt, immensely knowledgeable and entirely relevant overview of Women in the Irish Film Industry.
Women in the Irish Film Industry: Stories and Storytellers – Susan Liddy – 2020 – Cork University Press