The recent box-office and awards-circuit success of films like Room and Brooklyn proved that Irish writers, directors, and actors are at the top of their game. And each film, told largely from a female point of view, put a woman at the centre of its on-screen narrative.
Yet recently published data shows stark inequality within the Irish film industry, at both the development and production stages. Behind the camera, Irish women working in the film industry simply aren’t getting much of a look in.
From 2010-2015, only 14 percent of applications for production funding through the Irish Film Board came with female directors attached; 16 percent came with female writers attached; and 36 percent came with female producers attached.
So, how to address the imbalance? The Irish Film Board, among others, has some ideas.
Figures in Focus
Fewer women than men are applying for development and production funding.
The most recent stats from the Irish Film Board show that in 2015, at the development-funding application stage, there were 303 applications over eight rounds; 224 of the writers were men (74 percent), and only 77 were women (26 percent).
Meanwhile, at the production-funding application stage, there were 25 applications over four rounds. The number of men was 75 (71 percent), and the number of women was 30 (29 percent).
Many women are frustrated and discouraged with the application process, and some have given up on applying altogether, said Dr Susan Liddy, who works at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and has been conducting surveys and research among female screenwriters working in Ireland.
“When women apply for development funding they are often told they won’t be funded because the project needs to be developed in a number of ways,” says Liddy. “The response I am getting is, isn’t that what development funding is for?”
Liddy argues that surely unless we have more women with projects in development, we can’t possibly hope to increase the number of women with films in production. So there needs to be changes in the application process, she says.
“If women are not applying to the IFB in sufficient numbers that is problematic and we need to ask why would that be?” she said. “Why would women writers and directors not be applying to an unbiased and open institution to be funded to tell their stories?”
Fewer Women Applied, Fewer Women Funded
Unsurprisingly, the 2015 statistics show that the gender imbalance carried through to the projects that were funded. In 2015, a total of 109 projects received funding. Thirty percent of the successful applicants were women.
The Irish Film Board, in response to these figures, announced a change in policy last December. Their aim is to achieve gender parity in funding over the next three years.
The IFB aims, they say, to engage with studios and organisations that will provide training to executives involved in funding decisions in gender equality specifically, to address unconscious bias in the industry.
In addition, the IFB plans to continually gather and publish statistics, provide mentorship and guidance for women entering and already working in the industry and engage with Enterprise Ireland to encourage female creative talent through start-up schemes.
It’s early days for the policy, but the stats for 2016 don’t exactly buck the trend.
Of 74 development funding applications for the first quarter of 2016, female writers accounted for only 28 percent, and female producers, only 20 percent. Of the 14 projects funded, only five had female writers attached.
Only two applications were made for production funding in the first quarter of 2016. Eight men were listed in the applications and only two women.
Will the IFB’s policy change any of this? Is it possible to change?
Frances Raveney, head of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, which supports women working in film, points to Sweden, where there is a 50/50 gender split in the film funding.
Speaking earlier this month in the IFI, Raveney said she sees no reason why Ireland can’t get there within a few years – especially if the IFB is determined to make it happen.
Girls need to be encouraged to get into the business, she said.
They should be encouraged to take part in film clubs showing films by female directors. Experts should visit schools to teach children about careers within the industry.
And “greater liaison between career guidance counsellors, and the film industry could ensure that women didn’t think this sector wasn’t an option for them”.
Mary Kate O’ Flanagan, a screenwriter and script consultant based in Dublin, says women thinking about going into the film business need role models.
“It is a male-dominated industry,” she says. “So, any young woman thinking about going into the industry knows that she’s going to be outnumbered 4, 5 to 1, so that’s quite a daunting thought for a 17-year-old choosing her subject”.
“What older women like me have to do is say, ‘It doesn’t matter how I got here or when I got here, I’m taking my place, and it doesn’t matter if I take it at 30 or 40 or 50 or 60, I’m going to be a visible role model,'” she said.
The EWA has recommended that state bodies such as the Irish Film Board support female directors by ensuring there’s better overlap between film school and alumni networks. That could help women who are graduating prepare for what they’ll find when they start working.
“There is nigh on equality for male/female directors at film schools, but active female directors across Europe represent only 24 percent of the industry,” Raveney says. “It’s a real form of talent drain and leads to a diminishing of diversity of content.”
Blind Readings and Gender Quotas
O’ Flanagan says that the blind reading of scripts is a sure-fire way to ensure greater equality within the industry and would like the board members of the IFB, and not just the creative team of project managers, to approach any new submission blindly.
In Ireland, O’Flanagan says, “people’s names are on the front of their scripts, which is problematic in a small country with a very small film business”. “For the project, at development stage of the script, to be judged purely on merit, there should be blind reading,” she said.
O’ Flanagan thinks that this is a change in policy that should happen immediately, saying that “turning a state body is a bit like turning an ocean liner, but that’s one thing that they could do tomorrow”.
Another possibility is a gender quota.
Raveney, of the EWA, thinks gender quotas could work in Ireland, but prefers the term “management target . . . so that the aim is to reach 50/50 rather than it being an imposition,” she says.
O’ Flanagan thinks gender quotas are problematic, and are a worst-case scenario in terms of gender parity.
“Men are going to feel like they’re not getting a fair shake of the stick and it’s going to be said whether women got there on their own merit,” she says. “But actually we’ve got three years minus five months to show that women can get there on their own merit.”