Above: Queues form outside Connolly Books for the Feminist Film Festival.
Women are notoriously underrepresented in film, both in front of, and behind the camera. Mog Kavanagh takes a look at some festivals and film makers determined to buck the trend in Ireland.
In The U.S. in 2014, of the top 700 theatrical releases, women accounted for a mere 13% of directors, 18% of editors and 13% of writers. And the sad fact of the matter is that over the past two decades things have been getting worse.
Women in Film and Television Ireland, a voluntary body run by film and TV professionals state “Our closest neighbours in Directors UK report that only 8% of all working directors are female. This represents a significant year on year decline. We are at an all time low.”.
Why does it matter? Film and television contribute significantly to shaping our culture and society. It is concerning then, if women don’t have equal access to creating film and television, then they don’t have equal access to power and influence.
On the other side of the camera, the lack of complex interesting female characters is damaging, because to put it simply, it’s hard to be what you can’t see.
Female characters in film are too often portrayed as one-dimensional love interests, or are entirely absent altogether.
And aside from being damaging to the identity and outlook of female audiences, it’s also just plain boring and annoying. Women are just as capable of being witty, funny, bad ass, or adventurous, so why is it so rarely shown on screen?
Recently In Ireland there’s been something of a renaissance in film. With two Irish productions receiving Oscars (Brie Larson winning a Best Actress Oscar for Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, and Ben Cleary winning Best Live Action short for Stutterer), and Lobster and The Queen of Ireland getting wide releases.
This has drawn a lot of focus on Irish film, resulting in a lot of coverage in the media locally and internationally. While these wins have cast Irish film into the spotlight, there are interesting things happening within Irish film itself. In a microcosm of a movement that is happening from Hollywood to Bollywood and beyond, women are pushing themselves to the fore in film production.
There have been a number of individuals and groups, rising to prominence here, that are championing women in film. The Feminist Film Festival Dublin, are one such group.
Founded by Karla Healion in 2014, as a fundraiser for Sasane, a Nepalese women’s charity that supports victims of sex trafficking. The festival, now in it’s third year and growing steadily, knits a love of film with feminist ideas with interesting results.
The festival aims include counteracting the misrepresentation of women, supporting women filmmakers, and bringing fresh perspectives, stories and experiences of women to a wider audience through film.
The most recent festival included screenings, talks, a short film competition and a panel discussion.
One of the speakers at the Feminist Film Festival was Lelia Doolan, who is no stranger to stirring things up in terms of representation and misrepresentation.
Doolan famously resigned from RTE in protest against their political policies. Doolan’s film Bernadette, Notes of a Political Journey, was screened at the Feminist Film Festival to a packed out audience, and is an absolute must see.
She is now, along with Tracy Geraghty, building a cinema in Galway.
“Right now, if you want to see an Irish-made film you mostly have to make a three-hour drive to Dublin,” Doolan says.
The Picture Palace is due to open soon, with some kitting out of the space left to do. Doolan recently co-curated an event with a group MNÁ 2016, where four Irish films made by women were shown, alongside talks from such greats as Hilary Dully, Anne Crilly, Margo Harkin and Pat Murphy.
This gives a glimpse into what to expect for the programming when the Picture Palace opens its doors. Promising!
Doolan was the first female artistic director at the Abbey Theatre, her influence there must have waned after she left, as recent events would imply. At the end of 2015, with the announcement of the Abbey’s centenary programme, it was glaringly obvious that women had been overlooked. Only one out of the ten plays in the programme was written by a female.
When the issue was raised, the director of the theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail responded with a very dismissive ‘Them’s the breaks’.
This phrase is now the very apt title of a feature documentary, which currently in production. The documentary, directed by Sarah Corcoran and produced by Sarah Barr and Aoife Kelly, follows the heartwarming events that unfolded after the unveiling of the Abbey’s centenary programme. Masses of women got together, and through various meetings and actions, demanded the recognition they deserve within the arts.
Sarah Corcoran spoke about of what drove her to make this film: “Once we saw the passion erupting from the Abbey stage and its audience members back in November, it seemed like an obvious choice to make the film.”
She continues to explain “As a majority female team of filmmakers, we’ve a vested interest in addressing gender inequality in the Arts. Since #WTF, we’ve already started seeing a spillover into other areas such as the Irish Film Board announcing their six point plan to address the gender imbalance in Irish Film, and we’re passionate about the impact it will inevitably have”.
When asked what advice she’d give to other film makers Sarah recommended “to go along to as many female driven film events as possible and meet like minded people who might be interested in pursuing a film project with you.”
She mentioned two events in particular, the first a Q&A with director Rebecca Daly and the second was an upcoming screening of Robert Altman’s 3 Women, followed by a critical conversation between artist Jesse Jones, Alice Butler of the IFI and Karla Healion, of Feminist Film Festival.
The former, the Q&A with Rebecca Daly about her second feature film Mammal, followed the film’s premiere at ADIFF in February. Mammal is in cinemas at the moment, and is receiving much well deserved accolade. The latter event is happening on the 11th of May, and is guaranteed to be an interesting event.
Two timely and interesting women-helmed projects are in the works in 2016. The first is Terminal by Natasha Waugh, a topical short film about two women who meet in an airport as they travel to England to receive the healthcare they cannot get in Ireland. The second is The Betrayal, by Kamila Dydnda and Natasha Waugh, it is a short drama about LGBT relationships and online harassment.
The Betrayal has the backing of a DCU based research group specialising in sexuality studies, EROSS.
Natasha had this encouragement for aspiring female filmmakers “We’re fighting the fight, and have a long way to go but its not all bad. There is plenty of positive discussion happening on this at the moment. It’s a good time to try and turn a negative into a positive, so be part of change, be vocal, and proactive. “
An upcoming opportunity to do just that will be at the Deep Focus: Women in Film Festival at Triskel Arts in Cork between the 6th and 8th of May. Programmed by Fiona Hegarty, Naoimh Ní Luanaigh, Tara Brady and Chris O’Neill, the festival promises “the finest feature, documentary and short films from around the world [by] female directors who tackle a wide range of subjects with unique and distinctive voices”.
“It is not only timely but also long overdue to be hosting a festival dedicated to female filmmakers”. The festival opens with a screening of The Violators from novelist turned director Helen Walsh. Starring Lauren McQueen as Shelly, a parent-less teen trying to get by in a dreary Cheshire housing estate.
Women are making spaces for themselves in Irish cinema and as a result Irish cinema is becoming a more welcoming place for women. This reflects wider trends that show films directed or produced by women tend to have more women in the crew overall.
It’s not just about getting women jobs either (while that is important), it’s is all key to women’s voices and experiences being better represented in wider society. And lets not forget that having new voices and experiences can only lead to fresher, more diverse and more interesting cinema.
Deep Focus: Women in Film Festival runs at the Triskel Arts in Cork between the 6th and 8th of May.