#GenderMatters Returns!

@devt
@devt
Nov 6 · 25 min read

for Australasian women filmmakers A; 1B; & no 7 & their peers.
You deserve(d) better. Much better.


The back story

Screen Australia’s #GenderMatters — ‘a series of measures designed to speed up efforts to address gender imbalance in the Australian screen sector’ — announced on 7 December 2015, and launched in late 2016, has always intrigued me.

Its Key Performance Indicator (KPI) was that ‘by the end of 2018/19, half of the projects that receive Screen Australia [feature] production funding will have women occupying at least 50% of key creative roles’ (writers, directors, producers, protagonists). A version of the now-familiar 50:50 by 2020. But because of the bizarre — and globally unique — inclusion of the feature’s protagonist as a discrete member of each creative team it was always possible that the KPI of 50% women in just half of those projects (i.e. 25% women overall) could be made up entirely of producers and protagonists. If so, there would be little benefit for women writers and directors. On the other hand, there would be considerable benefit for men writers and directors — and their producers — who wanted to take advantage of the new enthusiasm for stories about women and girls.

A further problem was that Screen Australia never stated how it defined ‘female protagonist’. Does the definition include a girl protagonist? What happens when there are multiple protagonists? What happens when there’s a woman and a man heading a rom com? When the protagonist’s gender is in transition?

On 21 August this year, Screen Australia issued a celebratory press release about #GenderMatters, announcing that 56% of projects receiving production funding had at least half of the key creative roles occupied by women, based on a three year average. It came with with percentage ‘headcounts’ for key creatives [1] and a separate table for protagonists towards the end. All good, you might think.

And I was certainly pleased that in the new KPI for the tracking period 2019/20 to 2021/22, announced in the press release, the key creatives are directors, writers and producers only.

But problems remain, because against strong opposition and powerful lobbying, from white men in particular, it’s challenging for film fund bureaucrats to imagine the way their working world could be more equitable and diverse; and to work towards it with integrity. Though some do, like the Swedish Film Institute’s extraordinary Anna Serner.

At the same time, if filmmakers — whose work requires them to imagine and portray the world in all its diversity — attempt to persuade bureaucrats to act transparently and fairly, they risk black-listing. Though some courageous filmmakers do. Mostly through working collectively, like members of France’s 5050x2020 (formerly Le Deuxième Regard) who directly approached France’s Ministry of Culture with their Charte d’Egalité, back in 2013; and then just kept going, with impressive results. Others have to depend on unions and guilds to speak for them. But these contexts are also part of the industry’s ‘reputational economy’ where some film workers feel less welcome and less heard than others.

Working at a little distance and with a little less risk, academics can provide useful services based on rigorous methodologies. And in Australia, Kinomatics is doing that right now in relation to Screen Australia’s track record.

Kinomatic’s response to #GenderMatters’ progress

Deb Verhoeven

Earlier this year, Kinomatics’ Deb Verhoeven, Bronwyn Coate and Vejune Zemaityte analysed #GenderMatters’ progress. Extracted from a much longer piece published here’s what they found —

‘ The Australian film industry’s Gender Matters policy suite is a salient example of how generic participation targets for creative teams (producer, writer, director, and protagonist) are ‘gamed’ by the industry.

Bronwyn Coate

Gender Matters is premised on the aspiration that half of all creative teams will be at least 50 percent women by the end of the 2018/2019 funding year. This equates to an effective overall target of 25 percent (half of half). Screen Australia’s Gender Matters target of 25 percent is, in fact, lower than historical precedents for women’s participation.

For example, the total percentage of women’s participation in creative teams between July 1990 and June 2009 was 33 percent (284 women–867 men)[2]. Statistics collected between 2012 and 2017 show that figure to be almost unchanged at 35 percent (230 women–670 men) [3]. Yet, on a decade-by-decade basis, the percentage of women directors in Australia has fallen since the 1990s [4]. Instead of improving creative team participation for women across all roles, we find that Screen Australia’s targets are being met by disproportionately stacking creative teams with women producers.

Vejune Zemaityte

In a creative team-based reckoning, roles such as producer that can be easily multiplied per production are used to absorb the overall numerical demand for more inclusive employment practices.

Because the role of feature film director is almost without exception filled by a single person, there is no opportunity to lift the participation of women without removing a role for male creative or increasing the number of productions.

Figure 1 graphically demonstrates how the number of women producers in government-funded features in Australia more than doubled between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018 leading to Screen Australia’s claim that their participation target (women occupying 50 percent of half the creative teams) has now been met.

Calculated on a per film basis (and therefore accounting for annual changes in production activity), women producers remained steady at 0.85 per production in 2015/2016 and in 2016/2017 before increasing dramatically to 1.4 in 2017/2018.

Directorial and writing roles for women also increased across the reporting period, both in aggregate terms and relative to production levels albeit on a more equivocal basis. But tellingly, the ratio of producer roles relative to other team members increased over the period, presumably to accommodate the influx of additional women producers (0.85 producers for every other creative in 2014/2015 and up to 1.05 producers per other creative in 2017/2018).

As Gender Matters is a ‘just add women and stir’ initiative, the total number of men in creative roles has remained consistent over the past two years of activity and on a per project basis actually climbed higher across the reporting period before dropping slightly in the most recent year of data [5].’

Figure 1. Screen Australia feature film production funding from 2014 to 2018, count of creative team credits by gender, count of funded projects, and the average number of women and men involved per project. Data extracted from Screen Australia reports. [6]

And then, the most recent funding decisions made by Screen Australia provided further evidence that little has changed.

Screen Australia’s latest feature funding decisions

In its September announcement EVERY feature film project Screen Australia funded for production is written and directed by one or more men. Here they are in all their glory. One has a matriarch as protagonist, one has a witch and what do you bet that those four characters mentioned below in 6 Festivals include some females? Is one unfortunate result of #GenderMatters that men writers and directors have been encouraged to place women at the centre of their work, so yet again they continue to define how women are seen? It’s also notable that five of the projects have producers of a single gender: does this mean that one basis of Screen Australia’s assessments is whether the producers are the same gender and therefore more likely to help meet their KPI? (More later on assessment criteria.)

6 FESTIVALS
Hype Republic Pty Ltd & Invisible Republic
Genre
Drama, Coming of Age
Producers Michael Wrenn, Blayke Hoffman, Shannon Wilson-McClinton, Jade van der Lei
Executive Producer Mark Fennessy
Writer/Director Macario De Souza
Australian Distributor Bonsai Films
International Sales Universal Music Australia
Synopsis Bucket-listing 6 music festivals over 6 months before they lose one of the crew to brain cancer, 3 young best friends are helped by an up-&-coming artist to face the reality from which they’re running.

JUNE AGAIN
Ticket to Ride Pty Ltd
Genre
Drama, Comedy
Producers Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin, Drew Bailey
Executive Producers Sonia Borella, Josh Pomeranz, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross
Writer/Director JJ Winlove
Australian Distributor Studio Canal
International Sales Ticket To Ride Distribution
Synopsis In the heartfelt comedy, June Again, a twist of fate gives family matriarch June the chance to bring together her estranged children, save the ailing family business and rekindle an old flame.

POOR BOY
Aquarius Films Pty Ltd

Genre Drama, Mystery
Producers Angie Fielder, Polly Staniford
Director Guy Pearce
Writer Matt Cameron
Australian Distributor Umbrella Entertainment
International Sales GEI / CMG
Synopsis When a young boy wakes up in hospital claiming to be a man who passed away seven years earlier, two families are forced to confront hard truths as secrets emerge and lies are unearthed. Poor Boy is an evocative and intimate supernatural mystery drama that delves into the dark curiosities of life, death, and the spaces in between.

STREAMLINE
Bronte Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre
Drama
Producers Blake Northfield, Nathan Walker
Executive Producers Jane Corden, Clement Dunn
Writer/Director Tyson Johnston
Australian Distributor Umbrella Entertainment
International Sales Arclight Films
Synopsis A prodigious 15-year-old swimmer self-destructs after his father is released from prison.

YOU WON’T BE ALONE
Causeway Films HQ Pty Ltd
Genre
Supernatural Witch Drama
Producers Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton
Writer/Director Goran Stolevski
Australian Distributor Bonsai Films
International Sales Bankside Films
Synopsis In an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, a young witch is left to go feral in the woods. Curious about life as a human, she accidentally kills a peasant in the village, then takes her shape to see what life is like in her skin. This ignites her deep-seated curiosity to experience life inside the bodies of others.

One of Deb Verhoeven’s primary concerns is with men producers who, across multiple projects, repeatedly don’t work with any women, or at best include a token woman. One of mine is that women producers too often choose to work with men writers and directors. So if you’re one of those producers or funders who still thinks that women aren’t available or aren’t skilled or experienced enough as writers, directors, or in other roles, please take note of Ava DuVernay’s advice-for-today!

Please try. Please ‘make it so’. And while you do that, please decline to work with men who write and direct female protagonists. We really really don’t need any more of those movies.

Kinomatics’ Deb Verhoeven response to the latest decisions: an Open Letter

After Deb saw that latest Screen Australia list, she tweeted —

Ugh, I thought. But I wasn’t surprised. Aussie women filmmakers were not happy either.

And then, Deb and her colleagues wrote an open letter to the Board of Screen Australia —the three men and five women ultimately responsible for all that Screen Australia bureaucrats do. She circulated to academics and advocates and in 48 hours, two hundred people around the world signed the letter. Most were academics. But others signed too. They included WIFTI’s President Helen Granqvist, representatives of various WIFT chapters and a strong group of the hard-working film activists I love: Alexandra Hildago, Barbara Ann O’Leary, Belinde Stieve, Casey Zilbert, Maria Giese, Melissa Silverstein, Naomi McDougall Jones, So Mayer and others.

The letter, published in Screen Hub as Gender Matters Fail: An Open Letter to the Board of Screen Australiareferred to Screen Australia’s 2019–2023 Corporate Plan, signed by the Board and the relevant Minister. The Corporate Plan states that —

‘we need a vibrant, skilled and creative industry with an appetite for innovation. Screen Australia encourages quality, innovation and cultural value through programs that increase the ambitions, risk tolerance and diversity of Australian storytelling (emphasis in letter).’

That is, the corporate plan sets high standards. And, as the letter points out that ‘it is in the Australian public’s interest that government statutory authorities such as Screen Australia are held to account by strong standards of governance that enable community oversight.’

The letter then demands that Screen Australia take ‘immediate steps to meet its own target that at least 50% of the writing, producing and directing roles in projects funded by Screen Australia are filled by women (in all their diversity)’ and ‘review its continuing practice of funding exclusively male creative teams’.

The letter also calls ‘for data transparency and accountability to support the agency’s claims that ‘Screen Australia exceeded its long-term Gender Matters KPI’. This requires the agency to make public the underlying data that ‘describes by gender the writing, directing, producing and protagonist roles in Screen Australia-funded projects’. In my view, Screen Australia should also provide data about projects that apply for funding without success, as perhaps implied by the letter’s further call for data broken down by funding programme, including total amounts of project-based financing. This data should be provided with a high level of detail (the technical term is ‘granular’) and in a computable format, to enable independent assessment of Screen Australia’s progress towards meeting its gender parity commitments.

Finally, the data should not be provided as aggregated data visualizations or percentages. Screen Australia’s response was predictable. It didn’t ‘hear’ the request for the underlying data on which it bases its information provided to the public. Instead, it pointed to its provision of aggregated data in infographics like this one.

I quite like these visualisations, have created them myself as a way to understand and then convey information from the New Zealand Film Commission’s Annual Reports. Like this one.

Local and International Screen Production Grants and NZFC production investment in narrative features for 2018 financial year: $$ share by director gender (in NZ Update #17.2: Wellbeing & Women’s Feature Filmmaking)

And I enjoy the running percentage of investment amounts by gender kept by Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s film funding body, which has reached 36% in its goal of 50:50 investment in feature projects directed by women and men by 2020 [7].

But thanks to Kinomatics’ explanation it wasn’t hard for me to get why aggregations are a real problem: with more detail, it’s possible to see if the trend is upward or downward and in which ways; it becomes possible to diagnose and/or to ask questions about why this might be so; and attempt to make the agency more accountable.

I did however struggle a bit with some of the terminology and underlying concepts used by academics, whose rigorous analysis demands more than mine does. So I asked Deb and her mates at Kinomatics some questions, to clarify for myself what they need and why; how the gender stats might relate to intersectionality; and the role of privacy.

@devt You (Deb) wrote in a tweet that ‘the data Screen Australia has provided in its ‘headcount’ spreadsheet is not open data nor does it meet the minimum conditions for reproducibility’. What precisely do you and other researchers need?

K: Open data is data that anyone can freely access, use, modify and share. It should be in an accessible, machine-readable format. It should be provided as a whole and should be downloadable from a publicly-accessible internet site. It should be public domain with an open license. In contrast, the data in the Screen Australia spreadsheet may not be used or cited without the permission of Screen Australia: ‘This data is copyright to Screen Australia. It may not be reproduced or published in whole or in part without the written consent of Screen Australia’. This is not Open Data in any sense.

The ‘headcount spreadsheet’ offers aggregated data gathered on a financial year basis but does not specify which or how many titles were used to generate the numbers. Using a financial year to organise the data makes it difficult to match and work with other data that has been collected by calendar years, for instance (most other data).

The spreadsheet is, however, an improvement on previous ways that Screen Australia has provided information which has almost entirely been in the form of aggregated data visualisations or infographics. These make unquestionably great PR images but are basically impossible to work with as a researcher.

Lastly, in order to make sense of Screen Australia’s claims about meeting its KPIs we would also need to understand the full methodology of how it calculates its gender data. This means knowing where the data comes from, how it is collected, how it is structured and managed, what analytic tools were used and on what basis it has been interpreted. Without this, we cannot replicate it or check it for accuracy.

In 2015 the Australian Government committed ‘to optimise the use and reuse of public data; to release non sensitive data as open by default; and to collaborate with the private and research sectors to extend the value of public data for the benefit of the Australian public’. The data we seek from Screen Australia is public sector information (PSI), that is, data, information or content that is generated, collected, or funded by or for the government or public institutions. Australian Government policy is that PSI is a national resource and making it as accessible as possible will maximise its economic and social value to Australia and reinforce a healthy democracy. We are calling on Screen Australia to deliver on these expectations.

@devt There’s lots of detailed info in Screen Australia’s Annual Reports; and you’ve used them in the past. Why are they not enough?

K: It is time-consuming to re-engineer that data into a usable format and the opportunity for errors is increased because of all the additional handling.

Also, annual reports are statutory reports mandated by legislation for government agencies and corporations. They are often highly managed and crafted corporate documents that seek to put the organisation in the best light possible. While they often contain highly valuable financial information, they are also political documents marked by high levels of message manipulation. A common characteristic of annual reports is that they cherry pick data to give the most politically favourable portrait of the organisation’s activities.

@devt How best to incorporate intersectionality into organisational data about gender?

K: This difficult question highlights further issues with Screen Australia’s commitment to diversity. Without a commitment to recording data about diversity in dimensions other than binary gender, Screen Australia can’t know whether it is awarding funding to filmmakers from other disadvantaged and oppressed communities, such as women of colour, migrant filmmakers, or filmmakers identifying with non-binary genders.

Screen Australia has been collecting demographic information — including gender data — about funding applicants since the outset of government subsidies [8]. And yet we haven’t seen anything near to equity and diversity in its decision making.

We know, for example, that story development applicants must answer questions about disability, Indigenous language group, first language as a child, etc. But we don’t know if these questions are consistently asked across all funding programs. And we don’t know what Screen Australia does with this data, if anything.

Screen Australia’s failure to use this collected information to produce equitable and diverse outcomes could lead applicants to believe that the information is at best a form of ‘lip service bureaucracy’ or at worst that it leads to adverse outcomes for social minorities (since this has consistently been the result). After so many years of atrocious results for minority directors and writers it is understandable that they would have very little faith in the fairness of existing mechanisms for funding. It is important to remember in this context that white, middle-aged men are in reality a statistical minority (somewhere between 8 and 11% of the Australian population): this is not proportionally reflected in film funding decisions.

@devt Can you summarise best practice and point to screen agencies that use it, anywhere in the world?

K: We have worked successfully with another national agency that has made their data available to us for analysis and which was provided in the format we have asked for (unsuccessfully) from Screen Australia.

Leaving aside the ‘screen’ prefix, examples of best practice in data sharing can be found in literature relating to data warehousing and data sharing. These examples stress that the format data is made available in does not need to be fixed: the level of detail can, and should, be flexible. Best practice examples of data sharing demonstrate that attention has been paid to the level of aggregation made available. This can facilitate a compromise between privacy considerations and usability of the data. The field of medical research faces particular challenges on this front, but has nonetheless shown some progress. Worst practice examples mismatch (deliberately or otherwise) the level of aggregation used for decision making with the level of aggregation made available for scrutiny [9]. The Australian Centrelink ‘robodebt’ process is a well-known current example.

Agencies like the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and Screen Australia do need to be held to account. As recipients of public funding who then allocate these resources to the sector the need for transparency is vital. Fundamental to transparency is disclosure of the data that reports on metrics against which the agencies are charged to deliver. In light of New Zealand’s emphasis on well-being for instance, the NZFC might consider how its spend improves inter-generational wellbeing through consideration of disaggregated data that shows how film funding is allocated.

@devt What’s your view on privacy in this context? What are appropriate expectations for filmmakers who apply for public funding? How far should their privacy be protected and why?

K: Privacy is an important human right that is being increasingly eroded by corporations and governments gathering and using information about citizens, often without their informed consent. However, when it suits them, government agencies also like to use privacy as an excuse for not releasing information that they do not want to see in the public domain. Applying for public funding to finance a screen production is not in our view a particularly sensitive personal matter. Applicants who are successful in their funding applications are typically publicly announced by the agency and the information recorded in annual reports.

Furthermore, there are many ways of releasing data about the gender composition of unsuccessful applications without identifying those productions or the individuals associated with them. These could include providing data tables that anonymise both the titles of unsuccessful applications and the names of applicants by role: Title 1: $ Amount applied for, Program applied for, Producer 1 (gender), Producer 2 (gender), Writer (gender), Director (gender); Title 2 and so on.

The assessment criteria issue

Here in New Zealand, with far fewer decisions made than at Screen Australia, the NZFC recently released statistics presented like this; they supplement what’s available in Annual Reports and online in its Past Funding Decisions; and its ongoing information about applications and successful applications for development funding.

Thanks to Kinomatics, I now see the aggregation problems immediately; in this case they’re exacerbated because these ‘features’ include documentaries, traditionally with a higher participation from women directors than narrative features; they almost always are cheaper to make and require smaller NZFC investments.

But behind the data opacity is another question, about the opacity of assessment criteria that may or may not include consideration of writer, director and producer genders. This is especially problematic because the NZFC — like Screen Australia run by a Board, currently of four women and four men — has a very weak gender policy. Its primary principle, established back in 2015, is: ‘We are committed to increasing awareness of gender equality in the New Zealand screen industry’. In 2017, several elements were added, including ‘Measuring female director participation in feature film investment offers, on both an annual and a three-year rolling average. By the end of 2021/2022 the aim is to have 50% participation. This will mean achieving an average of 50 percent from 2019/2020’.

There was, however, no published framework provided to ensure this happened, in marked contrast to the clear frameworks provided at the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) [10] and at New Zealand on Air, the broadcasting agency, [11] (but also lacking at Screen Australia)[12]. From a legal perspective, this matters. Put very simply, decision-makers have to follow the rules of natural justice and if they change a policy without publishing the new policy anyone affected can seek judicial review, or for help from the Ombudsman. It can, therefore, be argued that ‘aiming for 50% participation’ without an accompanying decision-making framework has led to a breach of natural justice, because no-one outside the NZFC has been informed of the decision-making criteria the agency now use to reach and then maintain that 50% participation.

Last year’s Suffrage 125 commemoration provided an opportunity for a dedicated ‘women’s fund’, to fund one women’s feature project; in the end it funded three. Its role in the overall gender strategy was also undeclared. Was it — and the increase to three projects — also a strategy for reaching that 50% target? We don’t know and perhaps should.

This (calendar) year the agency has made production offers or investments mostly to projects written and/or directed by women on their third features, one of them Roseanne Liang, a Chinese New Zealander. It’s also funded a feature directed by Māori women Briar Grace Smith and Ainsley Gardiner — their second; and one more written by a woman and a man and directed by a man, as well as a woman-directed feature documentary. Is an unannounced but regularly-used gender criterion for production funding that women directors must be on at least their second NZFC-funded feature [13]? Does the much-rumoured ‘list’ of ‘acceptable’ directors exist? Has the agency developed an unannounced policy to provide a select group of women writers and/or directors with opportunities for a regular income and steady output of funded projects? Is there an agency criterion that when it’s faced with a group of projects with similar assessments from external assessors, it will privilege a project with a woman writer/director [14]? If so, shouldn’t these things be known to all?

To what extent has this opacity reinforced decision-maker bias, also a legal no-no? Does the agency fail to take into account the relevant track records of talented women applicants who have written and directed webseries, for instance? Often with a long-form narrative arc, local webseries work has generated an extraordinary depth of talented women writers and directors and dynamic team work. It is also the format primarily responsible for many transformations in representation in New Zealand [15].

Has the NZFC also failed to take into account the relevant talent-and-teams of applicants who have independently made a feature and are therefore on their second feature [16]? Has it resisted supporting projects by queer women filmmakers? Has it allowed Pākehā women to benefit more than others? For instance, although only half the ten applicants for Suffrage 125 projects were Pākehā, and the agency reported that the standard of all applications was high, the three that were funded were all written by Pākehā; two have Pākehā directors as well [17].

More open data might help identify some of these trends, if they exist. But unless there is also an appropriate, open-to-the-public decision-making framework, the system will never be fair and just. It’s past time for Screen Australia and the NZFC to acknowledge their systemic deficiencies, to accept their accountability to taxpayers and filmmakers; and then make public all their decision-making criteria and all the data that informs those decisions and is in turn generated by them.


Notes

[1] K: The ‘headcount table on this website’ is not actually a headcount. Typically a headcount is for unique individuals. This table actually counts ‘roles’ or ‘credits’ (They say: ‘Data analyses the gender of each writing, producing and directing credit. Individuals with more than one credit are counted for each credit.’)

[2] Lisa French, “Gender Then, Gender Now: Surveying Women’s Participation in Australian Film and Television Industries.” Continuum 28 (2, 2014): 188–200.

[3] Screen Australia, “Feature Filmmakers: Number and Proportion of Male and Female Producers, Directors and Writers of Australian Feature Films, 1970–2017,” (accessed November 15, 2018).

[4] Ibid.

[5] The full article also includes exciting data about world-wide distribution of women-directed films.

[6] Screen Australia, “Funding Approvals in the Archive. Production Approvals,” (accessed February 4, 2019).

[7] Francine Raveney, Project Manager specializing in gender equality at Eurimages writes:

Whilst it is frustrating that we are still stuck at 36% share of projects receiving Eurimages’ support having female directors, Eurimages does have a limitation in as much as it cannot dictate which projects will apply (with either male or female directors) nor can it have more than an ‘encouraging’ role in terms of what decision makers at different national and regional levels will decide in terms of who to finance and thus which projects will be submitted to us for funding (some level of selection in each of the co-producing countries is required prior to projects applying to Eurimages amongst all of the other regulations, be it TV pre-sale, MG distribution or national or regional public support).

However, what is so useful about having such a tally is that we cannot rest on our laurels nor hide behind good intentions; statistics are a means of holding funds to account and show clearly if progress is being made or not. Given this I am confident that the figure will increase slightly. I do not think that the 50/50 by 2020 target will be met, hopefully I am wrong!, but in our strategy it was always identified more as an ‘aim’. If we do not reach it, then we will update this strategy and I am sure we will have a brainstorming within the Gender Equality Working Group to see where and how we go from here to try to help the situation improve.

One of the challenges is keeping everyone on their toes. The plethora of panels at the Berlinale and Cannes film festivals for example is a good thing to an extent, as there is greater awareness, but at the same time it can lull one into a false sense of security that the situation is improving whereas there is still much to do and it may backfire by those who see positive measures as equivalent to positive discrimination, which is not the case. At a grassroots level one of the challenges remains making sure that young female filmmakers can feel confident in the system but I feel reassured that for the next generation of female directors the path will have been cleared to a greater extent and they will have more of a level playing field. And​, as an independent consultant, I’ve been doing some teaching with students who are mainly in their early 20s from all over the world, men and women, and what I saw from both sexes is a heightened awareness of gender issues and a real desire to plough on and smash any glass ceilings. Perhaps this real change will only come about in 10 years or so. Of course here I refer​ primarily to public funded art house projects not studio or privately-funded films where the challenges are even greater.’

[8] In 2013, the Australian government released its guidelines on collecting gender data: ‘Collecting and maintaining sex and gender-disaggregated data is crucial to the ongoing monitoring of equality between men and women’.

[9] Some examples of public sector data sharing can be found in Trove (the National Library of Australia) and the AURIN portal (Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network). Recommended reading– Alsheikh-Ali, A. A., Qureshi, W., Al-Mallah, M. H., & Ioannidis, J. P. (2011). Public availability of published research data in high-impact journals. PloS one, 6(9); and Kimball, R., & Ross, M. (2011). The data warehouse toolkit: the complete guide to dimensional modeling: John Wiley & Sons.

[10] Anna Serner has provided here an excellent description of the SFI’s robust policy; and an account of how it measures ‘success’. ‘Quality’ is required and is defined rigorously by reference to a project’s relevance, originality and craft; ‘relevance’ requires an element of urgency: the project must have something to do with what is happening right now, even if it’s an historical film. When projects are of equal ‘quality’, gender and diversity are added as criteria for decision-making. All applicants know what they have to do to compete successfully for funding. The ‘success’ of SFI-funded features has increased since this policy was formally established.

[11] See New Zealand On Air’s Our funding strategy and Scripted roadmap. These are great and the agency also provides an annual Diversity report. But note that the intersection between equal numbers of women directors does not necessarily mean equal investment, as demonstrated by the agency’s response to an OIA question about the 2019 report–

Q: Is the almost equal proportion of women directors of drama matched by almost equal investment in drama projects (including online content) that women directed or — if there were several directors, from both genders — predominantly directed?

A: No. In the year covered by the Diversity Report 2019, 86% of Scripted funding went towards projects predominantly directed by men; and 14% to projects directed by women.

But they’re at least willing to take the next step– ‘We have not collected data that specifically includes production budgets to analyse this further but will consider this for future reports’, they added (July 2019).

[12] Screen Australia’s take on How is Funding Decided? does not refer at all to its decision-making criteria. Instead, it says: ‘At Screen Australia, programs are open all year for applications, or have recurring deadlines (e.g. quarterly rounds) or have one-off deadlines.

As a result, funding decisions are also made in different ways against different timelines. For instance, investments of $1+ million in individual projects must go to Screen Australia’s Board, so these decisions only happen five times a year. Whereas, lower-monetary value funds tend to allocate funding more frequently e.g. the new Story Development program provides funding multiple times a month.’

[13] This suggestion is somewhat supported by today’s announcement of the recipients of Advanced Seed Grants for feature project development, administered by the New Zealand Writers Guild for the NZFC. Two of the three recipients are Pākehā women, one already funded by the NZFC for three feature projects and the other for two.

[14] This agency equivalent of ‘fixing it in post (external assessment)’ can be reasonably inferred from the NZFC’s own records. Back in 2015, a staff member stated ‘While the top priorities for Fresh Shorts are talent/script, we do have an opportunity to engage with the question of diversity and gender at the point of shortlisting applicants’ (NZFC Board minutes received under an OIA request), but to my knowledge this engagement has never been acknowledged as being among the decision-making criteria. Later on, in 2017, after local directors and WIFT sought a gender quota, the same staff member wrote, in correspondence with WIFT, that ‘It’s worth noting that in the Fresh Shorts area we have funded 50% female directors this year and 57% female writers’, but doesn’t explain why and how. And the then-CEO wrote, in the same correspondence: ‘There may be some tricky aspects as to how much we can affect this as we have just recently announced that we will largely be using external assessors for [early development funding] and this may have an element of unintended consequences’. When and where does dealing with a ‘tricky aspect’, in development or production funding result in an arbitrary criterion? Has the NZFC sometimes been overriding external advice to meet gender and diversity targets and if so, shouldn’t that be known? Arguably, by engaging with (some) diversity and gender elements the agency is doing something similar to the SFI’s staff. The difference is, they are doing so covertly.

[15] This extraordinary cohort includes Roseanne Liang, a single exception, whose career started with a feature documentary and a feature film and continued with short films and a formidable webseries output.

[16] Three of New Zealand’s four women-directed features released this year were independently funded; one of these was one of only two local features selected for the New Zealand International Film Festival.

[17] See here for more details, towards the end. The women I know who have benefitted from the decision-making under discussion are women of integrity as well as talent. They would, I believe, strongly support a call for greater transparency about decision-making criteria in general and in relation to gender and diversity in particular. They won’t want to benefit from questionable decision-making processes.

Thanks to deb verhoeven and Vejune Zemaityte

@devt

Written by

@devt

Marian Evans. Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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