Call for more women film directors

London film festival director says the industry has a long way to go in achieving gender parity

LONDON • A quarter of the movies shown at the 61st BFI London film festival next month will be directed by women - a figure the organisers admit is "bad".

But at least the proportion is rising, festival director Clare Stewart said as she announced a programme of 242 feature films and 128 shorts from 67 countries, all to be screened over 12 days.

Last year, a fifth of the festival's films were directed by women - a low proportion but better than the 13 per cent for movies released in British cinemas.

Ms Stewart said there was a long way to go in achieving gender parity and the British Film Institute (BFI) needed to play its part.

"It is a responsibility of film festivals to highlight the important changes that need to happen in our industry," she added.

"Getting more women behind the camera is something that will have a significant impact in terms of diversifying stories.

"But it's also just basic gender equity, which is what we're after."

Ms Stewart said it was important to give prominent festival slots to talented women.

Among the headline gala films announced were Dee Rees' Mudbound, a story of racial tension ignited by the friendship of two World War II veterans in the Deep South, and Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, a brutal psychological drama starring Joaquin Phoenix.

In the festival's official competition, four of the 12 films are directed by women, including Nora Twomey's animated drama The Breadwinner. It is executive produced by Angelina Jolie and tells of one girl's struggle in Taleban-controlled Kabul.

The London film festival announced its line-up in the opening week of the world's oldest film festival, Venice.

Only one movie out of 21 in the Venice competition is directed by a woman - Vivian Qu's Angels Wear White, which is also a London contender.

Mr Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice Film Festival, said it was not the festival's fault.

"I don't like to think in terms of a quota when you make a selection process. I'm sorry that there are very few films from women this year, but we are not producing films."

Ms Stewart said the London festival aimed to include more works directed by women than the 13 per cent average but true parity was not currently possible.

"We'd have to shrink the programme," she noted.

However, she said talking about the issue was important.

"Us making a point of it each year, to be speaking out about it, not trying to hide it like it is a dirty secret, is a very important element of ensuring that change happens."

The London festival is a big deal in the film world, but is not as significant as Cannes, Venice and Toronto, which hoover up the most eye-catching world premieres.

Nevertheless, 28 films will be seen for the first time in London.

Ms Stewart said there would be "some really tough, challenging, edgy cinema" at this year's festival, as well as films vying for the awards.

One of those could be the opening night gala film Breathe, which tells the true story of Robin Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield), who contracts polio as a young man and is left severely disabled.

Given only months to live, he refuses to be confined to an institution and is broken out of hospital by his wife Diana (Claire Foy).


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Call for more women film directors'. Print Edition | Subscribe