NFB Announces Gender Equality Initiative at #VIWIFF2016

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From left: Sharon McGowan, Rina Fraticelli, Claude Joli-Coeur, Karen Day, Susan Brinton

Women in Film + Television Vancouver is proud to have provided the venue for the groundbreaking announcement by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in Vancouver on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016.

Coinciding with the start of the 11th Annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Coeur announced that at least half of its productions will be directed by women and half of all production spending will be allocated to films directed by women.

This NFB commitment will be rolled out over the next three years, during which the public will be able to keep track of its progress through updates on the NFB’s website, providing complete transparency in budgetary allocations.

“The NFB has always taken a leadership role in women’s filmmaking,” said Joli-Coeur. “In our current fiscal year, films directed by women represent half of our total spending on production. In 2016‒2017, the numbers are projected to be well above that. But numbers can fluctuate. There have been good years and lean years for women’s filmmaking at the NFB. No more. Today, I’m making a firm, ongoing commitment to full gender parity, which I hope will help to lead the way for the industry as a whole.”

The announcement was made at a festival panel discussion about gender imbalance in the media industry.

Women in View, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening gender and cultural diversity in Canadian media both on screen and behind the scenes, recently released a report on the Canadian film industry showing that women represented only 17 percent of directors, 22 percent of writers, and 12 percent of cinematographers, in a sample of 91 feature-length films produced in 2013–2014.

Panel 2“Women get trained and men get hired,” said Rina Fraticelli, Executive Director of Women in View, and one of the panelists, who emphasized the organization’s recent 2xMore initiative, developed in partnership with the Director’s Guild of Canada, to double the number of women directing scripted television in Canada.

Susan Brinton, Media Consultant, and member of WIFTV’s Advocacy Committee spoke about inspirations for Canada, outlining the innovative gender equity initiatives for screen based industries being implemented in other countries and discussed some of the strategies that our own WIFTV Advocacy Committee is developing.

“This is the beginning of rolling the rock up the hill,” said Brinton.

The panel was moderated by Sharon McGowan, Director of WIFTV’s Board and Chair of its Advocacy Committee and Associate Professor of Film Production at the University of British Columbia.

It followed the screening of the documentary Girl From God’s Country, about BC-born independent silent moviemaker Nell Shipmann. Its director, Karen Day was among the panelists.

“Hire women and change the narrative,” said US-based Day, who hired an all-female crew on Girl from God’s Country.

FemmesONFJoli-Coeur stressed the NFB’s long history of supporting women in film, starting in back in the 1940s with filmmakers such as Evelyn Spice Cherry and Judith Crawley and Evelyn Lambart, who was Norman McLaren’s right hand before becoming an accomplished filmmaker herself (see a selection of NFB filmmakers in the photomontage above).

More recent artists who honed their craft at the NFB include Torill Kove, who won an Oscar with The Danish Poet; Mina Shum, with Ninth Floor, which recently travelled across Canada as part of TIFF’s Top 10; and Sarah Polley, with Stories We Tell, which became the NFB’s most popular theatrical documentary of all time.

Out of 17 upcoming English-language NFB documentaries, 13 of these (76.51%) are directed or co-directed by women, four (23.5%) are directed by Indigenous women and three (17.6%) are directed or co-directed by women of colour, said Joli-Coeur.

Joli-Coeur added that 45 percent of French-language productions completed this year at the NFB were directed by women, and over two-thirds of English-language projects slated for next year.

Upcoming films include Tiffany Hsiung’s The Apology, Anjali Nayar’s Gun Runners, Andrea Dorfman’s 160 Girls, Marie Clement’s The Road Forward, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk and Ann Marie Fleming’s Window Horses.

On the organizational side, women hold 66 percent of upper management NFB positions, said Joli-Coeur, who pointed out the work of Shirley Vercruysse, the executive producer the Vancouver-based BC and Yukon Studio and Janine Steele, Production Manager at the NFB’s Vancouver Digital Studio.

“Yet the fact remains that, in 2016, we’re still, as an industry, having this conversation about women being fully represented, on screen, off screen and in key industry positions,” he said.

“Personally, I find the lack of representation unacceptable, given the amazing talent that exists.”

Joli-Coeur finally stated that by 2019, gender equity in spending on NFB productions will no longer be an issue. “It will simply be.”

By Katja De Bock
with files from the NFB and Women in View

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