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Henry Beltran, ‘people-person extraordinaire, has been the Front of House Manager of Chichester Cinema at New Park since 2009.
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As I write this, in December 2018, there has been a flurry of newspaper articles responding to a report ‘Female-led films outperform at the Box 2014-2017’.
Published by Shift7, a digital focus on culture, they assessed the revenue of the 350 highest-grossing films released between 2014 and 2017, and concluded that films starring women earned more than male-led films.
Their work is part of a much wider movement across the film landscape to highlight the disparity between men and women on screen and behind the camera. Key issues include:
• Why are there more male directors than female? How can this be made more balanced? Are quotas the answer? Or can the industry improve without intervention?
• Not all women want to make small-scale ‘intimate family dramas’. Yes, some do, but and some want to make big blockbusters or genre movies.
• The Shift7 report shows films ,starring women, making money at the box office. This is backed up a 2015 report from the Geena Davies Institute of Gender in the Media which analysed films from 11 countries over a three year period, concluding that films with female leads made 15.8% more on average than films with male leads.
• So, with these figures in mind, why did the same report show that male characters receive about two times the amount of screen time as female characters (28.5% compared to 16.0%)?
• Especially as more women go to the cinema than men!
Yes, this is a big topic with a historic and systematic effort to erase and marginalise women’s creative voices. For instance, did you know that…
• The first fiction film was directed by a woman?
• The first full-length animated feature film was directed by a woman?
• The first full-length Shakespeare adaptation was directed by a woman?
• The first full-frontal female nude scene in a commercial feature film was directed by a woman?
• Did you know that all these firsts happened before the arrival of sound?
And yet, in 100 years of cinema, it will be a surprise to many to discover that there were more women working behind the camera at all levels during the first thirty years of filmmaking than there are now. Which is why there has been, and needs to continue to be, initiatives to redress these disparities and to reclaim women’s contributions to filmmaking of the past, and to ensure that female filmmakers working today have more opportunities and a greater presence.
With print media on the wane, much of this work is happening online, particularly on twitter. The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have brought to the fore incidents of workplace sexual harassment across a number of industries most prominently in film. But twitter is also being used as way of promoting and sharing the work of female filmmakers.
In Autumn 2015 the Los Angeles branch of Women in Film and Television launched their #52FilmsByWomen campaign encouraging people to watch a film a week directed by a woman. Now entering its fourth year it has helped to raise the profile of women female directors, particularly global filmmakers. In 2019 #Directedbywomen have launched their Crucial 21st Century Cinema initiative with a daily blog featuring a 21st century film directed by woman.
Independent/Arts House Film Exhibitors are doing their bit via The F-Rating. This is awarded to films that are directed and/or written by a woman. If the film also features significant women on screen, it is TRIPLE F-Rated. The rating is designed to support and promote women and redress the imbalance in the film industry. This is used in conjunction with The Bechdel Test. To pass the Bechdel Test, a film must feature at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Devised by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 comic book, the joke is that this was a really low bar for a film to aim for, and yet 40% of films in Shift7’s December 2018 report do not pass it!
Ellen Cheshire was the General Manager at Chichester Cinema at New Park 2003 – 2007 and is a film writer and lecturer. Her recent publications include In the Scene: Jane Campion (2018, Aurora Metro) a film by film look at the film and television work of Jane Campion, a chapter on female cinematographers working in the silent film industry for Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema (2016, Aurora Metro) and a chapter on the 2015 Turkish woman-directed film Mustang, Film Studies for A Level and AS text book (2018, Illuminate Publishing).