The topic of gender inequality in the film industry is a headline-grabbing, hashtag-generating one, and plainly there’s much work to be done to redress it. For its part, HOME in Manchester has elected to run a year-long programme under the banner Celebrating Women in Global Cinema.
This is being co-curated by Rachel Hayward, HOME‘s head of film, and senior visiting curator Andy Willis of Salford University. Speaking to Northern Soul, Hayward isn’t sure that the indie/art house sector is much further ahead in correcting the imbalance than the Hollywood mainstream.
“It’s interesting and you’d obviously like to say ‘yes, of course we’re further ahead and we’re doing great things’. I think what we maybe are further ahead in is the openness and the dialogue and approaches to it. Because of the nature of the film industry, though, the number of women working in the industry in various different roles is just lower across the board, whether that’s the big Hollywood machine or in the independent sector. Obviously they intertwine, and I think there’s so much there to change that it’s hard to say that one is any further ahead.”
A year-long strand takes a great deal of planning and Celebrating Women in Global Cinema has been in the works since autumn 2017. A whole host of good things are already lined up, but it’s not all cut and dried – intentionally so. Hayward says: “We’re still developing ideas for events and projects as we go along as well which is a really important part of the ethos for the planning. We haven’t presented the audience with a done deal, a closed project, a brochure for a year, because that feels like it’s going against the ideas that we want to present, which is that there are so many pluralistic voices out there that to have two curators and their partnerships curate everything for a year would be wrong. We’ve got a few open slots for audiences and local creatives to work with us on, which will be a really interesting process. We’ve also got seeds of ideas that we’ll develop for later this year and some that we’re already knocking over into next year because there’s so much stuff.”
Over the next few months, audiences will see retrospectives on stars Ida Lupino and Barbra Streisand, Chinese filmmaker Angie Chen, British-Nigerian filmmaker Ngozi Onwurah, producer Rebecca O’Brien and Stockport-born director Carol Morley, who will be at HOME for a preview screening of her new film, Out of Blue. HOME will present new releases, archive screenings and accessible public evening courses on the subjects of ‘Women in Science Fiction’ and ‘Women in Film Comedy’, plus a season of films curated by Willis focusing on female activism and trade unionism under the title Women, Organise! There’s plenty more to come, too, including special female-centric elements within the annual Not Just Bollywood season in September and the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Cinema in March and April, as well as at least one more important retrospective later in the year that’s currently still under wraps.
There will also be collaborations with the Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) and Anna Smith’s Girls on Film podcast, which offers reviews from a female perspective. “It’s really exciting to have the Girls on Film podcast crew coming to work with us,” Hayward says. “They saw our programme and said ‘yeah, we like the sound of this’, so we’re going to be working with Anna Smith to present events across the year, pretty much every other month. For the first event we’ve got Miranda Sawyer and Francine Stock coming for a live podcast recording to talk about the awards season and awards results, which is always interesting.
“Throughout 2019, the special Celebrating Women in Global Cinema symbol will appear in the HOME programme alongside many screenings and events, but it’s important to note that it’s not just a 12-month commitment. “This year of work merely hones what we’ve already been doing,” Hayward explains. “We’ve always been committed to showing work from all sorts of different people, so always foregrounding women, though it would be wrong to say it’s not more this year.”
The official line is that the programme aims to ‘challenge the place and space of female filmmakers from a variety of different cultural, social and political perspectives’. Hayward describes this in more practical terms: “We haven’t actually done this yet – hopefully we will – but I feel like if we went into the HOME bar right now and asked people to name five or ten women filmmakers, depending whose table you dropped that bomb on, we might not have a lot of success. There’s this idea that maybe we haven’t got there yet.”
So the ideal result would be that, by the end of the year, those hypothetical drinkers would know more about women filmmakers? “Yes, absolutely. And also ideally that people will have that recognition of the Celebrating Women in Global Cinema symbol. Maybe if that works, we won’t drop it, we’ll keep it going, because I think it’s also important as part of the plan. I don’t think anybody would ever do something like this and then think ‘oh, it’s done’ and stop.”
As regards the British film industry, Hayward thinks there has been some attempt to correct the gender imbalance.
“It is changing – for the better. I’ve been thinking a lot about these kinds of things and whether I’ve got a positive outlook on all of it, whether I’ve got an angry outlook or else it’s just doom and gloom, and I’ve probably got all three to be honest, for different things. Some people are incredibly optimistic about it, saying that everything’s changing, everybody’s questioning their unconscious bias and we’re all thinking differently now. And it’s like ‘OK, we’re thinking differently, but what are we doing differently? What’s actually changed?”
For Hayward, one example of genuinely positive change is the British Film Institute’s commitment to ‘diversity standards’, whereby anybody applying to them for funding, be it for film production, distribution or exhibition, has to be able to answer detailed questions about their plans to work with and reach a diverse range of people.
“Having all of those questions is really crucial in helping you think differently. From my point of view, it’s not just an exercise. It really is about saying ‘Right, OK, so this is a lack, there is a problem here, what am I going to do about it as the person responsible for this project. film or distribution strategy? What am I going to do to solve that problem, because it can’t go ahead as it is?’”
Crucially, though, Celebrating Women in Global Cinema has been carefully named and for good reason. “We worked hard to ensure that it stayed as that title because for us it’s really key that the year is seen to be a celebration. There are certain difficulties within film, within Hollywood, within human rights, that are going to be tackled throughout the season, but on the whole it’s a celebration of the amazing work that’s been done.”
By Andy Murray, Film Editor
Celebrating Women in Global Cinema, HOME Manchester, is on throughout 2019. For more information, click here.