Cannes: U.K. Industry Targets Gender Equality in Film Funding by 2020

Toni Erdmann - H 2016
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The British plan, modeled after a similar program in Sweden, aims to have half of all public film funding go to movies by female directors.

The British Film Institute and other U.K. film organizations, such as Directors UK, plan to further gender equality in film funding with a strategy modeled after the FiftyFifty by 2020 system first launched in Sweden in 2012.

The goal of the program, like its Swedish counterpart, is to have half of all public film funding going to movies directed by women by 2020.

At a conference Sunday at the Plage Royale in Cannes, the Swedish Film Institute outlined details of its program and its impressive success rate. When it launched, only a quarter of state film funding in Sweden went to female helmers. By 2015, the figure was more than 50 percent. By comparison, in Europe as a whole, just 16 percent of films receiving state funding are directed by women.

“We did it without having a quota — there was no quota,” said SFI CEO Anna Serner, explaining that gender is not used as a criterion for selecting which films will receive funding. “Instead, we made it known that this was our goal and that we were pushing for it. Almost overnight, we saw applications from female directors shoot up." Just judging applications from both male and female applicants equally, she says, led to the improved gender balance.

Alice Bah Kuhnke, Sweden's minister of culture and democracy, told The Hollywood Reporter that the gender imbalance in the film industry sends a discouraging signal to young women.

“Only one woman has ever won a best director Oscar,” Kuhnke said, referring to Kathryn Bigelow, who won for 2008's The Hurt Locker. “If young people look at that, they will reach the obvious conclusion that women are not good at making movies."

A number of female filmmakers in Europe have come out in support of similar programs for their countries, including Maren Ade, the German director of Toni Erdmann, one of the hottest titles in the Cannes competition this year, which was picked up by by Sony Pictures Classics for the U.S.

Kuhnke also shot down the argument that boosting diversity would lead to a drop in quality.

“I really think we should leave that prejudice behind us. On the contrary, quality is threatened when filmmakers of any other kind of background are excluded," she said. "When new voices can't make themselves heard, the quality stagnates. By getting a diversity of stories and a diversity of voices, we pave the way for greater strength in the film industry.”