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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 17:59 GMT
Women directors fight back
Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow is a rare female action director

Broadcasters should be forced to hire a quota of women television directors, the London Film Festival was told on Sunday.

Latest figures show women are still struggling to break through into the fields of TV and film directing in significant numbers.

It's a very subtle discrimination at work

Director Pratibha Parmar
Some in the industry believe that a quota of female directors in broadcasting will not only help fix the gender imbalance in TV but will lead to an increase in female film directors.

A panel of film experts organised by the group Women in Film and Television (WFT) discussed what has been dubbed the "celluloid ceiling".

"It's still a man's world in film and TV directing, " said Jane Cussons, chief executive of the organisation.

Numbers drop

A recent study at the San Diego State University showed that nine out of every 10 films released in the US in 2001 was directed by a man.

And the percentage of films directed by women in the list of 250 top grossing films in the US dropped from 11% in 2000 to six percent in 2001.

Kathryn Bigelow, director of K-19 The Widowmaker, is one of a handful of big-budget female film-makers.

Other names include Mimi Leder, who made Deep Impact, Jodie Foster, Nora Ephron, who makes mainly romantic comedies, and Penny Marshall.

Joan Bakewell
Bakewell: "Getting that breakthrough is important"
Ms Cussons said: "There are huge gender imbalances. There are a lot of big movies out there and to have only 6% of them directed by women is absolutely dreadful."

Director Pratibha Parmar said broadcasters should be forced to use a percentage of women directors.

"Quota systems are always quite tricky but it might help to break the stranglehold all the male directors have.


"In the area of cultural diversity broadcasters have been made to take notice of multicultural society - in terms of staff and programme strands.

Women are perceived as making only chick flicks

Jane Cussons, WFT
"Perhaps it should be said that 25% of TV soaps have to be made by women."

Leslee Udwin, producer of hit British comedy East is East agreed, saying: "The entire industry needs to be pushed more to employing women - even on a quota system.

"The strategy takes time but it will work."

But broadcaster Joan Bakwell, who is also chair of the British Film Institute, warned against introducing quotas.

"I certainly don't think the industry can go into quotas.

"It is too wayward an industry - it is freelance, haphazard, not particularly well organised."

Ms Cussons said the problem was "an awful lot to do with perception".

"Most of the big-grossing films are full of special effects, they are big budget blockbusters and for some reason women are not considered to be suitable for this.


"Kathryn Bigelow is probably the only one accepted at doing this sort of thing.

Kathryn Bigelow
Bigelow directed Point Break and Strange Days
"Women are perceived as making only chick flicks."

The common perception of a film director is a white male, a stereotype established by Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock and maintained by film-makers such as Steven Spielberg.

The problem is not restricted to the United States, however.

According to the 2001 Skillset census of the media industry in the UK about 7% of women were involved in camera work, including directing.

And according to a British Council report, in 2002 of 118 British films produced only 10 had female directors.

'Gender issue'

The problem is not at the level of education. Latest figures show that as many women as men are going to film school - the problem starts once female students leave training.

Soaps are dominated by male directors
Ms Cussons said there was a sense the "gender issue" had been dealt with.

"When you go onto a film set the only area you will see women is in the traditional areas of hair and make-up."

Ms Bakewell said: "It's structural - there's no question about a talent imbalance."

She said part of the problem lay in the tenacity required for both men and women to get to the top of such a difficult field.

"The further you go up the skills ladder, the more competitive it gets - also for men - and the percentage of women falls away.

'Lifestyle issues'

"It is something that requires a particular, ruthless, dogged, ambition and perhaps women give up on too early.

Producers have to take more risks

Pratibha Parmar
"Women have lifestyle issues about how to manage their careers and it stills holds true."

One of the key problems is that women are getting few opportunities to cut their teeth in television drama, traditionally the breeding ground for film talent.

Director Pratibha Parmar said a "jobs for the boys" attitude was limiting opportunities for women in TV.

Steven Speilberg
Is Steven Spielberg a stereotypical director?
"It's a very subtle discrimination at work. There is a very small coterie of male directors whose names you see time and time again on the major soaps and dramas.

"Producers and executive producers feel it is safer to have the same old people that they know will deliver.

"They have to take more risks."

Ms Bakewell advocated training schemes in the key feeder areas such as short films.

"Lynne Ramsay did it through shorts and that is the route to take. Women should have the opportunity to make shorts and it might be worth the Film Council paying some attention," she said.

In the lens



See also:

23 Mar 02 | Oscars 2002
25 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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