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London Film Festival Turns Spotlight on Gender Equality

Sprocket opera to host Geena Davis Institute's Global Symposium

The BFI London Film Festival opens Oct. 7 with “Suffragette,” the story of the Brit women who fought for equal rights to vote a century ago. It is clear, though, that when it comes to gender equality in the filmed entertainment industry, much is still to be achieved.

On Oct. 8, the festival hosts the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s Global Symposium, which will look at gender equality in the movie biz and the portrayal of women in film. “We were keen to amplify the focus that having ‘Suffragette’ as an opening night film enabled us to do over the broader issues to do with women in front of and behind the camera,” says festival director Clare Stewart. “The symposium enables us to cast a strong light on considerations around the roles and representation of women and girls in film.”

Films fail to reflect the world around us, says Davis, who will speak at the symposium. “Our research has shown that on a global front that female characters are only 30.9% with only 10% having gender-balanced casts,” she tells Variety.

“Increasing the number of female decision makers and content creators is key. Our research has shown that when there is the presence of a female director there was a 6.8% increase of onscreen roles, and when there was a female screenwriter, a 7.5% increase in onscreen roles.”

Faye Ward, who produced “Suffragette” (pictured) with Alison Owen, believes films should represent the experiences of all parts of a diverse society. “What is important in culture is that all voices are heard and everybody has an opportunity to tell a story,” she says.

The lack of women directors is an important factor, Ward says, and positive discrimination is needed to remedy this. There are two areas of concern: Too few women directors get to make their second film, and too few women direct TV drama, which is a stepping-stone into films.

The British Film Institute’s Three Ticks program, which links state funding to a commitment by producers to reflect the diversity of the U.K. behind and in front of the camera, could help improve matters, Ward says.

Femme directors and actresses and films with female protagonists play a major role at the London Film Festival. Highlights include: Cate Blanchett receiving the British Film Institute’s highest honor, the BFI Fellowship, on Oct. 17. “Truth,” starring Blanchett, will have its U.K. premiere on the same night. Blanchett also appears in Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” which plays at the festival Oct. 14.

Laurie Anderson, writer, director, visual artist and vocalist, whose film “Heart of the Dog” plays at the festival, delivers a talk on Oct. 15 about her creative approach to filmmaking and how it intersects with art, performance and music. The Centerpiece Gala screening is the European premiere of Nicholas Hytner’s “The Lady in the Van,” starring Maggie Smith. Other actresses with major roles in festival films include Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn,” Elisabeth Moss in “Queen of Earth” and Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs.”

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