London Film Festival: Women In Film to Be Key Discussion Issue

LONDON — The issue of diversity in film is set to be a key theme of this year’s BFI London Film Festival (LFF). Both Festival Director Clare Stewart and BFI Chief Executive Amanda Nevill were quick to highlight the issue at the launch for the LFF program on Tuesday morning (Sep. 1).

“The natural quintessence of the festival lies in its diversity,” said Nevill, referring to the ‘Three Ticks’ guidelines for receiving Lottery funding, designed to ensure film productions represent UK diversity, that the BFI introduced last December.

“UK film is creatively strong but we are deluding ourselves if we believe we can continue without finding a new generation of talented people from every corner of the UK and every background,” continued Nevill. “The three ticks guidelines are not just about diversity but also about creating opportunity and securing the economic future of the UK film industry. We need to invent new and intelligent ways of working for the whole workforce.”

Particularly focusing on the issue of opportunity for women filmmakers Nevill said it was hoped the festival would mark an opportunity to take real action to bring about change, highlighting the LFF teaming with Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis to launch a global symposium on gender in media. This is presented as part of the festival’s industry program in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute and Women in Film and Television. The same day the festival will screen Davis Guggenheim’s documentary “He Named Me Malala”.

“The programming team has declared this the year of the strong woman,” said Stewart at the launch, highlighting the strong roles for actresses such as Carey Mulliganin “Suffragette,” Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs,” Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol,” Diane Lane and Helen Mirren in “Trumbo” and Maggie Smith in “The Lady In The Van,” which will all screen at the LFF.

Speaking exclusively with Variety, Stewart said it was important for a festival such as London not just to sit back and present the best films of the year but to provoke debate and conversation about key issues facing the industry.

“The festival has an important role and a responsibility to be a strong proponent of diversity and to feed the discourse. If we are not doing it, who is?” said Stewart. “Our role is not just in celebrating the achievements of women filmmakers but also to start to trace patterns.”

Stewart highlighted the fact that of 238 features in this year’s LFF program, 45 are directed by women. Of the 182 short films being screened, 64 are directed by women. Amongst those 45 features three films directed by women, including opening night film “Suffragette,” receive gala screenings. There are also two films directed by women in the official competition section, three in the first feature section and six in the documentary competition. Each competition section comprises 12 films.

“We can see an emerging theme that there are a number of women getting the opportunity to make independent, and mostly lowly budget, features but when it comes to more ambitious, big budget projects that falls away,” said Stewart. “This points to the fact that something needs to change in the way the industry is structured and how it supports for women filmmakers.”

She called Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette” the “opening film sent from heaven” although explained this was not just because it is a story of strong women with a stellar female cast and female director, writer and producers. “It gives us a platform to feed and highlight the issue we think needs attention,” said Stewart.

Nevill said having “Suffragette” to open the festival was an “uncomfortable reminder” of the “pathetic progress” that had been made by women in the, more than, 100 years since the events it depicts.

The BFI archive has also compiled a selection of 21 short films dating from between 1899 and 1917 called “Make More Noise! Suffragettes In Film.”

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