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Berlin: Call for Equality as Scale of Gender Gap in European Film Is Revealed

Directors Barbara Albert and Isabel Coixet pledged to keep up the fight for equality Friday in Berlin as new figures revealed the scale of the gender gap in the European film business.

Austrian director Albert (“Mademoiselle Paradis“) said that the festival scene had evolved for the better, singling out the fests in San Sebastian, London and Toronto for having a strong level of female director participation. But more change is needed.

“For me there must be a quota. There must be 50-50, and if there is, I think it also has to be for festival participation,” Albert said. “It is so sad for me still that [only] four films in competition at Berlinale are by women. And for us that is quite a lot because we know in Cannes it is sometimes 0%.”

Spanish helmer Coixet, in Berlin with multi-Goya-winning movie “The Bookshop,” recounted experiences of sexist treatment early in her career. Both she and Albert noted that they have been talking about gender equality for many years already, but pledged to carry on the fight. “Your life as a woman and a director is a little more exhausting,” Coixet said.

The pair were part of a session convened by European film funding body Eurimages, which released figures showing the gender imbalance in the submissions it received between 2014 and 2017.

Just 31% of the main production functions on these films were performed by women in that period. More specifically, 25% of directors on dramas were women, a proportion that rose to 38% for documentaries but dropped to 23% in animation. In drama, almost three-quarters of all the projects submitted were male-dominated, with more than 60% of the production roles occupied by men.

Eurimages has played a key role in formulating a new Council of Europea recommendation on promoting gender equality in the audiovisual sector, including a call to review policies, collect and publish data, enhance accountability, and introduce training to raise awareness and combat bias.

“What this recommendation acknowledges is there has been, up until now, a lack of awareness of the prevalence of inequality,” said Francine Raveney, the Eurimages project manager who drove the formulation and acceptance of the recommendation. “There has been conscious and unconscious gender bias at all levels, and there has been unequal distribution of funding for audiovisual content.”

The recommendation has been adopted by more than 40 countries in Europe, but the ambition is for it to have an impact internationally. The United Nations session on the status of women in mid-March is set to discuss it. “It is a cornerstone, a model that is going to be used, hopefully, in Europe and beyond,” said Eurimages executive director Roberto Olla.

Homing in on the German market, Elizabeth Prommer, a professor at the University of Rostock, showed figures that cast light on female under-representation in German cinema. The research showed that 58% of leading roles in German movies made between 2011 and 2016 went to men, and the proportion of female leads drops away sharply for those aged over 50.

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