The Locarno Film Festival’s StepIn think tank on the state of the film industry is taking a humanistic tack this year by choosing to zero in on issues crucial to a healthy workplace such as gender equality, diversity representation, inclusion and economic fairness.
The Swiss fest’s initiative that sees mostly European execs from different industry sectors convene in the lakeside town to share experiences and thoughts on the independent film community’s most pressing issues for its upcoming 9th edition is taking a post lockdown pause from strictly business matters, such as the future of theatrical.
Instead, on Aug. 5 a selected group of some 30 key participants – fewer than usual due to COVID restrictions – will thrash out some of the root causes that can make the film industry a toxic environment and try to come up with ideas for positive practices that can prompt some change.
Industry participants will include producer Laurence Lascary, who is co-president of France’s Le Collectif 50/50; Allison Gardner, CEO Glasgow Film; Susan Wendt, who is TrustNordisk managing director; Carlo Chatrian, current Berlin Film Festival artistic director, formerly Locarno chief; Jing Xu, festival manager of Chinese sales, distribution and production firm Rediance; and Susan Newman-Baudais, who heads Eurimages’ co-production program.
“Now that the different sectors of our industry are trying to get back on track, there’s an elephant in the room that still needs to be addressed,” says StepIn project manager Marcello Paolillo.
“To put it bluntly: do we think our industry is a healthy place to work in?,” asks Paolillo, who is also a producer.
Paolillo cites an alarming survey commissioned by the UK Film & TV Charity, released in February 2020, just before global lockdown. It found British film industry professionals to be twice as likely to experience anxiety compared with the national average. And said that that over half of them have considered taking their own life, and one in 10 have attempted to do so. The survey also pointed out that, while the dial may have moved on sexual harassment due to the #MeToo movement, bullying, long working hours, and social isolation remain major factors behind the U.K. industry being toxic.
Paolillo, who notes “there’s no reason to believe that the situation in other countries is any better,” says the film industry is a particularly demanding environment, “obsessed with success and dominated by external and internal pressures, dynamics of power, constant risk and financial instability.” Inevitably, he adds, these elements have an impact on the mental health of its workers.
The day-long StepIn event will kick off with an introductory talk given by Diego Hangartner, coach and founding director of the Zurich-based Institute of Mental Balance and Universal Ethics, who will provide some scientific insight into mental fitness and wellbeing and what happens when they are threatened.
“What usually happens is that when you are being triggered to be in fear mode, then a lot of areas in your brain and in your mind freeze up and become no longer accessible,” he says.
Hangartner’s introduction will be followed by opening keynotes from U.S. producer Gale Anne Hurd, who has shattered gender barriers in the U.S. industry while becoming a guiding force behind some of the most iconic genre works in film and TV history, including “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” and “The Walking Dead”; Allison Hironaka, an agent in CAA’s Media Finance Department, where she packages independent feature films – and therefore has the pulse of whether diversity sells or not – and Berlin-based psychologist and mental health consultant Katherine Dennis Gonzalez, an expert on solution-focused therapies to bring about social change and wellbeing.
Closed door round-tables will follow, each one with a moderator and notetaker, to discuss specific issues related to mental health in the industry. The idea is for each group to come up with a number of proposals for new practices and goals to improve the current situation. A conclusive wrap up session will follow to present a brief summary of what’s been discussed.