Swedish directors Lisa Langseth, Suzanne Osten, Jane Magnusson, Sanna Lenken, Alexandra-Therese Keining and Lisa Ohlin. Photo: Johan Bergmark.

Where are the Women Directors in Europe?

A new report produced in collaboration with the Swedish Film Institute reveals that industry structures fail to sustain female directors' careers in Europe. The talent exists. Yet women's creative potential and perspective is not reaching European audiences.

A new report produced by the European Women's Audiovisual Network (EWA) with the support and collaboration of the Swedish Film Institute and organisations in six other European countries looks at gender equality in European film industries. The report is the result of a two-year study including a questionnaire involving approximately 1000 industry professionals from throughout Europe. The research across Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and UK reveals for instance that leading national institutions are not keeping comprehensive statistics to inform policy change – this in spite of national and regional commitments to gender equality, and a general recognition, confirmed by the questionnaire, that gender inequality exists.

Under-representation of female directors

The study finds significant under-representation of female directors in all stages of the production and distribution process. There is a significant fall-off in the proportion of women graduating from film schools and entering the film industry (44%) and the overall proportion of female directors working in the industry (24%). Only one in five films is directed by a woman (21%). The vast majority of public funding resources (84%) go into films that are directed by men. Through fifteen recommendations the report calls for actions, including targets to address the under-representation of female directors in educational programmes, to equalise the distribution of public funds, to achieve equal representation on commissioning boards, to incentivise producers to support female directors, to provide a greater support for publicity and distribution and to maintain and monitor statistics.

Challenges in Sweden

Although the share of female directors is higher in Sweden than in the other countries, the questionnaire shows that there are still challenges ahead. In total 122 Swedish film professionals answered the questionnaire (65 % of respondents were women and 35 % men). In Sweden 73% of respondents felt that gender inequality exists. Women felt this more than men. Looking only at women, 87% applied to this statement. According to the Swedish respondents the most important factor discouraging women from directing is the competitive struggle to secure funding. To a higher extent than in other countries they believe that this is the main obstacle. The female respondents also think that the competitive struggle to secure funding is a reason to a higher degree than the male respondents do.

Funder's decisions

In the questionnaire there was also a question about if gender affects funder's decisions. In Sweden like in the other countries there is a clear difference between how the public funders and private funders are viewed. Whereas 61% of Swedish respondents think that a female director has a negative effect on a private funder's decision, only 23% believe it has a negative effect on a public funder's decision. 47% even believe a female director has a positive effect on a public funder's decision. In comparison with other countries the Swedish respondents think that there is a negative effect on private funders to a higher extent, and on public funders to a lower extent. This indicates a polarised Swedish funding landscape, with a sharp difference between public and private funders. Looking only at female respondents, an even higher share believes that there is a negative effect regarding private investors. 80% of Swedish women think so, more than in any other country. The female respondents in Sweden also think that there is a negative effect regarding public funders more than the male respondents do. Of the women 35% think this, of the men only 2%.

Distribution support

Concerning what affects the limited box-office performance of female-directed films, most respondents recognised inadequate support in the "route to market" as the root of the problem. 87% recognised ineffective publicity and advertising as very important or important; 85% recognised poor distribution strategy as very important or important. The film's subject is also important according to 84% of respondents. To a higher extent than in other countries the Swedish respondents think that genre, distribution strategy and publicity and advertising affect the box office performance of films. Both women and men believe P&A to be the main issue. However, the women (as in other questions) experience it more strongly.

Measures for more women directors

Several suggestions for measures to encourage women to become directors were presented to the respondents. The two most important factors for encouraging women according to the Swedish respondents are: targeted support schemes to encourage women to develop film projects (79%), showing more films directed by women on national television and cinema screen (79%) and affirming the role of women during school education (79%). In comparison with other countries they think it is more important with funding programmes and to target support schemes. Regarding exhibiting more films directed by women on national television and cinema screens there are clear gender differences. Women think exhibiting more films is the most important factor. Men think that it is the least important.

Major bottlenecks

According to the study major bottlenecks for women in the Swedish film industry are national film funding, public and private broadcasters and the cinema market. The number of female-led films being funded by the Film Institute has increased clearly already. But still actions are needed concerning the other players /factors mentioned above. According to the study, the poor box office results for female-directed films can be explained by factors such as genre, production budget size, marketing budget size, distribution strategies and cinema programming. Hence, measures to encourage higher budget, genre movies with female directors are suggested, as well as increased support for distribution and cinemas.