Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Watch more films to make a change in the films you want to see - gender & diversity balance in film & TV

This week I have paraphrased the famous Mahatma Gandhi quote be the change you want to see in the world.

Having recently been asked about the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum approach to diversity, I answered that the Rocliffe part of the partnership is run by an Irish-Libyan. I expanded by stating that our selection process rests purely with the voice of the writing. When we select scripts the panel have no idea of the writer's gender, or what their experience is, age, race if they write alone or part of a team. Their selection is based purely on the panel member’s connection to the work. Interestingly, we’ve seen a balance shift from mostly male to an equal gender footing. As a result in 2013 all our TV writers were female, the comedy writers were predominantly female (5 female and 3 male), and the film writers were all male. The work was selected purely on the strength of the writing – gender or race did not (and could not) play a role in the selection process.

I’d like to think that the jobs I’ve got to date were down to my ability to do the job, rather than my race or gender. Besides, I’ve yet to see a diversity form with the option of Irish-Libyan, and I rarely see a tick box for Arab, MENA (Middle Eastern North Africa) or North African. We come under OTHER.  I do believe that when Andrea Arnold, Aisling Walsh, Amma Assante, Clio Barnard and Kirsten Sheridan wrote and then directed their films, they did so as storytellers just like every other filmmaker. Getting a film made is hard, no one doubts that, but I'm sure they want us to choose to see their work to be entertained, not because they are women making films.  

That said, there is a justifiable debate underway about gender and a strong argument about increasing the low percentage of female directors and writer-directors and whether that boils down to women not being given the opportunity to direct. A lack of opportunity creates a lack of visibility that in turn causes a lack of demand. We can laud and applaud people and we can lament the lack of prominence and breaks, but the question I ask myself is how do I make a change in the system?  The only way I know how is by watching their films and encouraging others to do so too. Draw your own conclusions about their voices – become a fan (or not), engage with their work (or not), support them (or not), but by acknowledging women’s contribution to this industry, by watching their work and creating a demand, we can begin to tackle this dearth of women. This requires familiarising ourselves with their body of work, and, if we think it is good, recommending others to watch it too.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with the owner of the flower stall beside Angel tube station comparing the films at the Vue Islington and the Screen on the Green. He felt that the Screen was like supporting local business. I asked him which films he had seen there that he had liked. He told me that was where he had first seen Andrea Arnold’s work and now he watches all her films. He felt her characters were real, and clicked with them.

For my part I’m using this blog to spotlight, the feature debuts by first time writer-directors, I’ve really loved, both female and male. This is my utterly subjective list of first films. I selected some because they have moved me, because I saw their shorts and have followed their careers, because I feel a personal attachment to the films and some purely for the film themselves. So if you feel there’s someone to flag up – go shout it out… make your own lists - word of mouth is a powerful tool.


This story is set in the 'in-between' time of a girl's life, when she is no longer a child and not yet a woman. We open on our heroine, Maeve, putting on her new snow-white bra and stepping out into the world as a young woman. Her world revolves around her three best friends who despair of her ever getting a boyfriend. But what no one expected, least of all Maeve, was that she would snare the local 16-year-old heartthrob.

Timothy (Hill Harper), a man struggling to raise his young daughter Maya (newcomer Troi Zee) in the midst of his wife Shenae’s (Sharon Leal) growing drug habit. 

Samira is a modern schoolteacher in Sarajevo who takes a job in a small country village just as the war is beginning to ramp up. When Serbian soldiers overrun the village, shoot the men and keep the women as labourers (the older ones) and sex objects (the younger ones), Samira is subjected to the basest form of treatment imaginable.

A family holiday brings to a head the destructive love triangle between Eamon, a little boy with behavioural problems, his selfish mother Grace and his sexually frustrated father Daniel.

Free-spirited 16-year-old Nasrine is arrested by the Iranian police – for riding on the back of a boy's motorcycle – and sexually assaulted in prison. She flees to the UK with her older brother Ali and moves into a Newcastle council estate that's a far cry from their comfortable middle-class existence in Tehran.

Two teenage brothers must face their own prejudices head on if they are to survive the perils of being British Arabs growing up on the streets of gangland London.

An urban thriller about an African former child soldier called Jumah was brought to London by Laura, an aid worker who he now lives with. Jumah is about to turn 16 in two days and wants to leave his violent past behind him. Things seem to have taken a turn for the better with Jumah now; he has a sweet but tentative romance blossoming with a girl at school. But then Jumah witnesses a stabbing and the people involved want to make sure that he says nothing to the police about what he saw that night. Pressure mounts as violence forces it's way back into Jumah's life.

A sleepwalker. A body. A family. A small community. Arlene is like a ghost in her life. She lives in a small town in the midlands – surrounded by field after field, woodlands and laneways to disappear down and never come back… One morning Arlene wakes in the woods beside the body of a young woman. Someone watches from the trees. The body is soon discovered and suspicion spreads through the community. Increasingly drawn to the girl’s family – her grieving sister and accused boyfriend, Arlene barricades herself in at night, afraid to sleep. Haunted by grief buried and delayed, Arlene’s sleeping and waking realities soon blur. And all this time someone is watching her.

A young Englishman recently released from prison recruits his three best friends and to rob the local drug kingpin who is responsible for his incarceration. Can he get revenge and win back his fed-up girlfriend?

A married couple move back to his childhood village to start a family but a surprise visit from the husband's brother ignites sibling rivalry and exposes the lies embedded in the couple's relationship.

And I can't wait to see what they do next. 

Watch out for the the forthcoming films from directors, whose work I can't wait to see, Paul King, Amma Assante, Ron Scalpello, Susan Jacobson, Niall Heery, Sarah Gavron, Lisa Barros D’Sa, Tom Harper and writer Jack Thorne as well as the feature debuts of Nick Ryan, David Leon and Claire Wilson.

My quote:
Today's news was published by word of mouth in the streets of ancient Athens. ~ Anonymous
Keep writing!