The Cannes Film Festival, which starts in May, has long been a showcase for films supported by the Creative Europe MEDIA programme – the EU’s €820m (£712m) fund for the film and audiovisual sector. Last year, the EU proudly boasted that 20 MEDIA-funded films were being screened at the festival, including Ruben Östlund’s The Square, winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or.
But with the status of women working in the film industry under increasing scrutiny following the Weinstein sex scandal, #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign, Brussels should perhaps pay more attention to the number of women filmmakers who receive MEDIA support. And if previous years are anything to go by, there is less to brag about.
My analysis of a sample of 1,473 films funded through MEDIA’s flagship theatrical distribution scheme – which promotes the cross-border circulation of European films – reveals that, during the most recent 2007-13 funding cycle, only 16% of MEDIA-funded films had a female director.
In financial terms, 13% of the distribution scheme’s €228m budget went towards films directed by women, while their median average award was 20% lower than male-directed MEDIA-funded films.
Why women get less backing
The lower amount of MEDIA distribution support received by female directors cannot solely be explained by the fact that women produce only 21% of films in Europe. My analysis of how the scheme operates – which I will be presenting at the Media Industries Conference at King’s College London on April 19 – suggests women filmmakers are discriminated against in subtle ways.
First, there is no recognition that female directors are underrepresented in terms of funding. MEDIA’s own interim evaluation of the 2007-13 funding cycle, for example, gives no indication of the gender balance among applicants or beneficiaries of MEDIA support.
Second, the film distributors who apply for MEDIA funding, as well as the assessors who approve or reject applications, are often men. Of the 30 British distribution companies that successfully applied for MEDIA distribution funding between 2007 and 2013, for example, only three (New Wave, Soda Pictures and Curzon Artificial Eye) had women in senior decision-making roles.
Third, women make fewer films of the type the MEDIA distribution scheme tends to support. MEDIA funding often goes towards award-winning dramas – which distributors expect to perform well in the arthouse or crossover film market. As one distributor told me: “We’re simply looking for quality titles. So obviously the more high-profile festival winners like Amour or The Great Beauty or Oscar-winners are on our radar.”
This disadvantages women filmmakers – and not because their films are of lesser quality than men’s. Indeed, according to my analysis of data from the Rotten Tomatoes website, female-directed MEDIA-funded films in the period 2007-13 were more popular with critics than those by their male counterparts – with an average aggregate rating of 6.4 out of ten compared with 5.9.
But female-directed films receive fewer awards, partly because film juries are often dominated by men. Since MEDIA’s launch in 1991, for example, only four of the 26 Cannes Film Festival juries have been chaired by a woman.
What audiences see
The gender funding gap in MEDIA distribution support limits the range of films and perspectives audiences see in cinemas. My analysis – which uses data from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and the European Audiovisual Observatory’s LUMIERE database – suggests male- and female-directed films released with MEDIA support between 2007 and 2013 had a lot in common. Most were mid-to-low budget French- or English-language dramas.
But female-directed MEDIA-funded films – including Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady (2011), Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009) and Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes (2009) – were five times more likely to feature a female protagonist. With lower MEDIA distribution support, such films had less to spend on Prints and Advertising (P&A), and so were seen by fewer people. The average female-directed MEDIA-funded films, for example, attracted 19,000 fewer cinemagoers in Europe in the period 2007-13 than those by their male counterparts.
In total, female-directed MEDIA-funded films reached 20m cinemagoers in Europe, compared with 200m cinemagoers for male-directed MEDIA-funded films. In some parts of Europe (for example Bulgaria, Estonia, Iceland), less than a dozen female-directed films were released with MEDIA distribution support throughout the whole 2007-13 funding cycle.
At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, there were calls to increase funding for the MEDIA programme. In an open letter, filmmakers – including Ken Loach, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Cristian Mungiu – declared: “European culture means putting together all singularities, all ways of life and points of view, all traditions, languages and histories that define each country.”
But unless women filmmakers receive a fair share of MEDIA distribution funding, audiences in Europe will have few opportunities to see female ways of life and points of view.