Is a quota for women in film necessary? | Film | DW | 16.11.2018
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Film

Is a quota for women in film necessary?

There are less women than men working as directors and behind the camera in the German film industry. They receive smaller budgets and less financial assistance. To change that, would a gender quota be fair?

Should there be a gender quota in the film industry? The role of women, #MeToo and the distribution of power in the industry were debated at all the leading film festivals this year.

While calls for a 50/50 balance of men and women in directorial and executive positions in the film industry by 2020 were made, most festivals remain far from reaching from such goals.

The DOK Leipzig festival has already established its own quota, through which not only 40 percent of the movies submitted must have female directors, but just as many must be selected in the competition, too.

Is a quota a good tool to create fair competition? DW asked Barbara Rohm of the Pro Quote Film association and Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of the film funding department of the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg .

DW: A woman in front of or behind the camera — does it make a difference? 

Barbara Rohm: I don't think there is a specifically male or female view of something. There is diversity among women, and the same is true among men. At the same time, we women have different kinds of experiences and different outlooks on our lives. And currently they are not expressed, or way too rarely, in film. That is important — film and TV contribute to shaping people's awareness — and currently 85 percent of films are created by men.

Just like women can't truly represent a man's reality, men can't do that for women, either. So it's women who have to tell their stories. They have to gain access to the resources society makes available in the arts and culture sector.

Kirsten Niehuus (Sabine Engels)

Kirsten Niehuus

Kirsten Niehuus: Removing the obstacles allowing women to work behind the camera and as directors is of the utmost importance. No one can deny that there are vastly more male than female directors at the moment.

That is just as deplorable as the fact that there are fewer female airplane captains, excavator operators and surgeons.

Still I wouldn't go so far as to say there is a difference between male and female art. Many female characters men have created for the screen are extremely feminine, they correspond to the female audience's views. And both men and women have created cliché female figures.

In 2013, Sweden started to distribute funds equally to men and women for film, script and production. Why isn't that happening in Germany?

Niehuus: Festivals and film funds should make that decision individually. It probably isn't a mistake to introduce a quota. However, ensuring gender equality in financial assistance is not the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg's only task. I find it's absolutely right to give as many women as possible a chance and that we take a close look at their projects. Our position now is that if two projects are of equal quality, a woman's film should be chosen over a man's. I'm thankful that the association Pro Quote Film has raised our awareness on the issue.

At the Film Funding at the Berlin-Brandenburg Medienboard, we have any quotas on the different kinds of genres we fund, either — how many arthouse films, how many comedies. The project itself has priority, and it comes as a package with the director, whether male or female.

Barbara Rohm (Orsino Rohm)

Barbara Rohm

Society still needs to accept that it is normal when "mom" is away for work — filmmaking means a woman will have little time for her family. That is a problem in many professions, not just for film directors. There is a basic understanding that mothers work part-time while fathers work full-time. Even here at the Medienboard, most of the people working part-time are mothers, not fathers. So I would say you can't just change the quota for film funding and festivals and everything will be fine.

Rohm: I think introducing quotas really is the only effective way to counter the current imbalance. Mere lip service won't change a thing. A quota would create a fair competition, which we currently don't have.

Balancing one's job and family isn't just a woman's problem. It's about family, and that concerns both men and women. A lot of young men in particular want to take on that responsibility. They too run into the problem that balancing work and family life is difficult. Also, equality concerns women without children, too, so issues of juggling the job and the family isn't the main reason for the imbalance.

Often, we are told that the films selected in festivals or for funding are chosen for their quality, and that should be the only criteria. Isn't that fair?

Rohm: You can't measure quality as if it were a 100 meter race.

Decisions on a film subsidy or for a competition are based on a system. Studies have shown why there are so few women in key creative positions: the people on the deciding end are greatly averse to risk, and they are not very courageous. And film production is a risky business, so they want to eliminate as many risk factors as possible. That's why they often resort to proved and tested formats and people.

We tend to look at men's potential, but women are perceived as a risk. Women always have to prove how much experience they have in any one area in order to be chosen. It's all based on stereotypical assumptions all of us have internalized. At the end of the day, quality is always a decision based on trust.

Mrs. Niehuus, you have been in charge of film funding at Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg since 2004, and you, Mrs Rohm, are a co-founder of the Pro Quote Film initiative. What has changed over the years?

Rohm: We have raised awareness to the fact that we are far from gender equality and that much still needs to be changed.

That doesn't only affect the women behind the camera, but those who are acting, too. We know that in cases where women hold the creative key positions, there's a change in what happens in front of the camera.

Things are changing. The most recent amendment to film funding legislation, for instance, stipulates that there must be an equal number of men and women on the committees. However, we still have a lot to do concerning the visibility of women. Not enough films made by women are being digitized — which means the female film legacy is currently disappearing.

There are more female directors nowadays, in particular on TV series. We feel, however, that should not be left to the good will of individual decision-makers. There should also be legal quotas determining how public funds are disbursed in the film and TV industry. Simply put, there is an obligation to equality — which is also anchored in our Basic Law.

Niehuus: Many production companies small and large have developed a greater willingness to employ women directors, they show a greater professional curiosity. These days, many editors, producers and sponsors think along the lines of, "That's something a female director could do really well." It is something they talk about. I believe that the boom in the industry thanks to the series, for instance, mainly benefits women.

 Kirsten Niehuus is film funding managing director at the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, a state-run company for the funding of films.

Barbara Rohm is a film director and photographer. She is co-founder and member of the board of Pro Quote Film, an initiative that numbers about 1,200 members and backers and is committed to women's equality in film.

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