MANIFF: Women in Film Panel

Interviewed by film critic Tom Percival, Manchester International Film Festival included an hour-long panel dedicated purely to the work of international female filmmakers. These included Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Stef Dawson (Hunger Games), Tori Butler Hart (Two Down), Alicia Slimmer (Creedmoria) and Bronwen Hughes (Breaking Bad and Forces of Nature). It allowed the women behind some of the best films and TV shows to discuss the impact of females in the industry and allowed the audience to question them on their works and experiences.

Percival opened up the discussion by encouraging the women to discuss the shockingly low amount of women involved in the production making of the top films in the industry.

Bronwen Hughes began the discussion by stating that, although ‘Chicks can definitely make flicks’ women in most cases just have to ‘get on with it’ to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have the same capability and skill to make the best films, regardless of their gender.

Tori Butler Hart continued the conversation by telling her experience at the TIFF Panels where, by pure chance, all of the producers had happened to be women and all the directors happened to be men. She further explained that, while female directors had been invited to speak at the panel, they had simply been too busy working on their own films to be able to make it. It certainly seems to prove, therefore that the film industry is becoming more accepting of women in the film industry, and it’s because of their pure hard work and talent that it’s the case. Karen Allen seemed to agree with this with her optimistic attitude where she stated that, although she believed there needed to be more female directors to bring out new and original projects, she also stated that Sundance had found that when it came to independent films, there were more women than men in production.

While it seemed that the general opinion was that women were becoming more recognised in the film production industry when Percival mentioned obtaining finance for films directed and produced by women, the general consensus seemed to be it was more difficult for women than men.

Hart then expressed her belief that when it came to UK financing, BFI money is becoming more and more ‘soft money’, therefore you either need to know someone within the 40% tax bracket to help you, or rely on other companies instead. Alicia Slimmer then went on to declare simply that ‘fundraising sucks’, as it always has and always will but still believes it is a good time to be a woman because the pressure in on for those involved in the industry, giving them a great opportunity to prove themselves.

However, Hughes argued that when it comes to financing, the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy causes many women to fall into the trap of feeling they don’t deserve the same amount as men. She told the audience what she knew about Paramount, stating that they gave less funding to female-led films, as they thought that they wouldn’t sell as well unless they were ‘Women in relationships, so you know… Boring.’ As the lower budget meant that the marketing wouldn’t be as successful, it causes a never-ending cycle, therefore ‘dooming me to indie’. She concluded her argument by proclaiming that ‘Don’t tell me I’ve got to make small ideas because that’s all you’re willing to risk.’

Stef Dawson expressed her opinion that it was an exciting time for women and believed that discussions and interviews such as the Women in Film Panel itself were a great advancement for women. Hart argued that often, especially in commercial films, giving the example of Star Trek, there is always one ‘strong’ woman who can be used to be put in trailers but often do next to nothing in the film. Dawson went on to agree, arguing that while her experience in The Hunger Games was refreshing, as Katniss is a brilliant role model, she’s also tired of seeing the same type of weak roles for females in the top films.

Allen then stated that, while she felt nothing but empowered from her experience in the theatre, as she always felt she had the power to say ‘no’ when she didn’t feel comfortable with or disagreed with a situation, she didn’t feel the same way when acting in films as she believed it had a ‘vein of sexism running through it.’

Dawson described her experience of fighting to keep a script change, as she believed it made the female character more though provoking and engaging. While she was successful, she also stated the feeling of people saying that you are ‘bossy’, a ‘diva’ or a ‘bitch’ if you’re a woman that defends her professional opinion. Hughes agreed, arguing that whenever she wanted to change something in a film, she had to convince the men involved in the process that it was their idea rather than her own.

Slimmer concluded the debate by explaining her own experience of ‘spending a year crying’ when she spent 10 years making her film My First Car. She argued that she often felt she had to beg, borrow and steal in order to find success, joking that she lied and flirted with men who owned the cars she wanted to be in her film. It was a funny ending to the in-depth debate that had been held.

In summary, the general debate seemed to be that, while women appeared to be progressing within the film industry, they were still being limited in regards to¬†financing, limiting them to mostly indie films, rather than being able to break into the top films bracket. So while we’ve certainly made remarkable progress, we still have quite a way to go.

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We teamed up with Humanity Hallows to bring you complete coverage of the Manchester International Film Festival. You can view the full list of reviews which is being updated as we post new content here.

Eve Sweeney

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