Entertainment

TIFF leads festivals in female-directed films

Though 'there is more work to be done,' experts say it’s worthy of celebrating because the industry has long lacked support for women.

Thirty-three per cent of films being screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year are directed by women.

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Thirty-three per cent of films being screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year are directed by women.

The Toronto International Film Festival is earning a hefty round of applause this year — and it’s not just for its star-studded lineup.

The annual arts event has managed to boost the number of female-directed films it will screen to 33 per cent, up just three per cent from last year, but a significant jump from decades ago when women-helmed projects made up a much smaller contingent of the festival.

Though 33 per cent is still short of parity, experts say it’s worthy of celebrating because the industry has long lacked support for women and has been resistant to funding female filmmakers. “TIFF is better than most” because festivals often can’t just stumble on parity, you have to want to achieve it and make a concerted effort to reach it, said Leah Meyerhoff, the founder of women’s collective Film Fatales.

By comparison, 15.8 per cent of the Cannes Film Festival’s competition slate was female-directed. Last week, the Venice Film Festival’s director said “I don’t think it’s our fault” for screening just one film by a woman in their 21-film lineup.

TIFF moved the needle because it partnered with 13 women’s films groups on programming, made 55 per cent of its industry conference speakers women, and offered workshops and networking opportunities for female filmmakers. To keep building on that success, it recently launched the Share Her Journey initiative with a residency program for emerging female filmmakers and a commitment to tracking data on women in the industry.

But that doesn’t mean TIFF will sit back and relax. The non-profit says 33 per cent films from women “reflects both progress and work still to be done”. That work needs to be shared by the industry, which makes it “very hard for women, especially women of colour, to get their films financed,” says Meyerhoff. When they land backing, it is often for documentaries, which cost less and are seen as low-risk.

Putting the spotlight on minority filmmakers, like TIFF has done for women, could help, say experts.

Meyerhoff even thinks the festival has the resources to bring its festival lineup to gender or minority parity by 2018.

Knowing how far off TIFF is from minority parity now is a mystery because, like most festivals, it doesn’t release race and ethnicity data. Offering that its filmmakers come from 74 countries and that again “there is more work to be done” is the closest it gets to revealing its representation of minority filmmakers.

Martha Lauzen, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film’s executive director, said “sexuality, race, and ethnicity have traditionally been more difficult to track,” in part because festivals would need to request directors to self-identify. Whether that information can even be requested is a grey area because laws prevent some institutions from asking for the information.

“Many (filmmakers) do not wish to self-identify for statistical purposes,” said TIFF. “Many would like their films to be their calling card and have chosen to focus on inspiring chance with the stories they tell.”

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