Parity measures: reports from three Canadian women directors
We might forget that gender parity initiatives in the Canadian audiovisual industry only date back to 2016 and 2017. The National Film Board (NFB) led the way, followed by Telefilm, then the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC), and the Canada Media Fund (CMF). So by the next round of funding application deadlines, gender parity initiatives will turn just six years old. In this piece, we’re interested in diving deeper into the work of female directors. How does their work play out on the field? Where are they in their careers? Have we achieved parity?
“The whole parity movement made me aware of certain things I hadn’t necessarily thought about. It might be naive, but I didn’t think that I could be paid less than a man,” says Acadian director Renée Blanchar. “I always took some of these things for granted, but turns out we’re not there yet and we have to be on guard.”
After an impressive path that took her to la Fémis in France (École nationale des métiers de l’image et du son); membership in the Festival de Cannes jury; and then to revising scripts internationally, Renée Blanchar decided to head home to Caraquet, New Brunswick, to work on her projects and cinematic ideas.
“Since Belle-Baie, in 2010, I’ve always sensed a corridor connecting me with Quebec. I work, I write mostly from Caraquet, and after that, my work gets bigger,” she maintains. In 2022, her Le Monde de Gabrielle Roy series, which she wrote and directed, was nominated in three Gémeaux award categories.
Before these parity measures, funding the production of a big-budget, million-dollar series by a female director would have been unimaginable, maintains the Réalisatrices équitables organization. In fact, that’s what led them to initiate lobbying and awareness campaigns to government bodies in 2007.
“Female directors realized that financing in Quebec and Canada was very inequitable, both in terms of accepted projects and budgets spent on projects directed by women,” explains the organization’s president Anik Salas. “There was a real equality problem there. Which is problematic because cinema in Canada is financed by the state. We all pay for it. Only last year (2021) did we achieve parity levels in films with budgets of 2.5 million and more.”
The contribution of women directors
The arrival of female filmmakers also brings change to workplace dynamics. According to Renée Blanchar, the more collaborative atmosphere that often exists on a woman-run set is due to the bumps on the road that were experienced by the female director in question. “Are we different? I personally believe it has to do with personality and values. I don’t like people who crush others, I don’t like big egos, so I try to surround myself with people who are a little bit like me, because balance is fragile on sets and it doesn’t take many headstrong people to flip the mood. But maybe since I’m a woman, and I know it’s difficult to get here and do this and have free rein in a field where men have shone, perhaps this makes me more sensitive and affects the way I manage a set,” she concludes.
This resonates with the story of dancer, performer and choreographer turned director Danielle Sturk. The Franco-Manitoban, who is the writer and director of the series El Toro (available on Radio-Canada platforms in March 2023) says leadership style comes down to personality as opposed to gender identity. “I don’t think that women direct differently, nor that we’re more sensitive than men. But we have been brought up to listen, to be emotive, to develop our emotional intelligence, while guys were ridiculed if they did that,” she explains. “I think that because women were excluded and considered second class citizens, this affects our vision of the world and the way we approach things, and therefore, our sets. But I hope that when equity is in place, all of us of all genders will be able to have different styles, and to be ourselves.”
Danielle Sturk’s new dramatic series El Toro is inspired by her family history which she first explored in a documentary that took home the audience award at Hot Docs in 2019. The story’s dramatic version is the fruit of her imagination. Despite her key roles in the project, the director still had to reassert her leadership on set. “I haven’t had a single experience, including El Toro, where I didn’t have to say, ‘I’m in charge here.’ I never saw a man have to say that,” she affirms.
Women and diversity
The evidence speaks for itself. Since 2016, we’ve been heading towards a parity zone of between 40% and 60%. But according to the Réalisatrices équitables president, there is still work to do in other aspects of the ecosystem. “We’re realizing that films directed by women are good, can win prizes, reach many people, and have an audience. What we still need is more complete representation: Indigenous and racialized women, women with disabilities... Then, critics must speak about them. We never refer to films directed by women as masterpieces or major works. These impressive adjectives are always reserved for men,” she says.
The Canadian organization Women in View, whose most recent report and recommendations was published in 2021, also invites the industry to concentrate on diversity and representation behind the camera, specifically for the Indigenous community. Among its recommendations is prioritizing projects directed by Indigenous people. “As research shows, increasing leadership opportunities is the most efficient way to create new film and television opportunities for Indigenous women.”
Toronto-based director Alpha Nicky Mulowa, whose self-taught journey has led her to practicing professionally since 2016, has noticed some change over the last two years. “In my case, things changed in 2020, because I wear two hats: I’m not just a woman, I’m a Black woman. So little by little, there has been a change, but it’s still relatively new.
Yet on set, female leadership remains a challenge. “As a woman on set, when we work with men, from the first day to the last, there will always be a day when they will try to show their power,” she explains. “They will want to impose something. And they don’t do that with as much ease when it’s a man directing. Even if the shoot goes well, there will be this moment where they want to show you that ‘I know better because I’m a man.’ Like it or not, that’s the reality.”