Irish film and TV urged to move away from ‘boys club’ culture

Industry professionals gather in Limerick to discuss greater participation of women

 Dr Susan Liddy, lecturer in Media Studies, Mary Immaculate College with US writer and director Melissa Silverstein at the college. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Dr Susan Liddy, lecturer in Media Studies, Mary Immaculate College with US writer and director Melissa Silverstein at the college. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

 

Irish film and television must act now to make entry into the industry more accessible for women and build an equal distribution of women writers, directors and producers, a gathering of industry professionals has heard.

“Over time women have downsized their ambition and see the Irish film industry as being a boys club,” said Dr Susan Liddy, organiser of the New Horizons: Women in the Irish Film & Television Industries event in Limerick. “The aim is to show that facilitating women to tell their stories is a positive thing for the Irish film industry.”

Friday’s event at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick brought together broadcasters, writers and practitioners from across the State and abroad to discuss how best to develop a greater female contribution to Irish film and television.

In her research into the gender issues around script development and production funding in Ireland, Dr Liddy has found that just 13 per cent of Irish films made between 1993 and 2013 were written by women.

She commended the Irish Film Board (IFB) for “leading the charge towards equality” by launching its six-point plan on gender equality and publishing gender statistics on women’s participation in Irish film between 2010 and 2016 but added that the board could still do more to ensure the implementation of the policy.

“Women have spent years watching Irish films with an overwhelmingly male landscape. We need initiatives to persuade women that the past can be consigned to the past and the film board are actively seeking their involvement.”

Chief executive of the board James Hickey, who spoke at Friday’s event, said he hoped to work with other organisations in the sector to develop the board’s gender equality plan.

“Gender equality and diversity allow for storytelling from all sections of society in Ireland. We want to be able to facilitate, through our funding, Irish creative talent from across the board. Some progress has been made but plenty of work needs to be done.”

New narrative

Melissa Silverstein, who attended Friday’s conference, explained how she set up her Women and Hollywood website 10 years ago to create a new narrative around film that was not solely white and male.

“The images we see on film reflect who we are. It’s about changing who our heroes are and letting boys and girls know that heroes can also be women and not white.”

Many women fear applying for positions as writers, producers and directors because of the male social norm that exists within the film industry, said Ms Silverstein. “If a woman’s not applying for a grant it’s because she’s been socialised that way. This is not about women, it’s about the system.”

Jane Gogan, head of drama at RTÉ, discovered last year that by calling for pitches from producers and writers separately from directors, far more women were inclined to apply.

“We’d noticed that applications were very driven by the director and in an enormous amount of cases this would be a young man. So the writer and producer had to come and pitch the project without the director.”

The new call resulted in twice as many women applying for commissions and an overall increase of 63 per cent in submissions. “You can’t apply bias in TV, you need the best. It’s about nudging the mechanics to see if you can open it up rather than the blunt approach of quotas. The problem is not intellectual or to do with work ethic, practices just need to change how people access their work.”

Head of TG4 Alan Esslemont, who also spoke on Friday, commended former director of the station Cathal Goan for opening the door to gender balance and strong women leaders when the station first launched more than two decades ago.

Today 11 of the 13 core editorial staff at the station are women along with 55 per cent of the overall staff. “There were definitely more men than women when the station first started but when I look around me at present I see that this has changed hugely,” said Mr Esslemont.