Francine Raveney, étude du Réseau européen des professionnelles de l'audiovisuel (EWA) : Où sont les femmes réalisatrices ?

Hiding in plain sight

The scarcity of women film directors in Europe

A new report from the European Women’s Audiovisual network called ‘Where are the Women Directors?’ offers evidence proving gender inequality in European cinema—as well as recommendations for change. K interviewed the EWA’s founder, Francine Raveney, recently in Paris.

A film about five Turkish sisters directed by a woman was France’s submission for best foreign-language film at the Oscars this year. But it would be wrong to assume that the female directors, writers and actors involved in making Mustang play on a level field with men in France—or anywhere else in Europe.

Francine Raveney, étude du Réseau européen des professionnelles de l'audiovisuel (EWA) : Où sont les femmes réalisatrices ?

Where are the Women Directors? is a new in-depth study of gender inequality in cinema in seven European countries, produced by the EWA (European Women’s Audiovisual network) and released this spring. It was spearheaded by former director and current head of research and PR, Francine Raveney, who founded EWA in its current incarnation a few years ago.

Raveney explains that she became aware of gender issues while attending a progressive girls’ grammar school in England. Taught they could do anything, her classmates went on to become judges, barristers, “whatever they wanted.” She was one of 15 students in the first Women’s Studies course at Oxford, and later joined the Council of Europe as a communications expert, where the Eurimages film fund recruited her.

Working at Eurimages, she says she became “increasingly frustrated” to see that for all the support the fund gave to art house independent features—where everyone was supposedly “enlightened”—there were still few females in creative positions. In response, she took a two-year sabbatical in 2012 and set up the EWA network.

In the absence of statistics or research about the situation of women directors, she wanted to conduct a study that could leverage policy change. “There had been no in-depth pan-European study into female directors,” she says. “We needed something that provided both quantitative and qualitative research.”

Dwindling numbers

She limited the study to seven countries, as many as her team could manage: Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the United Kingdom. All offered in-kind support, and some helped finance the research. For two years, 15 university and industry researchers worked on the study, sending questionnaires to trade bodies, film school alumni and distribution companies, receiving responses from around 1,000 people.

Francine Raveney, étude du Réseau européen des professionnelles de l'audiovisuel (EWA) : Où sont les femmes réalisatrices ?

The research produced seven different reports reflecting the context in each of the countries studied, using 2013 as a sample year. One trend they reveal is that gender equality exists at film schools, with an average of 44 per cent of females among graduating directors. Inequality develops at the industry level, where only 24 per cent of working directors are women. “It wasn’t that girls weren’t applying to be directors,” says Raveney “It was that once they got into the industry, if they were lucky they made a first film, after that they just flopped out.”

In the seven countries, only 21 per cent of films were directed by women and a whopping 84 per cent of funding went to films directed by men. And the reasons? They include gender bias; a struggle for funding; investors’ aversion to supposed risk; low representation of women on funding panels; and pay differences. In France, for example, female directors earn, on average, 32 per cent less than men. At the same time, the quality of female-made films is by no means inferior: in 2013, they won more awards at festivals than those directed by men.


The researchers found intriguing differences between countries. In France, ‘gender blindness’ prevents people from admitting to reality—even if the percentage of female-directed features hovers around a meagre 20 per cent. ‘Republican universalism (and therefore the denial of difference) is internalised by the respondents, the industry, the film schools and the funding bodies,’ notes the report.

In the 7 countries, only 21 % of films were directed by women and a whopping 84 % of funding went to films directed by men.

For example, at the Cannes film festival, following a recent controversy over the absence of films by women, officials responded that ‘selection committees would not choose on the basis of gender, this being in line with the assumption that republican universalism stands as a guarantee of equality.’ Indeed, France was the only country in the report where women’s films didn’t win as many nominations or awards as men’s in 2013.

Across the Channel, in many ways the situation is worse: the British Film Institute reports that the proportion of women directing independent films between 2010 and 2012 was only 11 per cent, and men received between 80 and 90 per cent of national funding. But Raveney says that the debate is further advanced in Britain, since 94 per cent of respondents admit that gender inequality exists.

Not surprisingly perhaps, in Italy, home to RAI television, notorious for airing a stream of scantily-clad beauties during the Berlusconi era, numbers are comparable to the UK: around 11 per cent female-directed films overall. And the report reveals that in addition to gender bias, another reason for a scarcity of women directors is a ‘distorted self-perception which discourages them to engage in highly competitive and leading careers.’

And yet, Raveney says, “There is a real desire for change…because a lot of women were so fed up with the Berlusconi approach.” Today, Italy is home to a feminist movement called If not now, when? (Se non ora quando?).

Francine Raveney, étude du Réseau européen des professionnelles de l'audiovisuel (EWA) : Où sont les femmes réalisatrices ?

Show me (half of) the money!

Raveney’s expertise is in influencing policy, and this report comes up with 15 practical recommendations to tackle the problem—notably, going after the money. At the Cannes film festival in 2013, Raveney met Jane Campion (the only female director to have won the Palme d’Or), who told her to concentrate on an equal division of public funding for female directors.

Indeed, Raveney would like to see quotas, or at least targets. “Europe is lucky to have a public funding system for its industry,” she says. “If you impose a 50/50 approach, you can make a difference.”

The report offers different proposals for each country, and the EWA is following up with plans for change. In the UK, where 83 per cent of respondents are amenable to establishing quotas, the network is going to work with the British Film Institute and Directors UK. In France, where only 58 per cent approve the idea of funding quotas, Raveney says, “it’s all about raising awareness,” and trying to establish equality on juries and selection groups. The EWA has joined forces with the Women in Motion programme, an initiative of Kering and the Festival de Cannes.

Everything we watch on TV or film forms the universe we live in.

The EWA is holding awareness events in the Pula Film Festival in Croatia in July and at the Rome Film Festival in October. They work closely with Anna Serner, managing director of the Swedish Film Institute, which already has a target system, and has achieved a 50/50 gender share for directors. But, says Raveney, private funding is still an issue, as is the attitude of distribution companies. Back at Eurimages, she will try to influence European Union policy, too.

Having learned as a schoolgirl that change comes through education, Raveney is determined to do what she can to change people’s minds. “What is important is that women's voices be heard,” she says. “Whether as directors or strong characters, they need to occupy that audio-visual space in equal measure. Everything we watch on TV or film forms the universe we live in.”