Equality Rules: Stockholm International Film Festival Returns

Still from ‘Un beau soleil interieur’ by Claire Denis

While for several years Iceland has topped the list as the most gender-equal country in the world, according to World Economic Forum, Sweden is hot on their heels, coming in at fourth place. So considering Sweden’s focus on gender equality, it comes as no surprise that the Stockholm Film Festival serves as a great example to the rest of the film festival circuit and the film industry in general. Film is an industry where female filmmakers make up an incredibly small portion, especially when it comes to the big budget films, but not only has the Stockholm Film Festival’s biggest prize gone to an equal number of women as men since the year 2000, the number of films by women that are screened at the festival is far greater than elsewhere. Festival director Git Scheynius gives us the details.

This year you have a focus on female directors, we obviously know women are underrepresented in filmmaking, but could you explain your views on this and why you have your focus on this right now?

We have chosen to promote female directors for many reasons. Firstly, we have an audience that is equal parts men and women. But even though the interest in film is equally divided between genders, we don’t see any progression from the film industry in combating the inequality that still exists when it comes to filmmakers.

Secondly, since men are more likely to get financial support for their movies and also have been proven to mostly produce movies with men in the leading roles, we see a lack of stories about women on the big screen – both behind and in front of the camera.
By highlighting the fantastic work that is done by female directors and producers worldwide we strive to give our audience a broader spectrum of high quality films than any other film festival.

I know the main prize at the Stockholm Film Festival, the Bronze Horse, has been given to an equal number of female filmmakers as male since 2000, and that must be unique on the film festival circuit. Has that ever been on your mind?

An international jury selects the winner of the Bronze Horse, but of course the statistics are a result of the line-up for the competition. It would be hard to give the award to a female director if there were none in the competition. But Stockholm film Festival’s main objective has always been to offer female directors the place in the industry that they rightfully deserve.

This means that we work extensively to find more films by female directors. Every year we watch over 4,000 movies to find the 150 that are finally screened at the festival.
The film festivals in both Cannes and Venice do a great job, but we don’t share their opinion that there’s a lack of female directors around to be put in the main competitions.

I read that two years ago, only four percent of the top 100 films worldwide were directed by women, but the Sundance Film Festival proudly boast that about 25 percent of their films have been made by women. Do you know what level Stockholm Film Festival has been at and does, and should, gender come into the process when evaluating if a film should be on the programme or not?

At the Stockholm International Film Festival, a third of the program consists of films directed by female directors, which is a much higher number than other film festivals. Right now we are satisfied with this number. In the future I hope that we see a market that welcomes men and women equally.

Stockholm International Film Festival is not against affirmative action as a tool to stimulate change in society, but we don’t select films based on gender. We select films based on quality. And we do that by watching a greater number of movies directed by women than any other film festival.

One can of course argue that this method is a kind of affirmative action, but we see it as giving female directors a justified priority, as men have enjoyed this privilege in every other historic era.

What do you think is the reason it’s harder for women to get a foothold in the movie business? Apparently the percentages are higher in television and I have seen that women are far more represented in documentaries as well, but it’s when it comes to the big money productions, traditionally made by the bigger film companies, where the problem is the most obvious. Accessing those financing opportunities is apparently an issue. What, if anything, could be done to change this male domination of the industry?

In Sweden we are on our way to changing this, at least on paper. Today the financial support that is handed out by the Swedish Film Institute is equally divided between male and female producers. This makes Sweden a front-runner, even among the Nordic countries.

The fact that the industry is so male dominated is holding the film industry back. The film industry would benefit by taking a second look at who actually are the main consumers of culture – women.

Right now we need an equal production industry that doesn’t just promote male filmmakers, and we also need the industry to start giving more and bigger financial support to female filmmakers.

Finally, could you give us your top five, female-made, highlights of this year’s festival programme?

1. Ava by Léa Mysius

2. Falling by Marina Stepanska

3. Los Perros by Marcela Said

4. Let The Sunshine In by Claire Denis

5. The Party by Sally Potter

Stockholm International Film Festival runs between Nov 8-19

Words: Peter Steen-Christensen