The National Film Board of Canada is about to unveil an ambitious expansion of its gender-equity plan, pushing women into such traditionally male professions as cinematographer, composer and screenwriter. The new plan, which will be announced Tuesday on the eve of the Vancouver Women in Film Festival, will build on a gender-parity initiative that the NFB unveiled last year.
Under the first step, the federal cultural agency had announced that by 2019 half of the projects it produces would be directed by women and half of the money it spends on films would go to projects directed by women. While the feature-film industry both in Hollywood and in Canada remains heavily dominated by male directors, the NFB goal seemed realistic because it has a long institutional history of promoting films made by women and produces mainly documentaries, a field in which women are better represented.
Now, however, the NFB wants to go further and is setting a bold goal of gender parity by 2020 in key creative roles for animation and interactive projects as well as documentaries, and including cinematography, editing, music and screenwriting in the plan.
"A film is a collaboration of many key creative contributors," NFB chair Claude Joli-Coeur said in an interview. "The [parity for] directors is something so many people have been pushing for, for many, many years: When we committed on gender equity on directors and budget that was a first step. But I knew there was also concern for other positions; I just wanted to take some time and collect some data and organize ourselves."
Joli-Coeur said NFB staffers found little industry data about these secondary creative positions, so they turned to the film board's own statistics: "I was shocked to see how low we were," he said.
Indeed, while the NFB can now boast that in 2016-2017, 44 per cent of its works were directed by women and another 5 per cent by mixed teams, the numbers plummet when you look further down the credits: Only 27 per cent of screenwriters are women, 24 per cent of film editors, 12 per cent of cinematographers and 13 per cent of composers.
"I saw there was an emergency," Joli-Coeur said.
While some of these areas, especially cinematography, are heavily dominated by men and tend to recruit from the technical side of the industry where few women work, Joli-Coeur said the do-it-yourself ethos of many young female filmmakers should make it relatively simple to prepare them for these jobs.
"We do about 60 productions a year: The talent pool is wider than our output. I'm sure we can find them," he said.
To achieve the goal, the NFB will be working with educational institutions and professional guilds as well as with several activist organizations that have been pushing for change, including Women in Film and Television Vancouver, which is organizing this week's festival.
The NFB's 2016 announcement on gender equity has spurred others in the field: Telefilm Canada, the federal agency that funds the Canadian industry, has set itself the vaguer 2020 goal of ensuring its portfolio better reflects Canadian diversity. It has been estimated that less than a quarter of projects funded by Telefilm are directed by women, and those are disproportionately low-budget films.