Only a quarter of movies at 2017 London film festival are directed by women
Festival director Clare Stewart admits the figure, up from a fifth last year, is bad but says parity is not currently possible
Marc Brown | The Guardian
A quarter of the films shown at the 61st BFI London film festival will be directed by women – a figure the organisers admit is “bad”.
But at least the proportion is rising, the festival director, Clare Stewart, said as she announced a programme of 242 feature films and 128 shorts from 67 countries, all to be screened over 12 days in October.
Last year, a fifth of the festival’s films were directed by women – a low proportion, but better than the 13% for films released in UK cinemas.
Stewart said there was a long way to go in achieving gender parity, and the BFI needed to play its part. “It is a responsibility of film festivals to highlight the important changes that need to happen in our industry,” she said.
“Getting more women behind the camera is something that will have a significant impact in terms of diversifying stories. But it’s also just basic gender equity, which is what we’re after.”
Stewart said it was important to give prominent festival slots to talented women. Among the headline gala films announced on Thursday were Dee Rees’s Mudbound, a story of racial tension ignited by the friendship of two second world war veterans in the Deep South, and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, a brutal psychological drama starring Joaquin Phoenix
In the festival’s official competition, four of the 12 films are directed by women, including Nora Twomey’s animated drama The Breadwinner, which is executive produced by Angelina Jolie and tells of one girl’s struggle in Taliban-controlled Kabul.
The London film festival announced its lineup in the opening week of the world’s oldest film festival, Venice. Only one film out of 21 in the Venice competition is directed by a woman: Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White, which is also a London contender.
Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice film festival, said it was not the festival’s fault. “I don’t like to think in terms of a quota when you make a selection process. I’m sorry that there are very few films from women this year, but we are not producing films.”
Stewart said the London festival aimed to include more films directed by women than the 13% average, but that true parity was not possible. “We’d have to shrink the programme,” she said.
Andy Serkis directorial debut Breathe to open 61st London film festival
However, Stewart said talking about the issue was important. “Us making a point of it each year, to be speaking out about it, not trying to hide it like it is a dirty secret, is a very important element of ensuring that change happens.”
London, the UK’s largest film festival, is a big deal in the film world, but it is not quite as significant as Cannes, Venice and Toronto, which hoover up the most eye-catching world premieres.
Nevertheless, 28 films will be seen for the first time in London. They include: Paddy Considine’s Journeyman, about a boxer rebuilding his life after a near fatal injury; Roland Joffé’s The Forgiven, a South African truth and reconciliation drama starring Forest Whitaker as Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake as an aspiring stand-up on the club circuit in the north of England.
Stewart said there would be “some really tough, challenging, edgy cinema” at this year’s festival, as well as films vying for the awards.
One of those could be the opening night gala film Breathe, which tells the true story of Robin Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield), who contracts polio as a young man and is left severely disabled. Given only months to live, he refuses to be confined to an institution and is broken out of hospital by his wife, Diana (Claire Foy). The film charts how the couple go on to live fulfilling, joyous lives.
Breathe could not be more personal to its producer, Jonathan Cavendish, the son of Robin and Diana. Cavendish said he had wanted to make the film for 20 years but the project only began to take shape a decade ago, when William Nicholson agreed to write it. “He agreed on one condition – that you don’t pay me until or unless the film happens,” Cavendish said. “As Bill is one of the top writers in the world, I thought that was a good deal.
“He didn’t want the film to be controlled or owned by anybody else.”
Cavendish said Breathe was a film about love. “It is about love enabling you to overcome obstacles that seem insuperable. It’s not really about disabled rights as such, my father didn’t involve himself in that. He simply thought that by living the life he could live and showing what fun you could have, what joy you could have ... it would affect other people.”
The producer’s most pressing concern during the process was simple: “It was so desperately important to not fuck it up. How embarrassing would it be to make a film about your parents and your own life and then make a fuck-up of it. That’s been a strain and continues to be a strain, to be honest.”
• The 61st BFI London film festival runs from 4-15 October