Thursday, February 18, 2016

ADG calls for 50% of feature films to be directed by women. Is this an equal opportunity Pandora’s Box we filmmakers want to open?


“Screen Australia is considering a radical push for a quota to ensure 50 per cent of the directors of funded films are women.”

Sydney Morning Herald

Would such a quota result in better Australian films?

"It's ridiculous," says Gill Armstrong. "It's been 30 years since Jane Campion and I went through a glass ceiling and I feel there haven't been enough people following us."

Did Gill or Jane (Jocelyn Moorhouse should be on this list) rise to and break through the ‘glass ceiling’ as a result of quotas or because they were talented directors?

A question worthy of discussion, debate? I think so.

Between 2009 and 2014, Rosemary Neill’s ‘Gender Agenda’ article tells us, only 15% of Australian feature films were directed by women.

Is this a problem? Were women directors being discriminated against?

Between 2009 and 2014 three of the key Screen Australia decision makers vis a vis feature film production were women - CEO Ruth Harley,  Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron and script development Martha Coleman.

Is the fact that they only greenlit 15% feature films with women directors evidence that Ruth, Fiona and Martha (along with the heads of state film funding bodies, mostly women) were discriminating against female directors?

Or did this cohort of largely female film bureaucrats recommend feature projects to the Screen Australia board  (amply represented by women  – Claudia Karvan, Rachel Perkins and Rosemary Blight amongst others), because they believed them to be the best, regardless of the gender of the director?

59% of documentary projects funded by Screen Australia during this same period had woman directors.

Is this evidence of gender bias in documentary? Or does it suggest that women were submitting documentary projects of a higher quality than men?

Will there be a call by the Screen Director’s Guild and Screen Australia to rectify gender inequity in the documentary sector? 50/50 quotas for male and female documentary directors?

Out of context, raw statistics such as those quoted in ‘Gender Agenda’ (15% women directors) tell us little.

90% of nurses are women? Is this because men are discriminated against in the nursing profession? Or is it because there are other factors that draw more women to nursing than men?

There are more female than male journalists, authors, teachers, lab technicians, therapists, editors, librarians and insurance underwriters? Are men being discriminated against in these professions or is it simply that more women than men are attracted to them?

Could it be that more women are drawn to documentary filmmaking than men and that there is not a problem that needs to be rectified?

What proportion of feature film projects submitted to Screen Australia for investment funding  had women directors attached, compared to those with male directors?

If , say, only 15% of feature films recommended by Screen Australia for investment funding had women directors attached, ‘only’ 15% of feature films with women directors is evidence of gender equality; not inequality. The same applies, of course, if 59% of documentary projects submitted to Screen Australia had women directors.

Statistics can be made to tell almost any story that suits the agenda of those using them. Imagine the following hypothetical scenario:

10 feature projects are submitted to Screen Australia for investment funding.

Owing to SA budgetary constraints only 3 can receive funding.

All 10 projects are of roughly equal quality; all deserving of funding.

8 of the projects have male directors attached; 2 have female directors.

Screen Australia greenlights  2 projects with male directors and 1 with a female director.

This statistic can be looked at in two ways:

(1) Male directors have twice the opportunities (2:1) of women directors.

(2) Male directors have a 25% chance (1 in 4) of getting their project funded whilst women directors have a 33% chance (1 in 3) of receiving funding.

This same statistic could be used by both men and women to ague that they were being discriminated against.

As Benjamin Disraeli said (or was it Mark Twain?) “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Playing the statistics game a little longer:

2.4% of Australians identify as Aboriginal, whilst 2.2% of Australians are Muslim.

Aboriginal directors receive infinitely more funding than Muslim directors? Is this fair?  Are Muslim directors being discriminated against? In the interests of equity, shouldn’t Muslim directors (filmmaking teams) receive as much funding as Aboriginal directors/teams?

And what about the 2% of Australians who are gay? Shouldn’t there be almost as many feature films made by gay directors as by Aboriginal directors? And what about disabled directors, directors suffering from a mental illness, transgender directors? And so on.

Whilst on the subject of statistics:

Imagine a funding world, the one espoused by the Australian Director’s Guild, in which 50% of feature film directors must be women.

A hypothetical but highly probably scenario:

Screen Australia conducts an assessment round in which (money is tight) only 10 projects with directors attached can receive script development monies. The 7 projects deemed by SA Project Managers to be of the highest quality have women writers and directors attached.  Only 3 in the ‘top 10’ have have male writers and directors attached.

In accordance with the 50/50 policy espoused by the Australian Director’s Guild, script development monies must be split evenly between projects with male and female screenwriters; male and female directors.

So, two of the female screenwriter/director teams must, in the interests of equal opportunity, be knocked back whilst two projects of lesser quality, developed by men, receive funding.

Would this be fair?

And if the same principle is applied to documentary, should a Gill Armstrong documentary be knocked back in order to meet a 50/50 doco quota in favour of a male directed doco of lesser quality? (How would you feel about this, Gill?)

Should this equal opportunity concept is applied to all groups within society who feel, quite justifiably perhaps, that they are inadequately represented when it comes to funding decisions? If transgender, disabled, mentally ill, Muslim etc (fill in the minority group of your choice) filmmakers say, "How come we never receive funding? We feel discriminated against!" how will the Australian Director’s Guild respond? What argument will the ADG (and Screen Australia) mount in support of the proposition that equity applies to the gender of directors but not to sexual orientation, religious affiliation or class?


Yes, why not?

 “…I am also concerned about class,” says Kate Cherry, Black Swan artistic director, “I think that is going to be our next issue.”

The next issue!

Once the 50/50 male/female director goal has been achieved, will the next goal be 50% privately schooled filmmakers and 50% state school filmmakers? 50% middle class directors/50% working class directors?

I am only half-joking!

Once the quota concept has taken hold, become an integral part of our thinking, where do we stop thinking in terms of quotas without seeming to be discriminatory?

Is this an equal opportunity Pandora’s Box we filmmakers want to open?  Do we want to see, in any one year, films made by a rainbow coalition of directors representing different interest groups?

A feature film with a transgender Muslim director may well get ticks in lots of boxes, but if it is a second rate film, if if fails to put bums on seats, will we not, as an industry, have shot ourselves in the foot?

Might a quota system working against our long term interests, even if it does elicit the short term warm inner glow that accompanies behaving in a politically correct way?

Will the questions raised here be discussed, debated, amongst film and TV story-tellers? Or will Guild and government film bureaucrats take it upon themselves to impose their quota-inspired ideas on the rest of us – hoping that we filmmakers will not want to be branded as ‘sexist’ if we think that the imposition of quotas is a bad idea?


I was hoping that the Australian Director’s Guild might publish this opinion piece in its online magazine ‘Screen Director’. My contribution to a debate that I felt was important for Australian filmmakers to have. 

It didn’t work out that way!

20th Jan 2016

Dear ADG

Just a few days ago I became aware of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald which suggests the ADG supports the imposition of quotas to provide women with opportunities equal to those of men. In the interests of discussion, debate, I would like to have the following piece published in the ADG's online publication, "Screen Director"



28th Jan 2016

Dear Members of the Australian Director's Guild

My email of 8 days ago has been ignored. As was the case with my Musical Chairs' article close to a year ago, it seems that the Australian Director's Guild does not wish to publish anything in "Screen Director" which might question the status quo or, in this instance, what the ADG would like to become the new status quo - quotas!

Over the past 10 or so days, since the publication of Rosemary Neill's article ("Gender Agenda") I have been involved in a few spirited conversations about this issue. Some filmmakers think quotas to be a good idea and some not. Such a divergence of views is to be expected and all points of view on any 'quota' proposal should, in my view, be discussed at length amongst Australian filmmakers. No voices should be silenced.

My voice has, yet again, been silenced and the ADG has revealed itself to be but a shadow of the organisation we formed all those years ago when it was an integral part of the ADG's role to engage in vigorous debate.

I have written another draft of my article if you should decide that a debate is worth having about this contentious topic.



4th Feb 2016

Samantha Lang
Australian Director’s Guild Board

Dear Samantha

I wonder if you are aware that two weeks ago I asked the ADG if it would be interested in publishing, in ‘Screen Director’,  a piece I had written about The ADG’s proposal that “a quota be set on Screen Production Funding allocating 50% to projects directed by women.” It was and remains intended to stimulate discussion/debate about the proposal.

I have received no response to my email of 20th Jan or my follow-up email of 28th Jan.

Will there be debate within the ADG about whether or not quotas are a good idea?

Has there been or will there be an opportunity for dissenting voices such as my own to be heard?



5th Feb 2016

From Samantha Lang, President of the ADG


Thank you for following up on your first correspondence. Women In Film Action Committee (WIFAC) had not met since then, given the festive season and summer holidays.

When we do meet we will draft a collective response to your questions. 

Kind Regards, 

Samantha Lang

Dear Samantha

Whilst I will read the ‘Women In Film Action Committee’s’ (WIFAC) response with interest, surely the Australian Director’s Guild does not require permission from WIFAC to publish it in ‘Screen Director’?

I have written my ‘opinion piece’ in the hope that it might generate some lively discussion and debate about a topic important to all filmmakers. And I would hope that other filmmakers (of both genders) will contribute to the debate.

If the same quota proposed by WIFAC were applied to screenwriters, how would Screen Australia bureaucrats choose between these two hypothetical projects

“BOYS” is a feature film written by a man, with a predominantly male cast, a male cinematographer, a male producer, exploring ‘masculine’ themes but to be directed by a woman.

“GIRLS” is a feature film written by a woman, with a predominantly female cast, a female cinematographer, a female producer, exploring ‘feminine’ themes but to be directed by a man.

Screen Australia is struggling to remain true to the the 50/50 male/female director quota. To meet the quota “BOYS” must receive funding. The problem is that it is generally agreed that “GIRLS” is a much better project.

How should Screen Australia decide between the two projects?

I should add here that I consider screenwriters to be filmmakers and find it difficult to understand, if 50% of films must be directed by women, why the same principle should not apply to screenwriters. Will the ADG support such a move on the part of the Writer’s Guild, or oppose it?

So, if “GIRLS” has a male director and female screenwriter and “BOYS” has a female director and male screenwriter, how does Screen Australia decide which one will best meet its quota obligations?

And what if there is a project that is infinitely superior to both “BOYS” and “GIRLS” entitled (let’s say) “BLACK”. The director is Aboriginal but given that Aboriginals comprise just 2.4% of the Australian population and yet Aboriginal directors have received more than 2.4% of Screen Australia production funding in the previous year, should the project be passed over in the interests of SA meeting its quota targets? And the production funding given to either “BOYS” or “GIRLS”?

It seems to me that the appropriate response on  the part of the ADG would be to open this topic up for discussion, welcoming the different viewpoints of all filmmakers. The ADG could even consider having a public debate:

Two teams – one for quotas and one opposing quotas. Have a good moderator and, after the formal debate (three on each team), invite filmmakers present in the audience to ask questions of the two teams or make their own observations. This could be (and should be) a lively debate in which both sides listen to and respect each others opinions and in which name-calling and self-serving monologues would not be tolerated by the moderator.

In the meantime, please publish my ‘opinion piece’ in ‘Screen Director’. And, I believe, the ADG should publish pieces written by other filmmakers with opinions different to my own to generate much needed debate.



Dear Members of the ADG Board

It is now 3 weeks since I sent 'Screen Director' a draft of my 'Gender Agenda' article. To date, the only feedback I have received from 'Screen Director' is that WIFAC will get back to me with 'collective' answers to my questions.

Does WIFAC represent the official ADG position on quotas? Is there a Men In Film Action Group (MIFAC) to which I could direct these same questions? Will the ADG allow dissenting views such as my own to be added to the mix to be debated?

Whilst I imagine that WIFAC’s argument in favour of quotas (to be made public I hope!) will provide an interesting perspective on the topic, and an important contribution to a debate that must be had, I do hope that the ADG will, through its newsletter and ‘Screen Director’ canvass a diverse range of opinions regarding quotas?

As far as I can tell, from my conversations with a handful  of fellow filmmakers this past few weeks, there has been no discussion between the ADG and its members about the 50/50 gender equality policy position it has adopted re feature films. But not, curiously, in relation to documentary!?  Why not? How does WIFAC rationalize this policy discrepancy?

The ADG has, it seems, simply decided to implement its gender equality policy without consultation with ADG members or the film and television community. If I am wrong about this, if there has been consultation of which I am unaware, please correct me.

It seems also that WIFAC has the right, as part of the ADG, to veto an opinion piece such as my own that questions the notion that gender equality, applied to the direction of feature films, is good policy? Again, if I am wrong, please correct me.

The ADG board’s silence here is worrying. Why are you so fearful of a debate amongst the filmmakers you represent?

I ask again, in the interests of discussion/debate, that you publish an opinion piece (mine) which argues against the proposition that gender-based quotas are a good idea. And, perhaps, as a companion piece, ‘Screen Director’ could publish WIFAC’s argument as to why quotas a good idea.

Let the debate begin.



9th Feb 2016

Dear James,

I am responding on behalf of the President Samantha Lang.

The WIFAC committee is a sub-committee of the ADG and has been formed through its normal processes by the ADG Board. It has consulted widely with members of both genders and advances debate. Its push is for all directors in whatever genre they are working but has used the feature film statistics as an example of the inequity. It is slightly better in television and documentary but still appallingly low.

The debate over this issue is being held in the public domain and not behind closed doors. The ADG regularly comments and releases information to fuel this debate. As you are not a member of the ADG I suggest you take the debate to the press as we have done and into forums such as the SPA Conference, specialist industry forums and through events such as the Lumina launch at the AFTRS. 


Dear Members of the Australian Screen Director’s Board

This response from Kingston (see below) does not really answer any of my questions.

I asked the following question 9 or so months ago when you declined to publish my opinion piece ‘Musical Chairs’, but I never got an answer.

“If I am a member of the ADG will ‘Screen Director’ publish my opinion piece’?

If so, I will join the ADG immediately. If not, could you please explain why a dissenting view from a filmmaker cannot be presented to ADG members?

This is an important discussion/debate and it should be open to any and all filmmakers – including those who are not members.

Incidentally, I have spoken with several filmmakers who are members of the ADG who are blissfully unaware of any debate or discussion having occurred regarding the question of the ADG’s proposed 50/50 policy. And I have been through 2 years of ‘Screen Director’ back issues and found not one that addresses the question of gender equality.



16th Feb 2016

Dear Members of the Australian Screen Director’s Board

It is now a month since I first offered my ‘Gender Agenda’ piece for consideration, via ‘Screen Director’, as a contribution to a debate that we should and must have.

Kingston has suggested (implied?) that my not being a member of the ADG disbars me from commenting. Is this the position of the board; that only a member can make a contribution, through the ADG, to the ‘gender agenda quota debate’? My forty plus years of experience as a filmmaker do not qualify me to express an opinion because I am not an ADG member?

Given that my question regarding becoming a member of the ADG has been ignored (yet again) it is difficult not to conclude, regardless of whether or not I am a member, that ‘Screen Director’ will publish nothing I write if it is in any way critical of Screen Australia or presents an opinion that is contrary to the one that informs the ADG’s policy position vis a vis ‘quotas’.

I have, somewhat reluctantly, but as someone who believes this is a debate that should be had in public, taken off my ‘filmmaker’s hat’ and put on my journalist's.

In the event that I have missed the ‘information’ that Kingston refers to (to “fuel this debate”) please do direct me to it. I do wish to be well informed when I write about this.



18th Feb

Dear Members of the Australian Director’s Guild board

It is difficult to believe, in this past month, that you have not, each of you (fellow filmmakers), been made aware of my correspondence regarding my ‘Gender Agenda’ opinion piece. Is there nothing in what I have written that has caused you to think, “Yes, we need, as an organization representing directors, to have a public debate about this?”

It is a sign of the times, I guess, and a disturbing one, that I should become persona non grata with an organization of which I was a founding member, for having the temerity to suggest that there be discussion, debate, about the ADG's 50/50 gender policy when it comes to directing feature films! But not, curiously, when it comes to directing documentaries! Why is this?

Will the ADG release a paper of any kind regarding its policy position for discussion? Will ADG members  (and non members) be given an opportunity to take part in a debate that has significant ramifications for the kinds of feature films that receive funding? Will the ADG explain why the 50/50 male/female director policy should apply to feature films and not documentary?

The most disturbing aspect of this debate is that the ADG appears not to be interested in there being one at all. If I am wrong about this, start one and allow all voices to be heard.

There is clearly no point in trying to have a dialogue with the ADG so this will be my last email in relation to my opinion piece. I will, however, make one last observation.

Whilst I believe that quotas are a bad idea, there is clearly a strong argument that can be made for improving access to the means of development and production for those whose lack of opportunity is not matched by a lack of talent. The decision, a quarter of a century ago now, to actively support Aboriginal filmmakers has been very successful. It has borne creative fruit that have enriched our cultural heritage, of which Australia can be proud and which will be valued by future generations of Australians. This was good policy. It was not brought about as a result of a quota. Indeed, if a quota had been in place at the time it is highly likely (given that Aboriginal Australia’s make up only 2.4% of the population) that there would have been less Aboriginal films made than there have been this past quarter century. Quotas are, in my view, a bad way to address the kinds of imbalances that exist within the Australian film.



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