50/50 By 2020: Gender Equality On Display At Cannes Film Festival

Anna Serner addresses the crowd at “50/50 by 2020” at the Cannes Film Festival.

By: Marjorie Galas

One day people will refer to women in the positions of president or film director (or any position in most any industry, really) simply as a “president” or as a “director” – not as a “female president” or “female director.”  Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, looks forward to this day.  However, until it arrives, Serner suggests it’s important the general public be reminded that women are not only capable of handling high level positions, but are firmly rooted in these roles at this time.

“I say ‘female leader’ not ‘leader’ because the issue has to be addressed in order to overcome the hurdles,” said Serner.

Utilizing her own position of power in the  film community in Sweden, Serner began calling the public’s attention to the lack of women in positions both in front of and behind the camera roughly four years ago.  At that time, Serner noted there was little interest in this plight.  This year, presenting a panel entitled “50-50 by 2020” at the Cannes international Film Festival, the tables have turned due to more vocal outcries, including the minimal representation of female directors on display over the years at the Cannes Film Festival.  Serner couldn’t help feeling a bit like a “rock star” as she saw the line forming for her event.  Held at La Plage Royale, the standing room only crowd arrived early and filled the room beyond capacity.   The panel, presented in conjunction with Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke, featured festival attendees Alexandrea-Theres Keining, director, “Girls Lost”, Emilie Lesclaux, producer, “Aquarius, Chaiara Telesi, producer and founder of “We Do It Better Together” and Roberto Oila, Executive director of Eurimages.   The group discussed issues such as the importance of highlighting percentages of women in the film industry as well noting the depictions of women on screen as means of educating the public.  While the panelists shared their observations and hopes for the future, Serner presented the action-plan she’s been involved with to increase the presences of women in every role of production.

Serner emphasized the initiatives the Swedish Film Institute has been enforcing to improve gender equality.  Half the film funding in the country goes to women in the roles of scripting, directing and producing.  She also described a mentorship program aimed at giving young women the training and tools they need to succeed.  A fledgling director with one or less credits to their name is placed with a seasoned director with at least three narratives under their belt.   The female mentee not only receives a practical education about the job, they also receive the knowledge they need about the inner workings of the system.

“It starts at school.  The experience gets shared up,” said Serner.  “Once they learn how to work the system there is a lot they can gain.”

Serner also believes empowering young women is a crucial to overcoming the gender gap.  “Female Fridays” was another imitative used in Sweden that allowed women in the film business to come together, share experience and support each other as they began achieving success in the film industry.     While many organizations continue to highlight the lack of females in key positions, Serner has found ways to enable women, ensure women have opportunities, and celebrate the doers, presenting role models for those climbing their way up the ladder.

“It’s such a burning issue,” said Serner.  “It is time for a global acknowledgement of the issue.   It is time to do, and to take action.”