How Glasgow Film Festival is tackling gender inequality head on – Brian Ferguson

The Glasgow Film Festival includes more films by women than ever before, writes Brian Ferguson.

Considering it is dedicated to an industry which has found itself in the grip of a growing equality debate in recent years, it was not a surprise that the Glasgow Film Festival has decided to put women at the core of its programming this year. The movie business has been dominated by headlines over its lack of diversity with the Baftas, the Golden Globes and the Oscars all coming under fire over the number of white men in the key categories.

Against this backdrop of acrimony, it was refreshing to say the least to discover it was a very different story in the GFF line-up, which its organisers proudly proclaim, on page three of the official programme, has “more films by women than ever before”.

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The tone had been set in its pre-launch announcement that films by female directors – Alice Winocour’s Proxima and Coky Geidroyc’s How To Build A Girl – would be opening and closing the event for the first time. However, the big news at yesterday’s launch was that the final day of the festival, which happens to coincide with International Women’s Day, would be dedicated to female talent on and off screen.

The festival has also programmed a marathon 14-hour long documentary, Women Make Film, charting the influence of female directors on the industry, which is narrated by Jane Fonda and Tilda Swinton, as well as documentaries on singer Billie Holliday and author Toni Morrison. Elsewhere in the programme, there are prominent slots for Our Ladies, the eagerly awaited coming-of-age film Scottish film about a group of Highland teenagers running wild in Edinburgh, Kelly Macdonald’s new Australian-set drama Dirt Music, and the debut feature from Scottish director Eva Riley, Perfect 10.

As The Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness points out, the festival’s commitment to equality is evident across all of its programming strands. Yet when I spoke to festival co-director Allison Gardiner, she was adamant that this year’s line-up was merely following the pattern of previous events and a long-standing policy of programming events to appeal to as diverse an audience as possible.

She told me she was deeply opposed to trying to impose 50/50 quotas in festival line-ups and any question of “box-ticking” in its programming, and instead insisted that there had merely been a focus on creative ways of ensuring the festival’s line-up has the broadest possible appeal. However the GFF line-up is a clear statement of intent for the event from Gardiner, weeks after being unveiled as the new chief executive of Glasgow Film, which runs the festival.

All of this is a welcome antidote to the quite justifiable angst around the world over an apparent lack of progress towards achieving anything approaching equality at the highest levels of an industry, where just 13 per cent of directors, 19 per cent of writers and 27 per cent of producers of the 250 highest-grossing films were women. Official research has shown very little movement in these figures over the course the last two decades.

But it is a refreshing contrast to the kind of trouble other festivals and sectors have run into in Scotland in recent years, most notably over the lack of gender equality in the theatre world and male-dominated line-ups announced by the TRNSMT festival. Given the apparent imbalance in opportunities in the film industry, the thought occurs that if GFF can tackle the issue of gender equality head on there is no excuse for any other event or organisation.