The Australian Directors Guild (ADG) has formally proposed a quota for 50 per of the projects which get Screen Australia production funding to be directed by women.

The Guild is calling on state screen agencies and the ABC to support the initiative, first flagged earlier this month by its affirmative action sub-committee whose members include Gillian Armstrong and Megan Simpson Huberman. 

In response, Screen Australia COO Fiona Cameron tells IF the agency is investigating options for addressing issues of gender balance in the screen industry, with a policy paper to go to the next board meeting in late November.

"Analysis to date has shown that Screen Australia’s support for projects with women in key creative roles has been allocated in very close correlation to the number of projects coming in with women in these positions," she said.

"We see strong female representation at the early career stages of feature films, with a drop off in higher end, signalling the challenge of moving from shorts to features, or from first features into a more sustained career. This trend is seen across writers and producers as well as directors. Any interventions are likely to require a range of initiatives to address a complex issue, and one which is not confined to the screen industries."

Asked if that meant the agency sees reform as part of a broader discussion, Cameron said, "We are happy to contribute to gender balance in the screen industry (without waiting for broader industry consensus). Of course we are not the only game in town and we are keen to ensure the agency looks at its programs holistically, that is, within our own sector there needs to be a range of responses to help shift the needle. I don’t think there are any quick fixes."

Deanne Weir, Screen Australia deputy chair and chair of Hoodlum, is a strong advocate of gender equality.  Speaking at a recent Women in Television conference in London Weir said, "Given the challenges we have had in Australia arguing for gender-­based quotas in corporate life, it may be sometime before we get to a point where BFI type quotas would be considered.

"My personal view is that we should just get on with it and put in place some meaningful and workable quotas: really, what is the worst that could happen?"

ADG president Ray Argall said today: “The screen industry has been funded by the Federal Government for more than four decades for reasons of cultural representation, economic stimulus, and professional development and innovation. Across all these criteria the current funding is not being shared in a representative way. The ADG is concerned with diversity of all types, but is particularly concerned with the dramatic lack of equity in the funding of women and, in particular, female directors.”

Argall said that figures revealing women’s participation in key creative roles in Screen Australia-funded dramatic features across a 5-year average (2009-2014) are:

Directors 15  per cent
Producers 32 per cent
Writers 23 per cent
Protagonists 28 per cent

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said: “The statistics are the starkest for dramatic feature films, but are inequitable across all forms of production supported by Screen Australia. The obstacles confronting women are complex and spread across all sections of the industry.”

Armstrong said: “For years I have been asked about the lack of numbers of women directors in film. My feeling has always been that it has to be based on merit. But the data from Screen Australia shows that the increase has only been about 6 per cent in 30 years. It is pretty obvious that the current system is not about merit – There is not a level playing field.

“Equally talented young women film makers are graduating from film schools in the same numbers as men, and winning short film awards, but they are not getting the breaks as film directors. It doesn’t even make commercial sense, given that women are more than 50 per cent of the audience. The same pattern is seen around the world. It is time to take action about this obvious gender inequality.”

Argall said that a 50 per cent quota would encourage distributors and producers to consider more female directors, observing, "The focus on directors is because as creative drivers they can make a huge difference in redressing gender inequality in our industry – as the successful Swedish model has shown.

"In Sweden, setting a 50 per cent quota for women directors resulted in jobs for women writers, actors, producers and other creatives, as well as for directors, rising dramatically across the board in the space of two years.”

However Cameron notes there are key differences with the  BFI’s diversity initiative and the Swedish ‘quota’ system for female directors.

For example, Sweden film funding operates under a ‘two doors’ approach whereby bigger budget projects with distributors attached are separate from the discretionary production fund, which is where the target, not actually a firm quota, applies.

Phillip Noyce said: “Worldwide, the number of working female directors is disturbingly small compared to their male colleagues. In Australia, with significant funding from government agencies, we have the infrastructure in place to correct this inequality through decisive action from all funding bodies and the ABC.”

Cameron concludes, "We are in ongoing discussion with industry about these issues and hope to be able to announce a plan in the next few months."