The figures presented at the seminar Gender Balance in the Nordic Film Industry were crystal clear: Men are dominating the Nordic film industry. Although comprehensive statistics are lacking, the available information, presented by the knowledge centre Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, shows that the three key positions producer, director and scriptwriter are typically held be men. The role of director in particular is highly dominated by men: In Sweden, 93 per cent of the feature films that premiered in 2012 were directed by men. In Norway, the figure was 78 per cent, in Finland 82 (the Finnish statistics also include documentaries) and in Iceland a full 100 percent.
Moreover, men are in the majority also in front of the camera. In six out of ten feature films that premiered in the Nordic countries in 2012, males played the leading parts.
Terese Martinsson, who in her Bachelor’s project in Cultural Studies at the University of Gothenburg has studied the relation between filmmakers and leading parts, concludes that it really does not matter whether the makers of a film are men or women – the film is still most likely going to focus on a male.
‘Maybe that’s what surprised me the most, that women are not more eager to tell stories about other women,’ she says.
Among the Nordic films that premiered in 2012, Martinsson found only one where all key positions – director, producer, scriptwriter and leading parts – were filled by women: Stars Above from Finland.
‘This just blew me away,’ she says.
But despite the gloomy statistics, the seminar also brought some good news. The Nordic film industry is leading the way in providing gendered statistics, compared with both other countries and other media. This is critical for change to ever be achieved, according to several seminar participants.
Several industry representatives pointed out that there may be change in sight, at least in Sweden. The Swedish Film Institute’s clear message in the context of gender equality has trickled down to the grass root level and encouraged young women to make their presence known, said Sofie Björklund from one of Sweden’s strongest local film companies, Film i Väst.
‘A lot has happened in the last 10 years. Today, a majority of the applications for the company’s support to young film makers are submitted by young women who choose film topics independently and believe in what they do,’ says Björklund.
A work culture incompatible with family life
The question of how the structure of the film industry contributes to exclude women was addressed by Marjo Valve, Film Commissioner at the Finnish Film Foundation, in a follow-up discussion on how the Nordic film institutes are working with the gender equality issue.
‘A career in the film industry may periodically require 12-hour workdays and is therefore difficult to combine with normal family life. This pulls many women out of the industry. Instead they might go into teaching.’
The resistance to gender quotas for film production support is, according to Valve, widespread.
‘There is no gender equality agenda for the Finnish film industry. If women do well in the statistics, it’s either a mere coincidence or something that individual women have accomplished all by themselves.’
At the same time, female cinema-goers are the commercially most important audience for the Finnish film industry.
‘Our most frequent Finnish cinema visitor is a middle-aged woman. And the films made by women for women are the ones that have been the most successful at the box office,’ said Valve.
Quality is not objective
Also Hjalmar Palmgren, head of the Swedish Film Institute’s film production support, was self-critical. Although the agreement that went into effect in 2013 lays down that the production support should be split equally between men and women, this does not automatically imply a gender-equal film industry.
‘You always hear that quality, and not gender, should be what matters. But this requires an objective quality measure. We used to have a system where men were given easy entry into the industry because of their gender, and not based on quality. There is no reason to believe that women make worse films and attract smaller audiences. The whole discussion is just silly – it’s a non-issue!’
Palmgren also expressed strong support for the Bechdel test (that two named women in a film talk to each other about something other than a man), which sparked intense discussion in Sweden last year. Palmgren said that U.S. figures show that the films that passed the test also did better at the box office.
‘I think the test is great! I don’t understand the strong reactions. It shows how our culture is shaped, how we talk to each other in society, not just what the film industry looks like.’