Elisabet Dubé: “The presence of women has increased but there is still a great deal of work to do. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived or imagine an oasis in the middle of the desert”.

11/23/2018

We interview Elisabet Dubé Ferré, a producer, a lecturer at the ESCAC and founding partner of DonesVisuals. This association was created to fight against the scarce presence of women in the audiovisual industry and brings together professionals from the sector committed to defending, promoting and implementing this presence through specific actions. Photo: Quim Vives

Photo: Quim Vives

 

Female students of film schools are almost a majority but, in the industry, very few women succeed in directing their own projects or in having a significant presence in the sector. Only 15% of films in Catalonia are made by women. Why do you think that happens?

Although we now hear a lot about how it is the time of women filmmakers, the presence of women in the sector is still much lower than that of men. It may seem that the figures have improved if we compare them with previous years and probably this year, with the gradual increase in everyone’s awareness, they could be better... However, looking at it with perspective, we realize that the figures improve one year but then get worse the next. According to the data that we have collected in the association, 64% of the students on audiovisual courses are women and, as you mentioned, only 16% of Catalan film projects are led by women. When we say led, we refer to films directed, scripted or produced by a woman (these are the three major decision-making positions in a production). This springboard is very telling. Where are all those women who completed their audiovisual studies? Why isn’t this female talent developed and why doesn’t it become representative in the industry? The answer is easy. It is a very male-oriented industry and there is a lack of references for female students to see themselves reflected. We must give women a voice, make them visible and give them a meaning, increase their leadership skills, make herstory (make the women who formed part of the history of film visible), establish quotas, and above all ensure that there are women at the head wherever decisions are made, funding is defined or the selection of films is decided. I want to think that, thanks to the work of all women, young women increasingly believe that they can open a path and therefore will become more active.

 

How was DonesVisuals created? What was the spark which lit the flame?

For me the spark was Carla Subirana. Even now, I remember an informal meeting that I had with her in Plaça Molina to involve her in directing a project with me. She came with her dossier from CIMA (Association of women filmmakers and audiovisual media) because afterwards she had another meeting, probably with Míriam Porté, the driving force of everything that we are doing and have achieved so far. It provoked my curiosity and I asked her to explain what it was. She really convinced me with her words and opened my eyes on showing me how discouraging the audiovisual panorama was. It was a call to action and I quickly became involved.

 

Your reference is the Swedish model. You even had Anna Serner, President of the Swedish Film Institute, as the guest at a conference. Can you explain why you are interested in this model and how the conference went?

Anna Serner is a great reference for all of us. She is at the head of the Swedish Film Institute (what would be our ICEC) and in three years she succeeded in achieving parity in the film sector in her country. The figures for Sweden were similar to ours and therefore Anna devised a plan to reverse such a desolate situation. Apart from managing to give women visibility in the sector, she also helped to stimulate greater quality in the projects. She also set up various complementary measures which we are also implementing here in Catalonia: an online directory to give all female professionals in the sector visibility, support for women filmmakers by established professionals, etc. I believe that the conference went very well and, personally, it filled me with energy to have an intelligent woman who has done so much with so little, a true reference.

 

There are tools such as the Bechdel Test to measure the presence of women in films, comics, theatre, etc. What do you think of this type of tool? Do you think that it is effective?

Although the Bechdel Test was a fairly ground-breaking measurement tool at the time, it is a very simple measure which cannot calculate the complexity of good female representation. It is obvious that the more films that pass the test, the closer we will be to a possible representation of women... However, I believe that this representation is far from being equal and significant. Films should reflect our true situation: it is not sufficient to show that not everything revolves around men, or to have at least two women with a name who talk together about something which is not a man. The masculinization of films provokes a systematic concealment of women which skews our way of seeing the world. The significance of the presence of women in society inevitably involves representing her as she is and who better than a woman to do this. We need more women leading projects!

 

It is said that women’s stories do not sell. A misconception, even more so because a story in which women are the main characters is labelled as feminine: “women’s films” or “films by women”, when films are universal. Do you believe that it is important to break away from this kind of myth and what can be done in this respect?

I would say that stories about women directed by women have a lower budget and therefore less promotion, and can sell less. If we want to emerge from the ghetto of small-scale films, what we need to do is increase the budgets of these films. In this way more will almost definitely come. I am sure that if we ask Elena Trapé, Nely Reguera, Belén Funes or Elena Martín whether their films come within “women’s films”, they would be horrified. This is probably also the case with the common idea of a “feminine view” which, although true, still takes importance away from their work. If we define their films as “women’s films”, we distance them from majority films. As you so well said, films are universal. We need women to tell stories about women so that their image is not distorted. Films should reflect our true situation. The fact that male views prevail means that the structural gender inequality is perpetuated. It is obvious that it is not the same to be a woman as a man, like it is not the same to be black or white, old or young, poor or rich. Any characteristic which identifies us determines our way of seeing the world and how we narrate it. Male directors, however, do not tend to be classified within a stereotype like that and would never be asked a question like this: Do you believe that your film has a male view? Can we talk about men’s films? We have never used that term men’s films because men’s films are universal films. This masculinization means that the point of view of women is a minority. It must stop being exceptional in order to be equal and universal.

 

Where are the references? The women who in the history of films have been ignored and why? Do you believe that it is important to give these women visibility?

History has been written by men, talking about men and for men. Women have always been present, although silenced. It is necessary to educate critical thinking and to give visibility to the women who have also constructed history (Herstory). Feminist studies have always highlighted the consequences that the lack of historical reference models has had for the life of women. This lack favours women accepting positions of inferiority in relation to men and therefore it is necessary to unearth them, recover them and give them the place that they deserve in the history of all women and men. I want to believe that something is changing. When I studied at university, in answer to the exam question “who was the pioneer of narrative cinema”, we all knew that the correct answer was George Méliès with Voyage dans la lune. I now know that this is not true, that it was Alice Guy Blanché with La fée aux choux, but what is good is that my students also know it.

 

Your action plan is not only based on condemning this situation but also on doing things to reverse it. It has six channels of action. What does the plan consists of and what are the channels that you have articulated to address it?

Our Action Plan has various lines of action which respond to 6 key problems that we have identified:

  1. There are no statistical studies which monitor the situation of women in the audiovisual industry. The Study Action allows us to have a complete and rigorous view of the presence of women in the audiovisual sector and in the contents of cinematographic and television works.
  2. There is an invisibility of female talent which we want to reverse with the Directory Action, an online database of professional women from the sector which will include their professional profiles and make it easier to detect them. Visibility will thus be given to female talent and professional partnerships will be encouraged between talent and the industry. It is currently in the Beta phase and we hope to present it at the beginning of next year.
  3. The divide which exists between the number of female students and women in the industry is terrifying. With Shorts Action it is intended to promote the link between new talent and the industry. The second edition was held this year and, like the first one, it was a success.
  4. Women have many difficulties to get their films off the ground. With Nursery Action we want to promote and consolidate the careers of these women with a programme of support and advice for their documentary or fiction projects.
  5. The figures for projects led by women producers are even more of a minority. Only 10% of female executive producers are at the head of our films. With Production Action we want to support new female producers when searching to fund their projects.
  6. Female directors of photography, female heads of sound, female editors, female composers or heads of special effects only represent 9% of the women who have access to technical and artistic positions in the industry. With Head Action we want to provide scholarships for female professionals to carry out in-depth training in their specific field.

 

Do you have the support of the authorities to implement this plan?

All of this would not be possible without the help of the authorities (ICEC, ICUB, ICD, Manresa Town Council, Barcelona Provincial Council, Generalitat of Catalonia), but also it would not be possible without the work of all the women who have been involved in each of the Actions, such as Carla Sospedra, Serrana Torres, Mercedes Martínez-Abarca, Marta Figueras, Susana Guardiola (Shorts Action), Carla Subirana, Anna Petrus, Laia Manresa, Marta Grau, Leonor Miró (Nursery Action) and Yolanda Olmos, Director of Dones Visuals and conductor of the whole Action Plan.

 

Where did you look for synergies? In festivals? In the industry itself? You participated in various conferences of professionals, for example in the Alternativa and the D’A.

DonesVisuals has been possible above all thanks to the support and patience of women such as Anna Solà and Marta Selva (from the International Women’s Film Festival which has been making the work of women filmmakers visible for 25 years), or such as Marta Vergonyós (President of the Francesca Bonnemaison Cultural Centre of Women), who has welcomed us with open doors and hot food. We have also established partnerships with organizations such as CIMA (Association of women filmmakers and audiovisual media), The Barcelona Independent Film Festival, l’Alternativa, where, for the second year, the Pitchings and One-to-one professional Conference is being held by the Shorts Action, and the Auteur Festival D’A where the networking sessions were held by the Nursery Action or the Zumzeig co-operative, among others.

 

Shorts Action was held in the week from 12 to 18 November. What is your assessment of this action? What do you think the importance of short films is?

The first edition of the Shorts Action was a success, with 42 projects presented, 13 chosen and seven currently being developed. These seven projects, which found a producer through the Shorts Action 2017, have received support from the ICEC, and therefore they are very close to becoming a reality. The high level of projects and the success of the call encouraged us to hold the second edition in which 12 projects have been selected out of 33 presented. The assessment is very positive. Like last year, a community has been created among the beneficiaries in which sisterhood and cooperation have been, and continue to be on the agenda. Moreover, this year we have also managed to find more private funding to reward the best projects with Mutua de Propietarios and Aluzine.

 

There is a much greater presence of women in the sector now. With young female directors like Carla Simón, Elena Martin, Elena Trapé, etc... Do you think that great progress is really being made or is it a fashion which may disappear?

Much greater? I agree that there is more presence, but not much more. The presence of women has increased but there is still a great deal of work to do. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived or imagine an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is true that we can offer a good assessment on the beginning of the season with the increase in films directed by women and submitted to the Gaudí Awards. If, in 2016, there were 18 productions (21%) and in 2017 there were 15 (23%), this year there are 23 (30%). It is, however, necessary for this to end up really being reflected in the industry (and not in small-scale or independent films) and for this figure to continue to increase each year. I also believe that we need to take advantage of this wave to go even further, to take advantage of this impulse but not to relax even for one moment.

 

One year after the beginning of the project. What is your assessment of this first year of existence?

DonesVisuals has been working for an equal presence of women in the audiovisual sector for more than one year. We have had two very intense years about which we can be very happy. The effort and the challenges tackled by Dones Visuals has been a success so far. We have, however, realized that we need to find an achievable and sustainable level of work and that it is necessary to continue working to promote the internal horizontal organization, taking care of ourselves, of the relations and of the processes which arise within the association. We have been so productive that we have ended up exhausted!

 

How do you think that the Barcelona Film Commission can help you in this task?

I don’t know, you tell me. I suppose that beginning by disseminating our work and helping us to raise the awareness of the public and to refute the false beliefs that exist in the sector.

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