National Film Board promises gender equality


Reported by Jennifer Blake

According to recent statistics, only 17 per cent of film and television directors in Canada are women. Only four per cent when it comes to films with budgets over $1 million. The National Film Board of Canada aims to change that, and have full gender parity — within the next year.

Langara alumni Shannon Kaplun said she has found success as a director in documentaries. She has female colleagues doing similar work to her, and that a bigger problem is in the big budget feature films.

“It’s men hiring men,” said Kaplun. “So it’s a cycle of a lot of men in power empowering other men.”

After graduating from Langara, Kaplun studied cultural anthropology at UBC, specializing in First Nations governance and the social detriments of health. 

These studies prepared her for some of her most successful works, including her recent television series Dreamcatcher Bios, which highlights the achievements of 13 globally successful Indigenous professionals, and the documentary, Michelle Thrush, about the Cree actress from Calgary. It was this documentary that she entered into WIFTV’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival in 2014, and it won her a legacy award.

Breaking the cycle

Now Kaplun is the vice president of Women in Film and Television, created in 1989 in response to the limited opportunities for women in leadership positions within the film and television industry.

As an effort to create this outlet, WIFTV will hold its 14th annual Vancouver International Women In Film Festival March 5th to 10th.

According to the NFB website, the organization has given itself until 2019 to achieve — and sustain — full gender parity in the number of films directed by women. And to equalize the resources allocated to women’s projects. The organization says its goal is to achieve parity in “key creative positions for animated, documentary and interactive works” by 2020.

“It’s coming up fast though, so people better start working hard,” Kaplun said.

The NFB says it is committed to “carving out a fully inclusive and welcoming space where women of all backgrounds can write, direct, shoot, edit and score films.”

“This isn’t intended to be a pioneering endeavour or a lofty philosophical wish. It’s a desire to catch up with reality,” according to the NFB website. “Plain and simple. And a hope that the industry at large will follow suit.”

They promise gender parity in number of films but do not mention the budget of those films, nor the gender parity of the wages paid to the women making them.

“We have to create space for women to catch up,” said Carol Whiteman, co-founder of Women In the Director’s Chair. “The higher the budget, the less we see women directors.”

Whiteman also said that male directors have had decades to develop their craft, which is why this space is so important.

Emerging Canadian director Jill Carter, who worked as a production assistant before becoming a director, said that she can’t think of any situations where she felt her gender was a challenge, but she still sees the issue in the industry.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of any examples of women who are at the stage of their career that I’m at,” said Carter. “I still think there’s lots of work to do.”

Carter said producers and showrunners for her most recent project, Vancouver-based, The Murders, were very supportive of female directors. Two women and one man were hired as directors. 

The VIWFF will be held at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver and will showcase films of many genres made by women from around the world. There will also be workshops, artist talks, pitch sessions and an awards ceremony held during the coming week.

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