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Winterthur tackles male privilege in the film industry


- At this year’s Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, producer Samm Haillay provided a bold and provocative keynote speech on gender inequality and the film industry

Winterthur tackles male privilege in the film industry
Producer Samm Haillay during his keynote speech at Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald

At the beginning of his keynote speech held at this year’s Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, the film producer Samm Haillay asked audiences attending the festival’s Industry Day to hold the above quote in mind. In his talk, entitled Men and Privilege – Men and Paranoia, Haillay presented his views on the gender inequality that is endemic in the film industry and how people – in particular men – can take steps to improve the situation. The Third Films producer of award-winning shorts such as Field (UK, Duane Hopkins, 2001) and Jade (UK, Daniel Elliott, 2009) alongside features including this year’s Island Of The Hungry Ghosts [+see also:
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(Germany/UK/Australia, Gabrielle Brady, 2018) eschewed an academic approach to the topic for a more personal and provocative take on the emotive subject.

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Haillay began by explaining the background of his work, with Third Films chiefly dealing with films and filmmakers that put the focus on often marginalised working class communities in the UK. This work put into sharp relief the importance of giving voices to those who are often denied them thanks to an inherent bias in both culture and society. With gender inequality being one of the big issues of the past year, it seemed an appropriate time to focus on what the industry can do. Haillay noted that there are still many issues of intersectionality – such as class, race and sexuality – which means that any improvements are by no means a panacea. But Haillay believes change has to begin somewhere and there is something inherently ridiculous in the fact that there is such a pronounced imbalance in the film industry regarding gender when audiences remain at 50/50.

Haillay proceeded to chastise much of the industry for paying lip service to the problem. The call for ‘strong female characters’ – a somewhat nebulous term – and more female directors – undoubtedly important, but ignoring the rest of the myriad of jobs that make up a film crew – may seem well intentioned but makes, at best, a minor impact.

Haillay continued to criticise much of the prevailing attitudes among male film crews. The tribalist attitude of “I’m working with my mates. I’ve worked with them at the start and I’ll keep working with them…we did it together we got here together,” is no longer acceptable. Men have to be adaptable to change. He makes the example of interviewing a new DOP – people have to ensure that they are, at the very least, interviewing a woman for the role and actively thinking about how to fill the crew with women. He also vehemently argued against a popular line which is that there are ‘No women to work with.” There are: men just have to make sure that the jobs and opportunities are available to them. He praised ideas such as inclusion riders with a caveat that their good intentions should be followed through rather than used as an excuse for Hollywood to pat itself on the back.

Haillay mentioned how it was especially important that the short film world be quick to embrace these changes. With short films often being a pipeline into the feature film world, it would help enormously if at least some of the endemic imbalances were rooted out at entry level. 

Haillay asked the men in the audience to think about what it would be like if they were told that for the next 10 years only %11 of films that were funded would have a male director. There would be an outcry. But this is the reality that women in the film industry face. The defensiveness inherent in people saying, “Women dominating will marginalise and caricature male characters and the male experience,” or “There’ll be no genres for men left” was dismissed as patently ridiculous, concluded with:

“Men need to understand, accept and embrace that more of the pie for women means more of the pie for everyone. Women after all comprise at least 50% of everyone.”

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