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Women, the Film Industry and the Canberra International Film Festival

Elsie Adamo

Female representation within cinema is a well-known problem in the industry.

With a limited number of female directors and producers finding commercial backing on a regular basis, budding film students would be forgiven for worrying about the gender balance of the industry they seek to become a part of.

Alice Taylor, director of the Canberra International Film Festival (CIFF) hopes to tackle these issues this year head on via her meticulous curation of CIFF 2016.

The festival’s commitment to women’s involvement in film will be particularly clear on Saturday 29 October as they host a day of discussion and celebration which will include three showings of films directed by women, a panel discussion titled Reel Women, and a concert showcase of local musical talent.

The day kicks off with Reel Women, a panel event all about women and film. The panel will include Stephanie Clatenburg and Sahar Yousefi, director and producer of Play your Gender as well as Sascha Ettinger-Epstein and Michalea Perske, director and producer of Destination Arnold, both films that will be showing later in the day.


A still from Destination Arnold

The discussion will centre around “the importance of women filmmakers behind the camera and how it effects the female roles we see portrayed on screen,” explains Alice.

After having worked within the music and film industries, both notorious for a lack of female inclusion at high levels, director of Play Your Gender Stephanie Clatenburg still remains optimistic about women’s involvement. She believes the atmosphere around inclusion of women has shifted and will continue to progress.

“Nothing huge will happen overnight but I do believe we are moving in the right direction,” she says.

Stephanie believes that early exposure to gender roles is partly to blame for what women believe they can and can’t do at later stages in life.

“It’s no wonder some women grow up thinking, ‘girls should be singers and boys should music producers’,” she says.

Having interviewed numerous women for her documentary, Stephanie was impressed to see that, within workplaces, discussions about gender are now part of a regular conversation.

“One of the things I heard from many of the women was that gender bias and gender equality is a topic of discussion in their daily lives amongst their friends,” she says. This discussion she believes is key to the continued progression of equality at work.

While these changes are a great start, Stephanie acknowledges that it’s important for the film industry to continue to branch out and continue to be inclusive of minorities including people of colour and people with disabilities.

“There are so many points of view and if we only see the point of view from one demographic it keeps so many of us from feeling like we are represented,” Stephanie explains.


A still from Play Your Gender

This panel is a great opportunity to learn from women within the film industry including Stephanie, and events like this do not often occur in Canberra, and is not to be missed for any local film enthusiasts, especially considering the lack of entry fee.

Destination Arnold, the first film shown, is an Australian documentary directed by Sascha Ettinger-Epstein. The film follows two Indigenous women, Tash and Kylene, amateur body builders who train in the hope of competing in invite only bodybuilding event The Arnolds’ which are being held in Australia for the first time.

Filmed over two years, Destination Arnold gives insight into the world of amateur bodybuilding and how far these women can push their physical limits. Sascha Ettinger-Epstein is known for her talent in telling Australian stories and this film is no exception.

The second film of the day, Play your Gender, is a Canadian documentary exploring the major disparity of female involvement in the production of music. Did you know only five per cent of producers of music are female? This bias seems baffling when you consider how many powerhouse music performers are female.

The film explores why the bias exists, and what can be done about it. Following the showing of the film, there will be an Q&A with the director, who is also a professional musician herself, and the film’s producer. After the discussion there will be a musical showcase of local Female artists and of course, the bar will be open to enjoy a drink with the live music.

A still from Toni Ermann

A still from Toni Erdmann

The last film showing will be German dark comedy Toni Erdmann. Directed by Maren Ade, the film sees a father attempting to reconnect with his professional highflying adult daughter, things take an interesting turn when after futile results the father dressed in a disguise pretends to be a life coach to his own daughter. The film has been very well received at other international film festivals, including the Cannes Film Festival, and is a must see for lovers of comedy.

Tickets to the films can be bought individually, or through a package deal on the Canberra International Film Festival website. The Reel Women panel is a free event.

the essentials

What: Destination Arnold, Play Your Gender, Toni Erdmann, panel discussions and a live music showcase
When: Saturday 29 October
Where: National Film and Sound Archive

HerCanberra are proud to be a sponsor of the 2016 Canberra International Film Festival


Elsie Adamo

Elsie originally hails from South Australia but after almost five years in the Capital likes to consider herself now as a local. A student at ANU she keeps herself busy on campus with student societies and now interning at HerCanberra. Her great loves include sitcoms, podcasts, bookstores, cider, brunch and online shopping. More about the Author

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