Women on Top Summit @ Whistler Film Festival: Keynote Address by Valerie Creighton, Canadian Media Fund

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valerie-creightonIt’s such a pleasure to be here with you at the Whistler Film Festival. The Canada Media Fund has been a partner and supporter of the Festival since 2009 and I am always thrilled to come back. From the thought-provoking films, insightful sessions, unparalleled opportunities for networking with potential partners from across the globe, and of course, this majestic setting that surrounds us – it’s a festival tailor made for success!

And, there are a couple of other particular reasons for this success over the history of Whistler so please, let’s give a tremendous acknowledgment to (Festival Director) Shauna Mishaw Hardy, (Programmer) Paul Gratton and their teams!!

In the 35 years I’ve been working in Canada’s cultural industries, I’ve never seen so much change happen at such a phenomenal pace. It is remarkable to witness the profound level of change the audiovisual industry has experienced over the past several years.

And, while it feels like our whole system is being turned on its head, with uncertainty at every turn, I am actually enthusiastic about the future of Canada’s screen-based industries.

Since the last time we all met here in Whistler, the CRTC released four regulatory broadcasting policies in connection with its Let’s Talk TV proceeding. These decisions touched on a variety of issues including simultaneous substitution, discoverability, and the move towards the “unbundling” of cable and satellite television subscription packages. All of which have a major impact on our industry.

Shaw and Corus struck a transformative deal, giving Corus the scale and leverage it needs to compete in a rapidly changing landscape, and to navigate the major regulatory changes the CRTC is rolling out.

Viceland demonstrated how consolidation and diversification are not unidirectional. With millennial-focused content, they have shown us how the conventional move from cable to OTT distribution can also take place in the opposite direction.

After years of research and development, virtual reality and augmented reality technology are poised to enjoy wide release in the consumer market. Technology giants are aggressively entering the arena, releasing devices at prices consumers can now afford.

The telecommunications industry is faced with the growing challenge spurred by the increased consumption of mobile video: the soaring demand for wireless data, and the rising cost to consumers.

Canadian Heritage launched its consultation, seeking input on how to strengthen the creation, discovery and export of Canadian content in a digital world, touching on every aspect that has built the system in this country, we all work within, over the last 50 years.

As you can tell from these examples, ours is an industry that is being tested on multiple fronts as we maximize the opportunities the digital world has to offer. There is no doubt that the challenges we face, also offer opportunities we wouldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago.

In the grand scheme of things technological developments have happened over a relatively short period of time. 1997 was the founding year for Netflix, the first smartphones and the popularization of plasma TVs. A year later in 1998, some of us watched the movie “You’ve Got Mail” but more incredibly, we got Google. By 2000, even though it seems an impossibly short period for an empire to rise and fall, the Dot Com era had come and gone.

The world got social between 2004 -2006 with back to back launches of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. By 2007 we had the iPhone and by 2010 Netflix streaming across our border, just 6 short years ago.

In this job, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with creators, writers, producers, broadcasters, distributors and innovators. incredibly talented Canadians who continue to both survive in and challenge our current system.

I believe that now, more than ever before, it has become apparent that investing in Canadian content is not just good cultural policy, it’s good economic and foreign policy. It allows our stories to reach the world and build Canada’s brand value, while bringing in billions of dollars in sales and revenue leveraged from outside the country.

However, it has also become apparent that if we are going to hold a place at the table of the future, we won’t hold it with a narrow point of view. It is essential that we invest in ways that take into account Canada’s wealth of diversity. Diversity of ideas, diversity of stories, diversity of place, diversity of voice, diversity of race, diversity of leadership, diversity of gender.

Some of you may recall I made a commitment earlier this year to championing women in the industry. Better representation of women in leadership roles and access to funding for their projects is a priority for myself and for the CMF. As a member of Women in View’s 2x More Advisory Group, and as a woman working in the Canadian audiovisual sector, heading up a team, I am proud to say, comprised of 70 per cent of women with over 50 per cent in management positions, gender parity is a personal preoccupation.

The CMF has participated on several occasions in initiatives dedicated to supporting the role of women in Canadian media, including the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival; Women in Film & Television; Women in View—2x More; and Much Ado About Women in the Screen Industries in Canada. All great events, projects and ideas that have continued to put pressure on the system to change the painfully evident gender inequality in our environment.

Although some positive steps have been taken to begin to address this issue, for real change to occur solutions will need to be impactful, viable and lasting.

This won’t happen overnight. The stats clearly demonstrate that directors positions are the most inequitable followed by writers.

Much of the research and current initiatives are geared towards female directors in feature film. There is very little information on gender parity in other sectors of the industry such as television and videogames. However, many hold the view that in gaining parity among writers, directors and producers, more stories with female roles will emerge, thus establishing parity in all aspects of the creative industry.

This may well be the case but I believe the problem is much deeper. I believe that what we are dealing with is a systematic way of thinking and behaving that will require a complete paradigm shift, a wholesale change in thinking at every level.

At the CMF, we take pride in developing policies that are backed by thorough analysis, including data that helps us decide on the best course of action. This has allowed us to implement successful and impactful policies and programs.

Over the past several months, we undertook a comprehensive literature review of the gender parity issue, including an overview of current trends, challenges in measurement and program implementation pertaining to gender parity worldwide.

Some of the key observations of our literature review are that, in terms of achieving gender parity in the entertainment industry, Canada is a few years behind European countries in its efforts towards establishing initiatives, but still ahead of the United States and more or less on par with Australia.

A significant challenge in data gathering that most jurisdictions face is with gender reporting – and this certainly applies to us in Canada. In most countries, it is voluntary for people to report on gender which has impacted the quality and availability of the data. Sweden and Ireland have been regarded as leaders on this front, having established mandatory gender reporting for publicly funded productions, which most European countries are now trying to emulate through their parity and diversity initiatives.

Gender bias in content is regarded internationally as a contributor towards overall bias within society, and in turn, within the entertainment industry itself. In many of the European endeavours towards gender parity, gender representation in content figures as an important component towards educating and influencing a more equal perspective to the public.

In some respects, the initial cause and effect for this issue is difficult to pinpoint. For instance, in the videogame sector, survey respondents noted a lack of females trained in the technical fields required to work in the industry, consequently making it difficult to staff equal genders. However, respondents also theorized that women could be disinterested in these fields of education due to videogame content typically being geared towards males.

At the CMF, we are of the opinion that a holistic and comprehensive approach – tackling the problem from all sides – is the only way to change the paradigm and change the thinking in order to successfully achieve gender parity in this industry.

Exposing existing biases and overcoming denial is the first step to developing a program that levels the playing field between women and men in the industry.

Ensuring fair gender representation in content and media will influence the public to think of both sexes from a more neutral perspective. Training, mentoring and institutional programs geared towards both genders will influence equal engagement in all sectors. These efforts should encourage and progress the emerging trend of establishing gender parity in production staffing. So ultimately a top down – bottom up approach.

And of course, the most important component to round out this strategy, is the establishment of regulations and/or funding initiatives that are geared towards levelling the playing field.

The CMF is collaborating with several national and provincial partners, including Telefilm Canada, Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, Canadian Media Producers Association, Ontario Media Development Corporation, National Film Board, Creative BC, Royal Bank of Canada and Women in Film and Television. Entitled Women in Canada’s Screen-Based Industries, this report will be delivered in the coming weeks.

Internally, we have just compiled statistics pertaining to gender for three key creative positions, namely producers, directors and screenwriters, over the three-year period from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014, based on genres, language and budget size. This represents a sample of 1,280 projects.

This information will serve as a benchmark as we move forward with the development and implementation of solutions to address this topic. What we found won’t surprise you, but I want to qualify issues with the data and the fact that while the television system has points for key creative positions, this is not the case for the Experimental Stream in the CMF program.

CMF applicants are required to list all key personnel for the CMF’s funding application at final review. We only recently introduced an optional gender field on our applications’ management system. However, since we set out to undertake a detailed analysis, this meant we had to manually track data based on the assessment of the producer, director or writer’s first name.

The data allowed us to paint a portrait of the state of affairs, and the findings were definitely elucidating.

In terms of key positions, women were the least represented in the Director role, with only 23% of women in the role. Lower budget projects (under $250K per episode) had the greatest share of women directors. Parity was not achieved in a single genre-language category.

With regard to the Writer role, women writers represented 34% of screenwriters. It is interesting to note that women writers were most represented on both ends of the scale, that is, lowest-budget productions (under $100K/ep) and biggest-budget productions (over $1.75M per episode). Parity was only attained in a single genre-language category, French Children’s & Youth projects.

As far as the Producer role is concerned, it had the highest percentage of women, at 39% on average. Parity was attained in both French-language Children’s & Youth and Drama projects, while in the English market, the highest percentage was in the Documentary genre, at 43% on average, with parity being attained in one of the 3 years. Mid-range budget projects ($400K to $800K per episode) had the greatest share of women producers.

We broke out the results on the Aboriginal program and while just 37 projects were looked at the numbers a better with 37% writers and directors and 41% producers being female.

The CMF has also begun working with senior officials at Status of Women Canada and the MaRS Solutions Lab in association with Status of Women Canada to obtain valuable insights on how best to approach this topic. For those of you who are not familiar with the MaRS Solutions Lab, it is a public and social innovation lab that helps solve complex social and economic challenges. The lab brings together stakeholders from across society to help solve these problems collaboratively. They help governments to modernize their policies, institutions to find new insights and work collaboratively, and equip organizations with tools and techniques to create change.

All these initiatives will help inform the CMF on the most appropriate mechanisms to achieve gender parity. Gathering information and analysing has been a somewhat long and complex process, but one that is essential to our understanding of the issue, and one that will help us develop meaningful and impactful solutions.

I can’t tell you today, what solutions we will land on. I can tell you that it is my firm intention to bring forth concrete, impactful proposals to our board for implementation as of April 2017.

We are determined to do this, mindful of and in spite of the disruption and uncertainty the industry is experiencing.

If we can all work together to right this ship, it is my hope that when that female writer, producer, director calls for first day, she doesn’t have to go to hair and wardrobe to see another female face. That is it also first, second Ad’s, camera operators, grips and electrics where she sees female faces.

This isn’t just about women. If we can get this right, our recognition of and work on challenging and changing what we know to be true is a historically meaningful movement that will shape not just the future of Canada’s audiovisual industry but society as a whole. It will affect how we all see ourselves reflected in the media and the world. We are the story tellers. Story can lead to ideas and ideas can lead to change.
50% of Women on Top will ultimately shape the place our daughters and grand-daughters, our sons and grandsons, nieces and nephews will carve out for themselves in tomorrow’s Canada.

That will happen, if we start today.

Thank you.

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