Women on Top @ Whistler Film Festival Keynote Address — Valerie Creighton, Director, Canada 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. Now pulling off a festival in Canada year after year is no small feat. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge Shauna and her team for their continued work and dedication to this festival.

As many of you are aware, the Minister of Canadian Heritage recently announced Creative Canada, a new approach to support creativity and content making in the country. A critical piece of her announcement, which took a back seat to the uproar over the Netflix issue, was the increase in federal contributions to the CMF in 2018/2019. While this is not new money, it will offset the gap from declining cable, and direct to home revenue created by cord-cutting and cord-shaving. It was a huge accomplishment for a Cabinet Minister to achieve this commitment and announce it prior to the upcoming budget year. Anyone involved in the making of content in this country that access’s the CMF has something to celebrate in that achievement.

Given the rapidly changing media landscape, the government also announced it was open to making further changes to the CMF program by ensuring that we have the tools and the flexibility to adapt our support for the screen-based sector. Hallelujah – finally!! We know that 18/19 will be a transition year but we will be consulting from coast to coast to coast to seek your advice on how you see the future of content unfolding.

The government will include $125M in new funding over five years for a Creative Export Strategy to boost the sales of Canadian content around the world, and a $300M investment in cultural infrastructure to fund new creative hubs where creators can build their entrepreneurial skills, create, collaborate and innovate. This will help Canadian productions to reach new audiences around the world and remain competitive in the borderless market in which we operate. All of this provides opportunities for everyone in this room.

The CMF has just announced new programs in the French and English markets to help finance development activities for television projects intended for international markets. The $2M program for the English market, focusses on acquiring pre-sale financing from foreign broadcasters, online streaming services, distributors and sales agents.

The $500K French market initiative is a pilot partnership with the Quebecor Fund, allowing the CMF to leverage that fund’s expertise in the implementation of a tried-and-tested export program in the Québec market.

Details on both programs are on the CMF website.

Following an industry-wide effort through a partnership of the CMF, APTN, Telefilm Canada, the NFB, the CBC and the CMPA, with support from the Harold Greenberg Fund and Vice, which was announced by Minister Joly at the Banff World Media Festival this past June, we are close to launching Canada’s Indigenous Screen office. The search process and recommendations of the Indigenous Advisory Committee and interviews are now concluded and within days, we will, with great excitement, be announcing the name of the individual who will lead the development of this initiative.

On the screen based diversity front we are just beginning discussions with unions and guilds to develop industry-wide measures that support diversity and are happy to talk with any of you who have thoughts and advice on this topic.

Last year when we met, I told you that better representation of women in leadership roles was a priority 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 women, with over 50 per cent in management positions, gender balance is a personal preoccupation.

We understood and acknowledged there was an inherent lack of gender balance in the productions the CMF supported. This needed to change. But change wasn’t coming quick enough. Change wasn’t coming naturally and many would argue that change wasn’t coming at all. So we intervened to develop and implement tangible measures that would create a positive environment for change to emerge.

To develop the policies we put in place, 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. We compiled the data that was available to us at the time to paint a clear portrait of the situation. We consulted with stakeholders and other industry organisations and we took a measured approach.

In March of this year, we announced a series of concrete steps in order to increase the number of women in positions of leadership in the productions we support. We set a number of specific targets broadcasters would need to meet in order for productions to qualify for their respective envelope.

We also updated the evaluation grids in the selective programs to allocate additional points to productions with women in leadership positions. We committed to achieving gender balance in all juries that are put in place to evaluate projects, and announced our renewed support for third-party initiatives supporting women in the industry.

Well , here are the results with a reminder that they are partial, as many programs have not yet closed for this year.

In the Performance Envelope program through which we distribute the lion’s share of our funds, for the current year broadcasters were required to direct a minimum of 15% with a target of 25% of their envelope allocations to projects where at least 40% of the Producer, Director, and Writer positions on a TV component are held by women. This target will increase to 35 per cent next year and 50 per cent the following year.

I’m delighted to report that so far, 50 per cent of broadcasters with Performance Envelope allocations and 56 per cent of broadcasters with development envelope allocations have exceeded the 2017-2018 target of 25 per cent, and in fact 50 per cent of all Performance Envelope allocation dollars are devoted to productions that meet our gender requirements. Some broadcasters, Bell Media by way of example, have far exceeded the target, with over 70 per cent of their envelope allocation dollars going to productions with at least 40 per cent women in key positons. Most broadcasters that have not yet met the requirement are broadcasters with smaller allocations or larger broadcasters that have only submitted a few projects so far.

In the selective programs, in the Convergent and Experimental streams we designated three points to productions where at least 40 per cent of the key positions are women. Of the 157 projects in the Convergent Stream, only nine or 5.7% were refused because they didn’t achieve the three points for gender balance. In the Experimental Stream, 14 projects out of 142 or 9.8% were refused because of a lack of gender balance.

Of the four juries so far this year, only the jury for the Aboriginal Program did not meet the gender balance target, with one woman out of three jury members, while in the three others, the proportion of women jurors was between 42 and 60 per cent.

In terms of third-party initiatives, the CMF supported the Academy’s Apprenticeship for Women Directors program and 2x More, Women in View; participated in the Female Eye Film Festival; supported the St-John’s International Women’s Film Festival; and continue to collaborate with Femmes du cinéma, de la télévision et des médias numériques in Québec.
Gender data was not tracked prior to 2017-2018. This data will be available starting next year, which will allow us to more effectively measure the impact of our gender balance policies going forward.

So, we are well on our way to achieving the goal of all CMF programs reaching gender balanced by 2020.

Our success as an industry depends on reflecting and embracing Canada’s wealth of diversity.

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. But change never comes easy.

Exposing existing biases and overcoming denial is the first step 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 gender from a more neutral perspective.

At the CMF, we are determined to do our part to create the conditions in which more women can contribute to the audiovisual industry. But this isn’t just about women. If we can all get this right, this work will become a historically-meaningful movement that will continue to shape not just the future of Canada’s audiovisual industry but our society as a whole. It will affect how we see ourselves and how we are reflected in the stories we tell on-screen.

To quote poet laureate Maya Angelou: “Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.”

I am deeply moved by the number of ambitious, young women who wish to pursue successful career paths in our industry. Their fierceness and dedication inspires me, it reminds me of why I do this job and the responsibility I have towards positive change. Our collective goal in creating this new path is to allow these courageous and talented women to take their rightful place in our industry.
Perhaps when women are leading by example, the behavioural controversary being exposed today, will be all but eliminated.

Thank you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Valerie Creighton is Director of the Canada Media Fund. This speech was delivered at Whistler Film Festival’s Women on Top Summit on December 2, 2017.

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