Magazine article Variety

Foreign Femme Power

Magazine article Variety

Foreign Femme Power

Article excerpt

Women helmers rep 20% of the foreign-lingo Oscar entries but still many face challenges

This year, a record 16 pics vying for the foreign-language Oscar are directed by women.

In a discipline dominated by males, those 16 films rep encouragement for aspiring women helmers eveywhere. But what's really M important about this sweet 16 is that several of the voices are coming from regions that have faced more oppression or instability than most: Eastern Europe has a handful of women directors up for contention and three Middle Eastern submissions - from Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (the latter having its first entry) - are all helmed by women.

Regardless of their roots, international female helmers are fighting to make their voices heard but some, no doubt, have bigger hurdles to jump over than others.

Three Nordic countries - Finland, Sweden and Norway - all have women directors up for contention this year. Dane Suzanne Bier won a foreign-language film Oscar for her 2010 pic "In a Better World." But Sweden reps one of the most advanced countries in pushing forth gender equality both in front and behind the lens.

"Gender equality is really important in Sweden," says Pia Lundberg, head of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute. "The film industry for many decades has been so male-dominated that one of the most important issues at SFI is to strengthen the role of female directors."

The SFI, which backs many Swedish pics with government coin, aims to use 50% of its funds on femme-helmed pics.

"This is a very high goal," says Lundberg. "But the way we see it is we have 50% women in our country as every other country and we should have the same representation for filmmakers. The diversity question is important to us."

It's clear that they mean business, because from 2000-05, 20% of films supported by SFI were from female directors, while from 2006-12 that figure increased to 29%.

But, notes Lundberg, there is still a problem when it comes to private funding: "Not many private investors are as willing to invest in films directed by woman compared to men. Even if we give women directors funding, it's difficult for them to find the rest of the budget together and therefore many projects with female filmmakers fall apart before they get the greenlight."

Swedish helmer Gabriela Pichler's debut pic, "Eat Sleep Die," is the country's Oscar submission this year. She considers herself fortunate to be a female director in the country.

"There is an awareness and open discussion about the gender perspective, and there's a will to bring more female directors to the front," she says.

Being a female helmer in a man's world, she says, caused her to push herself more. "I became even more of a perfectionist. When you are a woman in this male-dominated area, you feel that you have to be even better and you don't allow yourself to make any mistakes or flaws."

For Ulrika Bengts, whose pic "Disciple" reps Finland's Oscar entry, the discussion of male vs. female directors is a new thing. Having directed plenty of TV series and docs, it took the helmer nearly 20 years to make her first feature (2011's "Iris").

She calls "Disciple," a story about young men becoming men, her own "gift to Finnish men."

"Male directors have always been making films about women," she says. …

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