Director’s chair needs more women

Women still face challenges in advancing careers in film

Shannon Kaplun was the first student to be elected to the board of directors at Langara College. Photo by Jennifer Blake
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Reported by Jennifer Blake

Correction March 13, 2019: The Voice erroneously stated the National Film Board of Canada aimed to have gender parity amongst its directors within the next year. In fact, the NFB had parity the last two years. 

According to the most recent (2017) Canadian Media Producers Association study, only 17 per cent of film and television directors in Canada are women, and nearly 90 per cent of women in the industry report facing gender-based obstacles in advancing their career.

Langara alumni Shannon Kaplun said she has found success as a director in documentaries. She has female colleagues doing similar work to her, and that a bigger problem is in the big budget feature films.

“It’s men hiring men,” said Kaplun. “So it’s a cycle of a lot of men in power empowering other men.”

After graduating from Langara, Kaplun studied cultural anthropology at UBC, specializing in First Nations governance and the social detriments of health.

These studies prepared her for some of her most successful works, including her recent television series Dreamcatcher Bios, which highlights the achievements of 13 globally successful Indigenous professionals, and the documentary, Michelle Thrush, about the Cree actress from Calgary. It was this documentary that she entered into WIFTV’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival in 2014, and it won her a legacy award.

Breaking the cycle

Now Kaplun is the vice president of Women in Film and Television, created in 1989 in response to the limited opportunities for women in leadership positions within the film and television industry.

As an effort to create this outlet, WIFTV will hold its 14th annual Vancouver International Women In Film FestivalMarch 5th to 10th.

The National Film Board of Canada set a goal in 2016 to reach gender parity by 2019, and had 44 per cent of its works directed by women in their 2016-17 results, only a year after making its initial commitment to gender-equality. According to the NFB’s 2018-19 results, women now direct 48 per cent of the NFB’s works and 44 per cent of the NFB production budget was allocated to work created by women. In 2017, the NFB made additional goals for gender parity in creative positions, the results of which will be released in June 2019.

“We have to create space for women to catch up,” said Carol Whiteman, co-founder of Women In the Director’s Chair. “The higher the budget, the less we see women directors.”

Whiteman also said that male directors have had decades to develop their craft, which is why this space is so important.

Advancing her career

Emerging Canadian director Jill Carter, who worked as a production assistant before becoming a director, said that she can’t think of any situations where she felt her gender was a challenge, but she still sees the issue in the industry.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of any examples of women who are at the stage of their career that I’m at,” said Carter. “I still think there’s lots of work to do.”

Carter said producers and showrunners for her most recent project, Vancouver-based, The Murders, were very supportive of female directors. Two women and one man were hired as directors.

The VIWFF will be held at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver and will showcase films of many genres made by women from around the world. There will also be workshops, artist talks, pitch sessions and an awards ceremony held during the coming week.

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