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Empowerment in the east: tackling gender at the Odessa Film Festival

  • kate Kinninmont

Kate Kinninmont (centre) at Cinema: Backstage

24th July 2018

Kate Kinninmont MBE reveals what happened at a lively event where British Council Ukraine unveiled its findings on equality in the arts.

As CEO of Women in Film & Television in the UK, I was delighted to be invited to speak at this year’s Odessa International Film Festival. The lively festival, directed by Julia Sinkevych, ran an excellent series of industry events from 15-20 of July, including Cinema: Backstage, a new initiative organised by Tamara Tatishvili, the Georgian representative of Eurimages and European Film Promotion.

The Cinema: Backstage conference focused on the theme, Gender Equality: Myth and Reality, and saw strong contributions from Roberto Olla, Executive Director of Eurimage, Ewa Puszcynska (producer of Ida and Cold War), Georgian director Nana Janelidze, Croatian director Hanna Slak, and Eric Garandeau, adviser to the Minister of Culture in France.

Olla opened the discussion by remarking that he had been very complacent about Eurimage’s track record on equality, believing that, while some individual countries may have a problem, Eurimage itself did not. Then he commissioned a review of Eurimage funding – and discovered that in fact everyone has a problem! He referenced Sweden’s Anna Serner as one woman who has tackled the problem successfully, and demonstrated that the problem lies not with the women filmmakers but with the commissioners.

Ewa Puszcynska told of her struggles to be recognised at a time when she was the only woman producer in her country and drew gasps from the audience when she spoke of being tapped on the shoulder while standing on the red carpet at Cannes and told that she should be looking after the producer. “I am the producer!”

Irina Prokofieva presenting the British Council report

A packed room witnessed the launch of the British Council’s report on Gender Equality and Empowerment in the Creative and Cultural industries, covering Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. Irina Prokofieva, manager of the research project, used a highly visual presentation to demonstrate the extent of the challenges facing the region and detailing how low gender awareness significantly influences the creative process.

A member of the audience pointed out that, until last year, the Ukrainian government had a list of 450 occupations deemed unsuitable for women. The list was issued by the Department of Health as these jobs were considered to be damaging to a women’s reproductive health. Yet another rule, which restricted women from working from 10pm to 6am, goes back to 1919, when women and men were prohibited from staying together during the night.  Apparently, there were great celebrations when this list of banned jobs was cancelled last year!

Irina pointed out that there is something of a Soviet legacy, and made the point that, as elsewhere in Europe, there is a generational shift in attitudes towards gender and sexism, but her statistics demonstrated that the region has a long way to go to really overcome this issue.

The mood in the room was far from depressing, however. The audience, which contained a good proportion of men, was fully aware of the difficulties they face, and seemed determined and optimistic about the future.

Find out more about the Odessa International Film Festival's Cinema: Backstage conference.