2023 marked our 20th anniversary as a charity, giving us pause to reflect on the progress made in gender equity in cinema in that time, and the progress we are working towards.
Tracking gender equity in cinemas
And #ReclaimTheFrame still we must, given the disproportionate number of films that are still made by cis men along with the fall in films by people of marginalised genders in the last couple of years. Following the drop in UK theatrical film releases by marginalised gender filmmakers to 24% last year (the same as 2018) or 155 out of 582 films written and/or directed by women (including co-credits of at least 50%), the figure rose to 27% this year (the same as 2019). There has thus not been any consistent progress since we started tracking UK releases back in 2017, and before we can begin to consider the annual share to be meaningful, it needs to exceed the all-time high of 30% in 2021. It’s a similar pattern with films written by marginalised genders which is around the same level as five years ago. Positively, after three years of directors of marginalised genders accounting for 20% of UK releases, this figure has risen, incrementally, to 21%.
When we look at the percentage of UK releases directed by Black, indigenous and people of colour filmmakers of marginalised genders, whilst, unfortunately, the figure remains small, it has increased over the last three years from 4% in 2021 to 6.1% in 2022, and then down slightly to 5.7% this year. Unfortunately, for BIPOC writers of marginalised genders, the figure is moving in the opposite direction, down to around 5% in the last two years after the all-time high of 6.7% in 2021.
Mindful of our responsibility as an intersectional feminist and anti-patriarchal organisation in taking a less binary and more inclusive approach, from hereon in we commit to also track the number of films theatrically released in the UK by openly trans filmmakers: this year only one. Further to this, we have this year begun a piece of work around trans allyship, starting with an industry round table which took place during the London Film Festival, in partnership with Women & Hollywood and the BFI’s Inclusion team, and bringing in expertise from Trans on Screen.
In addition, we have now begun to track the longer trajectory of UK film releases starting with debuts by women / non-binary persons which accounted for 43% or 53 films this year.
The boom in (particularly female led and particularly British) debuts from 2022 and 2023 has been well documented, including Reclaim The Frame supported titles BLUE JEAN, RYE LANE and HOW TO HAVE SEX. This recognition of a new wave of female talent – as reflected in last year’s BAFTA nominations and this year’s BIFA nominations - is an exciting moment. Yet, as we’ve commented recently in Screen International and on BBC Front Row, it does beg the question as to what support will be available for this current wave of talent further down the line, as they attempt to make a second or third feature.
So, what have we been doing this past year at Reclaim The Frame?
As part of our mission to bring a broader perspective of the world through cinema, Reclaim The Frame has over the course of 2023 supported 25 films – 23 new releases and 2 repertory titles - working with 15 distributors and 40 cinemas across the UK, as well as festivals that included Edinburgh International Film Festival and Queer East. All titles were written and / or directed by filmmakers of marginalised genders, and 42% by Black and women of colour writers/directors, 25% by openly LGBTQI+ writers/directors, and 4% trans and 4% non-binary writers/directors. 50% of the films we supported were debut features.
With over 100 live events and 100+ events with pre-recorded content across the UK, we continued – and continue - to build community and engage audiences. We survey audiences at most events and are grateful for the feedback we receive and continue to learn from: 93% of audiences this year rated the films they saw as 5/5 or 4/5 and 91% rated their overall experience as 5/5 or 4/5. 93% who do not usually attend film events felt included, and 93% said they were very likely or likely to recommend Reclaim The Frame to a friend.
We continue to reach an increasingly diverse audience – this year exceeding / seeing growth in our own targets: 38% aged under 30, 32% identifying as BIPOC, 39% as LGBTQI+ (incl 4% as QTIPOC), 31% as Deaf and disabled, 21% disadvantaged. 67% of our audiences identify as women, 27% as men, 5% as non-binary and 3% as a different gender to that assigned at birth. We began tracking the number of working class audiences over the past 6 months, as defined by BFI, which came to 12%, a figure we’re working to grow. 33% represent new audiences for the cinemas we work with and 11% hadn’t been to the venue in question over the past year.
We stepped up our commitment to cinema access in 2023, working to standardise access provisions and increase the number of accessible events overall: this year, two-thirds of our events were screened with descriptive subtitles, and all descriptive subtitled events that had post-screening discussions were live captioned as part of an increasingly holistic approach to accessibility. This work is all the more urgent given the high proportion of audiences with access needs attending our events in recent months, as noted above.
Next year we aim to continue improving and expanding our access provision. Through our recent fundraising efforts, these goals have become more attainable: thank you to everyone who contributed to our Big Give-supported #ReclaimTheFrameForAll campaign earlier this year and helped us to reach 100% of our target towards our access initiatives.
In 2023, we began consulting those with lived experience and expertise in hosting relaxed screenings to learn how we can best provide these screenings. We have begun embedding a relaxed approach for our events so our audiences feel safe and comfortable enough to move around and leave the space if needed. We have been working with partner venues to provide quiet spaces at events for our audiences to use at any time. For our recent title, IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?, all screenings had dim lighting and slightly reduced volume. We will continue working collaboratively on providing relaxed screenings in 2024.
Reclaim The Frame in the UK and beyond
One of our openly publicised priorities and another strategy to increase equality and inclusion has centred on developing the impact of what we do in the nations and regions: over the last 18 months we have devolved the campaign through the recruitment of 8 Regional Impact Producers – including two new appointments in Belfast and Birmingham - and in the last six months 69% of our audiences were based outside London and the South-East, up from 52% in the previous year.
Along with a greater focus on developing the campaign regionally we have also been spreading our wings internationally with the completion this Spring of our Reclaim The Frame x International project, circulating titles from Lebanon, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey and the UK to, and in partnership with, women’s film festivals across Asia and North Africa, supported by the British Council. Our partnership with Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival continued with a curated selection of UK titles to Ankara in Turkiye last month.
Back in the UK, we continue to support the pipeline of marginalised gender filmmaker talent through our annual Filmonomics training programme and are thrilled to see our alumni continue to achieve the success that they deserve.This year Rachel Ramsay from our 2022 edition premiered her debut documentary COPA ’71 at Toronto International Film Festival while previous alumni Nour Wazzi’s film LOCKED IN landed the number one spot on Netflix's Global Top 10. Just last week we announced the cohort, and speakers, for our 8th edition, supported by ScreenSkills Film Skills Fund, which started this week and runs through until next March. The eighteen talented writers, directors and producers based across the UK were selected from a record number of applications and our most geographically diverse to date.
Filmmakers, please do keep your eyes peeled for news of more continued professional development initiatives opening next year.
The State of the Industry
All of our achievements in 2023 would not be possible without partnerships and collaborations, and the ongoing process of listening, learning and unlearning. And it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the context in which we and our partners are operating: according to a recent Independent Cinema Office report, 42% of venues said they can only continue to operate within the current climate for between three months to a year. In the spirit of the season of giving, we have made a donation to Film & TV Charity’s The Strikes May Be Over, The Emergency Is Not campaign and encourage those who can to the same by following the links.
The post-Covid impact of changes to operating models, shifts in audience behaviour and the rise of online streaming, along with the economic challenges of reduced availability of public funding, a cost-of-living crisis, and a rise in energy prices, have all heavily impacted the independent cinema sector. So too has the rise in human rights violations and discriminations against a range of minority groups in our community, and government impingements on our rights to peaceful protest and to freedom of speech. The independent cinema sector needs support because of the turbulent times we live in, and because of the power of film to tell stories, which amplify voices, foster understanding, heal, and imagine a freer world for all.
Reclaim the Frame with us
For now, we invite you to join us in celebrating the release of Savanah Leaf’s powerful EARTH MAMA in cinemas across the UK right now, together with a #ReclaimTheFrame recorded Q&A with the #BIFA2023 winning director.
We’ll be welcoming in the New Year by joining the party celebrating the release of YOUR FAT FRIEND – marking UK documentary filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s 11th feature.
Reclaim The Frame builds community but it is also part of one: and my thanks go first and foremost to Reclaim The Frame’s dedicated team, and to our Trustees, distributor partners, venue partners, community of collaborators and to the BFI Audience Fund who renewed their commitment to our work, 2023-2026.
Wishing a happy holidays to all of our audiences, advocates and allies, and we hope to see you in a cinema venue sometime soon.
As always, to find out about our latest news, events and opportunities, and to spread the word, please do sign up to our newsletter as an Advocate here, and follow us on social media at @ReclaimTheFrame on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.