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Film markets are still (mostly) a man’s world, says a new Birds’ Eye View survey

PRESS RELEASE – June 12 2018

New data study by Stephen Follows on gender diversity amongst film professionals attending film markets and festivals

To time with CineEurope2018 we looked at film buying roles at film markets and found that women are under-represented in high status roles – which in turn affects what the audience sees.

Mia Bays, director-at-large of Birds’ Eye View and a producer and distribution strategist in her own right says: 

The reason for commissioning this research was because the market and audience-facing side of the film industry is under-discussed in terms of its connection to the issues around gender bias and the barriers to entry faced by female filmmakers. Yet time after time, through our work in distribution and exhibition, we see a consistent lack of market confidence in films by women – even after they win awards, get strong critical responses out of festivals, generate buzz. By the time the dust settles, they either don’t get distribution at all or if they do, the release is small and the lack of faith shows in the campaigns or the support from cinemas. And it all starts with the acquisitions part of the pipeline.

This is neither good business nor good practice and means large parts of the audience are underserved by film because buyers are not reflective of them, and do not value different types of films and filmmaking in the round.  The same dominant themes and styles are privileged over others and the gems from the non-dominant filmmakers get overlooked and we serve up the same thing again and again to an increasingly diffident audience, each time expecting a different result.

The data gathered shows the gender diversity in the sales and distribution sector of the film industry and whilst women do seem to be making some progress, the major disparity between genders is in ‘high status’ jobs; heavily skewing male – 68% male/32% female.

A Buyer responds (who is a senior female theatrical acquisitions executive who asked to remain anonymous):

Unfortunately, most women buyers I know do all the screenings, take all the meetings, read all the scripts, do all the coverage and generally run the acquisitions departments – but yet, crucially, are not in decision making roles. Which is of course directly reflected in the resulting slates. Which is of course directly reflected in cinema listings.

Louisa Dent and Cate Kane (Curzon/Artificial Eye) and Clare Binns (Picturehouse) are exceptions rather than the rule. And just look at how varied and brilliant their acquisition slates are! Their taste is unprejudiced and all-encompassing. They are who I look to when I feel there is no place for women in acquisitions and distribution.

Additionally, it’s not just a lack of women in decision-making Buyer roles; I do not know any female Heads of Distribution. Which is another real problem.

And to trace it all back to festivals – which is where buyers do a lot of acquisitions, there’s an alarming lack of Heads of Festivals of Programme Heads who are women. The independent acquisitions life-cycle is alarmingly senior women-free.

Stephen Follows pinpoints two areas of focus beyond this research:

Fairness. Unless we believe that women just don’t want senior roles or are inherently bad at them (neither of which has ever been shown) then the logical conclusion is that there is an inequity of opportunity. This is patently unfair to women and should have no place in a modern society.

The effect on film availability.  The sales and distribution sectors are relatively small but wield a lot of power over what movie audiences are able to choose to watch.  While it seems unlikely that many people are consciously choosing to ignore possible profitable films from and about women, it does appear that the unconscious bias which has been proven in other elements of the film industry is at play here too.  Audiences deserve to have a diversity of stories to pick from, not just those which male buyers chose to support.

Quote from Alison Thompson, Co-President, Cornerstone Films (a leading international sales agent):

This is a vital piece of research in the gender parity debate.  As we strive for richer, more distinctive, successful story-telling through film, it’s imperative to have greater gender diversity amongst decision-makers in all fields, including those in acquisitions, marketing and distribution.

See new study in full by @StephenFollows here…/


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