When Hollywood lists a mere one female director for every 22 men, there’s a clear diversity issue in the film industry. The same can be understood when looking at directors of colour, whom— both men and women —make up under nine per cent of the 1,100 films made in the last 11 years.
Honing in on our Australian film industry, of the 37 Australian feature films and documentaries released in cinemas in 2014, only 16 per cent were directed by women. These are powerful numbers, given women represent just over 50 per cent of the population and make up 46 per cent of the workforce.
WINDA, Australia’s annual Indigenous film festival, is challenging this skewed landscape of mainstream filmmaking, especially when Indigenous film production often has an equal gender ratio in the sector.
This year, the festival will host a panel of successful Indigenous women, from around the world, in the film and television industry who will discuss the achievements, challenges and importance of Aboriginal women in filmmaking.
This weekend, First Nations Candanian (Migisi Sahgaigan) artist and filmmaker Michelle Derosier, writer and director Darlene Naponse who is also First Nations Canadian (Anishinaabe Kwe), producer Sardana Savvina from Sakha (Yakutia) in Russia’s north-east, producer Ane Lena Fussing Rosbach from Ilulissat in Greenland and media mogul from Australia’s Butchella and Jagera nations, Jodie Bell will come together to talk about gender and culture in film.
WINDA festival co-director, Gunai and Gureng Gureng woman, Medika Thorpe says this agenda is exciting and significant, but was not initially planned in this years' program.
“We have a very strong female filmmaker presence this year,” she told NITV.
“Unintentionally it [WINDA women: Indigenous female filmmakers panel] came together organically and we looked at it and were like, ‘there’s a lot of strong female filmmakers within the festival this year’.
It gave us an important opportunity to pull Indigenous female filmmakers from around the world to talk about what they’re doing within the Indigenous cinema scope and discuss the important roles they play within the industry too,” she said.
Ms Thorpe says the panel can offer an insightful exchange for many.
“We want them to reach out to women whether in film or TV and the wider industry; or just feminists, who want a really important discussion around filmmaking from a different perspective.”
Another major female presence at this years’ WINDA is First Nations Canadian activist and screen icon, Tantoo Cardinal.
The Cree woman is arguably the most widely recognised Indigenous actor, with over 120 film and television credits, which includes Dances With Wolves, Legends of the Fall and Smoke Signals, spanning over a 40-year career.
Ms Cardinal will be offering her decades of experience, conducting a masterclass in the growth and development of Indigenous performing arts; a huge gain for the small Australian film festival whose mission and purpose felt so important to Ms Cardinal, that she is wrapped up her work on the Netflix series Godless— starring Jason Momoa —early, to be a part of the event.
Ms Cardinal stars in the lead role of the festival’s Friday night film, Angelique’s Isle, a film which Ms Thorpe lists as one of her program favourites. Alongside the Canadian thriller, Ms Thorpe says she’s also excited for Roebourne-based Ngarluma filmmaker, Tyson Mowarin’s short Undiscovered Country.
“So picturesque. Lots of landscapes, lots of drone shots,” Ms Thorpe described the film. “But the story line of, coming back to culture and culture being healing and that resilience and reconnecting with country — it’s such a beautiful film.”
The WINDA film festival is in its third year and while still in its early stages, it has had some groundbreaking successes. This year it boasts nearly 20 Australian premieres.
Ms Thorpe draws on her years’ experience working in Toronto for imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest Indigenous film festival. She says events like these create a global network of Indigenous storytelling.
“I think we all share quite a similar history and you notice a lot of the storylines have some of the same themes, but it’s told in different ways because it’s still a different experience,” she told NITV.
“We value culture and that’s something that we draw on. We have stories that have been passed down.
“Within the festivals and the industry, we have all become this unit; a unity of coming together and celebrating Indigenous stories from our own countries, supporting each other and understanding and nurturing and pushing forward. It’s why we have the filmmakers themselves come over and be a part of the festival.”
With a program full of female representation and an event run by Indigenous women, Ms Thorpe reflects on the 2018 NAIDOC theme, Because of Her, We Can.
“It demonstrates that it doesn’t stop at NAIDOC, in that one week,” she says. “It’s [Aboriginal female excellence] is in the everyday of what we do.”
For the WINDA program and more information about the film festival, go to the website.