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The BFI Greenlights Diversity

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kate Sheppard as green light
Yesterday was the 121st anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand. Yes, we were the first country in the world to give women the vote. And this year the Wellington City Council has commemorated this with some special pedestrian green lights near Parliament, portraying suffragist Kate Sheppard.

Also yesterday, I caught up with the British Film Institute (BFI)'s 'three ticks' policy, 'designed to address diversity in relation to ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status'. Green-lit in July, the policy went live on 1 September. The BFI is the largest public film fund in the United Kingdom, invests over £27m into film development, production, international sales and distribution, and supports around 30 new film productions each year.

From now on, to be eligible for BFI Film Fund support for production, producers who apply must demonstrate their commitment to encouraging diverse representation, across their workforces and in the portrayal of under-represented stories and groups on screen. To qualify under the 'three ticks' policy they need at least one tick in a minimum of two areas–
On-screen diversity– diverse subject matter, at least one lead character positively reflecting diversity, at least 30% of supporting and background characters positively reflecting diversity; 
Off-screen diversity– diverse key creatives (director, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer [note: this list does not include 'producer']), at least two Heads of Department from diverse backgrounds, production crew and production company staff (both with a range of targets across different diverse groups); 
Creating opportunities and promoting social mobility– paid internships and employment opportunities for new entrants from diverse backgrounds, training placements for people from diverse backgrounds, demonstrable opportunities for former trainees or interns to progress within their careers.
There will be challenges I imagine – even the Kate Sheppard green light is dependent on the other associated traffic lights –  but it will help that 'the BFI is also committed to engaging the UK film sector to build consensus around the best ways to approach diversity industry-wide, to develop an action-plan for change right across the UK’s film industry value chain'.

These new policies may mean that the UK will be the first country in the world where (diverse) women direct half of its features, instead of New Zealand, as I've always hoped, or Sweden, where gender equity policies have been in place for some time. The 'three ticks' concept must also influence other state funders committed to diversity in allocating production funds and to gender equity policies that reflect current best practice.

Will the BFI model spread to other parts of Europe, to Canada, Australia and even New Zealand?Very recently, the Directors & Editors Guild of New Zealand (DEGNZ) held a meeting that resolved to work towards increasing the participation of women directors and editors in feature film making and suggested a state-funded women's film fund, but will it now feel encouraged to advocate for the 'three ticks' concept, or a variant of it?  How might a 'three ticks' idea work alongside He Ara, a  New Zealand Film Commission devolved development fund to assist 'established New Zealand writers, producers and directors of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage to express authentic Māori and Pasifika film perspectives'?
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