The Australian film industry is one that’s plagued with incredible gender disparity.
In Australia, only 15 per cent of our directors are female; on projects with female producers, men still dominate the creative team, making up on average 60 per cent; and an alarming study found that, between 1996 and 2016, more than 75 per cent of male producers in the industry worked on films with only one or no women in key creative roles.
But a documentary to be released this month draws attention to one of the unsung heroines of the industry. Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible is a delightful insight into the career of Bilcock, an Australian film editor, who’s worked on nearly half of the most successful Australian films to date—from Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, to Red Dog, and, of course, Muriel’s Wedding.I was lucky enough to speak to the executive producer of Jill Bilcock: Dancing the invisible, Sue Maslin—another inspirational female leader in the industry. She is a Melbourne based producer, and won Best Australian Film in 2003 for her feature, Japanese Story.
This year Maslin was inducted into the Victorian Roll of Women in recognition for her tireless work promoting female leadership, both behind and in front of the camera. I spoke to her about her views on the Australian film industry, why she chose to work on the documentary about Bilcock, and how we can work towards equal representation.
To begin with, Maslin shared her thoughts on our industry, which produces some classic and quirky films.
“Australia is considered internationally as one of the leading film cultures, it can punch well above its weight.
“By-and-large, we have an independent film industry where we’re telling stories, primarily of targeted to culturally specific stories, but ones with universal themes.”
She mentions recent films like The Dressmaker (2015), which stars Kate Winslet—a film Maslin produced—and others like Lion (2016), as well as the adaptation of Tim Winton’s Breath (2017). These films come from very unique historical moments, set in what may seem like very exotic Australian locations, but can still resonate with international audiences.
“Because those films deal with big themes, such as things to do with grief or love, or loss, or revenge, or redemption, coming of age. These are all universal themes that can be shared by anyone around the world,” Maslin says.
So, what was it about Jill Bilcock’s story that Maslin felt needed to be told?
“Jill is a genius, and I don’t use that use that word lightly. She is regarded here in Australia, but also internationally, as one of the great filmmakers of our time.”
And without much deliberation, Sue can highlight why:
“She has the capacity to take extraordinary creative risks, working often with first time directors early in their career”.
Baz Lehrmann is an example of one of those directors whose unique style can largely be attributed to Jill’s wild and risky editing style.
“The great skill and artistry of an editor is the fact that they’re not just working with the hopes and the dreams and the wish-fulfilment of what we hope to do on our film. She’s working with what is actually filmed with the camera—and that enters the edit room. She needs to craft the story from what you’ve actually achieved on film or on tape.”
One of the reasons Jill’s career is so intriguing is that it is both an inspiring and eye-opening story of success in a male-dominated industry.
I asked Sue about what solutions she could see towards achieving equal representation, and she had multiple and very insightful suggestions.
“I think that affirmative action is absolutely the key; we are at a point where—if you leave it slowly in the hope that the market will eventually come up with fifty-fifty gender parity—we’ve seen that that’s plainly not the case over the last 30 years.
“So, things like the Screen Australia Gender Matters Taskforce, which was able to secure five million dollars to kickstart the development of a huge number of projects that were female driven and female focused.
“As well as, my particular focus, which is getting more women into leadership positions because it’s appalling that there are so few women that decide what we see on our screens here in Australia; which is the reason why we have a film industry that, every year, puts out around 35 to 40 feature films, and of those there are often less than five that have female protagonists.
“There are other interventions around policy, and that’s where you see targets being set, so you’ve probably seen the fifty-fifty by 2020 as a target that’s been set across a number of the funding agencies.”
I asked Sue whether something needed to be changed in the mindsets of men in the industry, given the persisting culture of males predominately, and almost exclusively, working with other males.
“It’s just bringing awareness to that issue because men don’t actively discriminate against women; what they do, through subconscious bias, they work with people who they are familiar with, that look like them, speak like them, act like them.
“Also, there’s the fact that there’s a great deal of risk involved in financing films and television, and as soon as you put risk into the equation people will try and mitigate that risk and work with people who they think it’ll be safer to work with—that’s people they know. So, people tend to stay within their own networks, so it’s a historical problem, a cultural problem, a problem of unconscious bias.
“It’s changing now through these direct interventions, through policy guidelines and through funding where men are going ‘Oh, I really do need to look around at talented women out there. Who’s around?’ They just didn’t have to do that before.”
So, whether you’ve doubted you’re career choice in the film industry (or most other industries) because you’re not male, or you’re concerned about the fact that a privileged few controls what you get to watch, hopefully you can take courage in the work and words of Jill Bilcock and Sue Maslin—two of the industries greats.
When in doubt, remember Maslin’s keys to success:
“Be true to your own voice. Be authentic. Not to try and second guess what other people want, or what the audience wants, but to actually tell stories that comes from a really true place inside you.”
Advance Fundraiser screening for the Natalie Miller Fellowship on Sunday, 22 July at Luna Leederville.
Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible will be screening at Luna from July 26.