There’s a paradigm shift happening on the silver screen, and Toronto’s film fête is at the forefront.

By Sienna Vittoria Lee-Coughlin

The momentum from global digital movements like #aintnocinderella, #metoo, and #timesup has reshaped the conversation around women’s issues, but there is still a long way to go. Gender discrepancies remain in countless industries. In film, for example, only 11 per cent of the top 250 projects in 2017 were directed by women, and just 18 per cent of directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers were women.

TIFF’s VP of Advancement, maxine bailey recognizes this discrepancy, but refuses to accept it. In 2017, she launched the Share Her Journey campaign, which aims to empower women entering the film industry.

“It makes a difference when you see a story through a female lens,” says bailey. She believes that the current lack of female visibility in film, the relegation of women to supporting roles, and the lack of choice in film offerings that speak to the female experience all represent a situation that needs our attention. “It breaks my heart,” she says.

bailey transitioned from theatre to the film industry when she volunteered for TIFF in what she refers to as “the olden days.” She rose up the ranks, learning the inner workings of all aspects of the film festival, and is now leading revenue-generating efforts, membership, and government interactions. After hearing the Swedish Film Institute’s Anna Serner talk at Cannes a few years ago about what they were doing to achieve gender equity, bailey went home “with a rallying cry.” Research shows that more women are responsible for household spending, particularly entertainment spending, so bailey thought to herself: “Why aren’t they seeing films made for them and by them?” TIFF crunched some numbers and realized that with diversity as one of its major pillars, the Festival was already tapping into this imbalance by screening a good number of female-led films. But bailey wanted to do more.

When she pitched Share Her Journey, a program that would fund a range of mentorship opportunities for women trying to break into the film industry, the team jumped on board. The campaign launched in 2017 with a pledge to raise $3 million over five years, and was given an annual target of $500,000, which it blew through in its inaugural run, raising $971,000. This year’s target was boosted to $1 million. So far, $1.3 million of the $3 million target has been raised, with funds supporting a screenwriter residency, a producer accelerator program, and partnerships with development labs such as Rising Stars.

“I haven’t seen anything else as holistic and cross-organizational as Share Her Journey at any other film festival,” says bailey. “This is definitely unique to TIFF.”

The response from aspiring female directors, filmmakers, producers, and even moms with young film-savvy daughters has been overwhelmingly positive. “It was the right time. It was the right place,” she says. By the end of this year, bailey hopes that they will have impacted 100 women’s lives. “This is not to say that we’re not supporting male filmmakers,” she says. “We’re just trying to even the playing field.”

Still, the dialogue around gender equity currently circulating the film industry has brought about some positive change within the last year. As examples, bailey cites Telefilms’ pledge for a 50-50 male-female ratio by 2020, and TV shows that have all-female writing rooms, such as Anne with an E.

“Even the kind of shows that we’re seeing on TV or the films that are coming out, you are seeing a change, a different lens, a different approach,” she says. And by starting at the grassroots level of the film industry—with the scriptwriting and producing of the films themselves—Share Her Journey’s efforts will likely (hopefully) influence other aspects of the industry too. “We’re going to change the narrative with all the funds we raise so that more women have more opportunities and we will see different films in five to 10 years,” says bailey. “Women’s stories are valid stories.”

So the seeds of change are planted and now tended to by bailey and the empowered women she surrounds herself with. That balanced film industry, with true gender equity and an equal number of films shown through a female lens as through a male lens, is still a dream, a goal. But progress is being made.

“I want to get to that utopia we’re talking about,” says bailey, speculating on such a world. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I think it’s going to be amazing and I want to be there.”

 

Maxine Bailey Photo By George Pimentel, Ambassador Photos Courtesy Of TIFF
Above: Some of the Share Her Journey Ambassadors (clockwise from top left)
1. Jennifer Baichwal documentary filmmaker, writer, director
2. Carol Nguyen filmmaker
3. Deepa Mehta filmmaker
4. Erika Olde producer; president and founder of Black Bicycle Entertainment
5. Omoni Oboli actor, filmmaker
6. Ann Marie Fleming writer, director, animator
7. Ashley McKenzie filmmaker
8. Priyanka Chopra actor, producer, activist
maxine bailey, VP of Advancement at TIFF

“Women’s stories are valid stories.”