Why we still need to fight for a female-focused film industry

FILM | | | |

Say it out loud and it’s obvious: a film festival that exclusively screens movies that pass the Bechdel Test (and thereby do not criminally sideline their female characters)? Yes, surely that must exist. And, thanks to feminist film fan Corrina Antrobus, it does!

But before we hear from Corrina, here’s a quick refresher – for the benefit of big-budget Hollywood producers and high-ranking members of the clergy who are yet to come across the test and may still not know what it involves (everyone else, just read ahead). Inspired by a 1985 comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test has become a basic measure to see if women are fairly represented in a film.
For a film to pass The Bechdel Test, the movie must simply have the following:

1. It must have at least two female characters.
2. They must both have names.
3. They must talk to each other about something other than a man.

It seems like a low bar, but you’d be surprised at just how many films still fail this test (45% of Hollywood produced movies released in 2015 crashed and burned, Bechdel-wise, for instance). So yes: a properly supported, buzzy Bechdel Test Fest on London’s annual film festival calendar? It’s a very good idea indeed. Now here’s Corrina…


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Corrina at the BTF’s Nora Ephron supper club – possibly partaking of some pecan pie


Hi Corrina. So what inspired you to start a film festival in London around the Bechdel Test?

It was a mixture of frustration with the industry and time on my hands after being made redundant from my movie marketing job. The frustration stemmed from being plugged so many male-oriented films, despite regular research being released showing female-led films make more money – they’re good for box office.  I wanted to create something to show the world the fantastic female-led and -directed films just waiting to be discovered.

We first launched last year, the whole thing began as a year-long celebration for the Bechdel Test as it celebrated its 30th anniversary. After the year was up we found it was such a popular concept that we decided to keep it going.


It seems like so much more than just a film festival…

‘Festival’ is really a loose term. We’re more about the idea of celebration – not just the celebration of the Bechdel Test, but the celebration of women, especially women in film and on screen. We’re having fun with it and seeing where we can it take it, and every event is very different to the next. We recently ran a Nora Ephron super club [celebrating the legendary writer-director whose credits include When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia, and who died in 2012], and it was our most exhausting (but still really fun) event yet. We screened two films back-to-back and followed it up with a four-course meal.

“We need to support these films and show people that the whole idea that women can’t work together is just bollocks”


Lately I’ve heard a few film-industry insiders talk about the remarkably supportive atmospheres you find on female-dominated sets – and how it plays contrary to the idea that women-only workplaces are these bitchy, catty places.

This idea about all-female workplaces being these bitchy environments is an infuriating one. That perception absolutely needs to be challenged and erased because it’s only going to hold us back. So many films out there have all female crews and are incredibly successful. We screened Speed Sisters this year. It  had an all-female crew (bar one male producer) and an all female cast – it was fantastic, successful and brilliant. We really need to work together to support these films and show people that the whole idea that women can’t work together is just bollocks.


Still from the 2015 Palestinian movie Speed Sisters – directed by Amber Fares, with an all-female cast and crew

Still from the 2015 Palestinian movie Speed Sisters – directed by Amber Fares, with an all-female cast and crew

Are you a target for sexism online?

We’re lucky to not get too much trolling or too many snippy remarks and if we do, we just ignore them. Ignore, block and move on.


Are you surprised at how many films still fail the test today?

No, not at all. That’s partly because there are still so many films being made by men. A film is 12% more likely to pass the test if there are more female members on set and in the crew. A woman behind the camera is going to produce a more realistic portrayal of female stories. The fact that we’re still struggling to get even 20% female directors means I don’t find it surprising at all. It is sad, though.


We recently submitted all of Shakespeare’s plays to a version of the test, and we were pleasantly surprised that over 20 passed – despite being written by a man who was alive more than 400 years ago.

I guess I’m surprised… but I guess Shakespeare was also a bit genius so maybe not so surprised. He writes about the language of love and comedy; these things do not by any means exclude females from their narratives. Maybe we should be looking a little bit more to the classics to lead the way.

“A film is 12% more likely to pass the test if there are more female members on set and in the crew”


Who are your favourite female filmmakers right now?

I really love Kim Longinotto. She’s a documentary maker and I’m a big fan of documentaries and the way they depict female stories. Dreamcatcher is one of hers which we screened last year as part of the BFI [the Bechdel Test Fest were invited to curate three events at the BFI’s 2015 London Film Festival], it’s such an important complex story. Kim is incredibly insightful, respectful and textured in her portray of female stories.

Oh, and Carol Morley – I love The Falling. Carol is also a really textured story teller. She’s got her documentary work and doesn’t shy away from the raw personal element. She’s a real power woman working so hard in the industry right now. She’s one of our treasured gems.


Are you optimistic about the future of women’s portrayal in the media and the film industry?

Yeah, I am, actually. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Last year there was a lot of talking and this year there is a lot of doing – the doing is resulting in things like 50/50 funding coming in and looking more strategically at the diversity issue and how we can be part of the solution.

I’m surrounded by so many intelligent and creative women working towards better representations and opportunities for women. As long as they keep working there’s a bright future. We need to keep publishing the stats, keep training women to be part of the industry… Maybe I’m naive but I wouldn’t want to be part this movement if I didn’t see it having a bright future.


The Bechdel Test Fest is hosting a screening of 25th anniversary screening of Thelma & Louise on 12 July. Find out how you can attend by checking out their website.

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