the 47and The Cesar ceremony will take place on Friday, February 25. Among the genres distinguished by the famous trophies, there is the documentary film. This year, five films have been selected by the Academy, only one of which is the work of a female director: it’s “Bigger Than Us”, by Flore Vasseur. Another documentary, “The Snow Panther”, was co-directed by Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier. This category does not quite reach parity and it is far from trivial. In January, Garrd’s union published a survey on the proportion of female author-directors of documentaries on public television. Unsurprisingly, they are much rarer than their male counterparts. Both on television and in the cinema, this environment still seems to be hampered by a treacherous glass ceiling. decryption.
If they are rare among the Césars, the directors of documentaries don’t seem to be better received on television. In any case, this is apparent from an unpublished study by the Guild of Authors-Directors of Reports and Documentaries (Gardd) that was published last January. For four months, the union assessed television programs from September 2020 to September 2021 to assess the proportion of French female documentary makers on public channels (France 2, France 3, France 5 and Arte). Result: only 32% of the documentaries broadcast are made by women (excluding mixed works).
The male predominance noted by the study is confirmed regardless of the box, channel or broadcast schedule of the documentaries – the study only covers evening broadcasts. However, two genres are particularly dissimilar: only 16% of the “history documentaries” offered by France Télévisions were made by women – a figure that drops to 10.3% on Arte. In “science and discovery” the situation is even more alarming: female directors are only present at 8.7% on French television and 7.1% on Arte. As for prime time (broadcast in the early part of the evening), prime time when the crowds are there, the same disparities can be seen. No documentary of a woman has been broadcast on France 2. At that time, 3 women were signing a film against 41 men on Arte.
How can this low presence of female documentary makers on television be explained? Are they less numerous than their male colleagues? Or less talented? “Actually, there are a lot of women in the profession. But what our research shows is that they fail to access all distribution slots. They are still barred from certain areas, especially those where there is money and prestige., said Myriam Elhadad, member of the Garrd’s board of directors. For the union, this phenomenon has nothing to do with chance and is the result of “a problem of systemic discrimination”, conscious or unconscious.
“There is a certain lack of confidence”
Before being broadcast, a documentary has to go through several filters. The first is that of the producer, whose goal is to sell the film project to a broadcaster. “From this first level, inequalities can arise. Producers want ‘bankable’ directors to call on the channels, for example someone who has already made several films in an area’, says Myriam Elhadad. This leaves little opportunity for young directors, and even less for young female directors. “At the beginning of my career, I was in a system where I developed ideas that I could then entrust to male colleagues. I often heard people say ‘the station is going to love him, he has the shoulders for this project and he has the bottle’. As if a woman doesn’t have one…’ recalls Estelle Walton, author-director of documentaries.
In areas where directors are overrepresented on public channels, such as history or science, clichés also struggle. “It’s not said openly, but certain terms suggest that, in a scientific environment, a woman will have a ‘feminine touch’ that is less attractive. But no, we are all professionals and capable of making a good subject », supports Estelle Walton, who now specializes in science. As a result, a certain self-censorship can affect female directors: “There is a huge legitimacy problem. We don’t feel legitimate because we don’t feel represented”widely the director.
Once they manage to sell their movie idea to a production company, the writer-directors have to get the approval of the television channels. “It’s the biggest filter. There is a certain lack of trust from the channels towards female directors, which translates in different ways.”, explains Myriam Elhadad. As an example, the Garrd report states that “chaperonage” can be requested by the chains (or the manufacturers). “Despite a director’s experience, we can imagine she directing or writing her film with a man, ostensibly to ‘help’.”, continues the director and member of the Garrd. Finally, a certain also works among themselves against professionals in the field. “The channels work with directors they know, who come from the seraglio. We can come to deviations, whereby the same directors sometimes make several films at the same time.indignant Myriam Elhadad.
The need for collective reflection
Faced with these findings, the Garrd sounds the alarm. The union calls on the entire profession to “start a collective reflection” to end this discrimination. But to concretely improve the situation, the organization advocates strong measures: “what we are asking for is to set 50/50 gender quotas on all broadcast slots”, says Myriam Elhadad. The research report specifies that this target could be achieved “in the medium term (two or three years)” and gradually. “We are waiting for agreements to discuss it with the channels. France Télévisions has in the past committed itself to applying quotas for fiction films, so why not for documentaries?continues the director, who indicates that this measure is experienced as “transient”.
The Garrd then wants to continue the counts every year and expand it to private broadcasters. Meanwhile, this professional association, founded in 2019, continues to sound the alarm about another phenomenon: the precariousness of the profession. “Broadcasting a documentary on a public channel, especially Arte, is kind of the holy grail in the business. But today, this prestige is not reflected in the increasingly harsh working conditions.”, says Myriam Elhadad. In the profession, female drivers and their male colleagues are the only ones who do not have a guaranteed minimum wage. “We are paid in a fixed price, ie in salary and royalties. We all know the environment isn’t very rewarding, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to be poorly paid”Estelle Walton insists. “This job shouldn’t be so elitist and complicated, let alone for women. If we want to be able to tell diverse stories and show the public a certain diversity of points of view, we will have to adopt more varied profiles and give ourselves the means.says the director.
Myriam Elhadad, for her part, wants to remain optimistic: “Hope arises. Arte has a production guide scheduled for 2022 and it appears the station is beginning to take stock of the issue. Women are more in the spotlight these days, but there is still a long way to go.”she decides.
To learn more about the Garrd’s actions, visit their site by clicking here.