That Toronto stands for diversity is a truism. There are other cities which appear to have cracked the diversity thing, but even in the most ‘multi-cultural’ spots of, say, New York or London, you can come up against a withering racist gaze. None of that in Toronto. In this fair city, truly, we are the world.
That the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has a strong, stated practice of gender balance is another truism, but it bears repeating in these times of Me Too and Time’s Up.
TIFF’s ‘Share Her Journey’ programme has been working quietly and steadily to consciously increase the participation of women in film, both in front and behind the camera. “Women see things from a different lens,” says Maxine Bailey, the organiser of the programme, “Here at TIFF, we are doing everything we can to extend that lens.”
My ten minutes with Bailey extended to twenty as she spoke passionately about the programme, and how it has been in existence much before Harvey Weinstein’s shameful escapades exposed the depth of the sexist rot in Hollywood, and how only a conscious corrective plan will begin to undo that skew. “We want to place those conversations at the centre of everything,” she said.
Earlier on the same morning, actor Geena Davis and founder of the Geena Davis Institute addressed an enthusiastic crowd ahead of the Share Her Journey rally. “No more missed opportunities,” she said, and everyone roared in approval. Davis’ team is doing stellar work in focusing on gender imbalance in Hollywood, and a lot of the data feels true for other film industries around the world. “Write a character and ask yourself, can this one be female,” said Davis. “In a crowd, can half the people be women? If she can see it, she can be it.”
When filmmakers start consciously to bring in female voices into their stories, real change will happen. Nandita Das, who is at TIFF with her second directorial Manto, was also on stage, talking of the deep-seated prejudices which impact women’s lives. “We all have multiple identities but for better or for worse, I realise my identity as a woman is a powerful one.”
Seeing women doing things not traditionally considered ‘feminine’ is empowering. When woke programmers search for films by women and of women, they complete a necessary arc, because they are looking for films with strong female representation. Share Her Journey is a platform which speaks to both ends of that spectrum — from #AfterMeToo to #Reframe. Can this be replicated around the world? That is the question I carry back with me.
Deepa Mehta, Toronto resident and an integral part of the growth of TIFF and Share Her Journey, is missing being at the festival. She is in New Delhi, and I speak to her over email, about the growth of the programme and if it will really increase the prospects of women in the film industry.
“We all need champions when we try to get our work seen and our voices heard,” she said. “And let’s be honest, it is
Does this focus ghettoise female directors? Such filmmakers as Kathryn Bigelow are not madly happy at being labelled ‘female directors’. Mehta doesn’t agree.
“I don’t think it creates a divide. If anything, in my experience, the male (enlightened) directors, really welcome it. As for the rest of them, loosen up guys, the more variety we have in our emotional/creative voices, the better the films will be.”
Can’t really argue with that.