While we were in Edinburgh, the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) began. We were able to meet with Diane Henderson, the Deputy Artistic Director of the festival, to learn more about it. We met with her at the Filmhouse Cinema, the birthplace of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. EIFF began in 1947 as the International Festival of Documentary Films and is the world’s longest continually running film festival. Today, it shows films from Britain and beyond in all different types of genres. As Diane put it, the festival is a celebration of cinema. Before arriving in Edinburgh and seeing the signs all around town advertising it, I had never heard of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I learned that EIFF is a major film festival, both in the UK and worldwide. It was the first to include a dedicated Women’s Film Festival. In 1972 the festival added the Women’s Film Festival, a section exclusively for female directors, as part of EIFF. This has been copied all over the world by other festivals. EIFF was also the first film festival to have a woman director. Lynda Myles was EIFF’s Festival Director from 1973 to 1980, and the first woman to have that job at any film festival in the world.
Both our talk with Diane and our meeting with the British Film Institute (BFI) a few weeks ago has shown me that the UK has different focuses when it come to the film that are made there. The BFI is funded by taxes and is governed by a Royal Charter. It has funding available to British filmmakers to help them make independent films. Not only does the BFI help fund independent films, but it also places a focus on the films they help fund having diversity both on-screen and behind the scenes. The BFI wants to promote diversity in film by helping films made by and/or about ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community. In the US, the film industry seems to be dominated by Hollywood and big studios. While funding may be available to independent filmmakers, it doesn’t come from taxes and is often much harder to secure. There have been controversies in recent years with Hollywood’s lack of diversity, for example the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in reaction to the 2016 Academy Awards nominations. Diversity, or a lack of it, is less of an issue in the UK.
Over here the culture is different about diversity in the media. It is expected and normal for there to be diversity. Back home diversity is often something that needs to be pushed, and many of those pushes are faced with criticism and negativity. At our meeting we Golly Slater one of my classmates remarked that she got excited when in their commercial they chose to have Medusa portrayed as a black woman. As a black woman herself, my classmate’s excitement came from seeing herself represented on screen. This is something we heard multiple times. At Golly Slater, BBC Scotland, and at our meeting with Diane Henderson, they all said that what people want to see in the media is themselves represented. The Golly Slater employee we were speaking with was surprised that my classmate was excited by their commercial. He said that in the UK having diversity in the media is something unremarkable. The culture and history of the US and UK are different, and this leads the two counties to hold different views of diversity in the media.
I saw proof of the BFI’s commitment to helping filmmakers and promoting diversity at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Me and two of my classmates were able to see the film that opened the festival, God’s Own Country. The film was written and directed by Francis Lee, and received funding from the BFI. It is about a young man working on his family’s farm after his father has had a stroke. When a foreign farmhand comes to work on the farm, he and the main character end up falling in love. The film was immersive and focused a lot on non-verbal communication. The director mentioned that these were goals of the film in a Q and A session after the movie. I would not expect a film about a gay romance to open a major film festival. It goes to show that the UK both promotes diversity and is more accepting of diversity in the media than the US.
2016 is when the BFI introduced their Diversity Standards. They are helping promote diversity in the films they fund, and have thrown down the gauntlet to the wider British film industry. Both in the US and UK there are issues with a lack of diversity both in-front-of and behind the camera. There was an interesting article published in 2016 by the UK newspaper The Guardian in reaction to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. It was about how much of Britain’s diverse acting talent is leaving the UK for Hollywood. These actors feel that they can’t find satisfying roles in films made in the UK. The BFI’s new Diversity Standards are in part due to diverse film talent leaving Britain. They are also in response to audiences calling for better and more diverse representation in films and other media. The US film industry has not responded in a similar way. The 2017 Oscar nominations were more diverse, and the Best Picture winner Moonlight did have a Black and LGBTQ focus. However, at an industry level there has not been a similar call to action like what the BFI has done. Films featuring diverse casts and crews and films focusing on the stories of women or minorities are still something special. When asked to name famous movie director we can easily come up with a rather substantial list of male directors, but when asked during our visit to the BFI to name famous female movie directors we could only come up with two names. Many great female film directors do not have the same opportunity to build their career and legacy the way many male directors do. This is one reason I want to work in the film industry. I want to help raise the number of female writers, produces, and directors in the US film industry. This field needs diverse voice working in it to put the representation people want on screen.