Women in Film: The Bechdel Test

The Gold Coast Film Festival (GCFF) is an annual 10 day festival celebrating and promoting all aspects of film and filmmaking from one of Australia’s leading filmmaking locations and holiday destinations – the Gold Coast.

Each year the festival grows and expands in its scope. In 2016, the 14th annual Gold Coast Film Festival will include in its programs an indication of whether or not the film in question passes the Bechdel Test. For the uninitiated, the Bechdel Test is passed by a film which contains two named female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man. While it might seem like a fairly simple test to pass, once you actually begin consciously applying it the results can be surprising. Blank GC spoke with the festival’s director Lucy Fisher about the test and why she felt it was important to implement.

“As a feminist I felt it was really important to expand the women in film offering at the festival so I was looking at ways that we could promote female filmmakers and make people aware of the gender bias that exists within films that are presented to them”, explains Lucy.

“[The Bechdel Test is] one of those ways. It’s not a perfect test. It doesn’t tell you whether or not there’s a fully female crew behind the film, it’s about how women are written into the stories, if they’re just an addition to the man’s primary story; peripheral. I think it’s something like 67% of the films didn’t pass the test. So there’s a lot to be done in the way that women’s characters are portrayed in films.”

The Film Festival aims to explore a range of genres and styles, and includes offerings from men, women and a dedicated program for children. Diversity is key.

“We’re not trying to just be for women,” clarifies Lucy.

“But putting a pass or fail Bechdel Test along with the ratings is just highlighting it or raising it for discussion.”

It’s no secret that the majority of film directors are men, and this applies across the industry from the bright lights of Hollywood to the more grass roots aspect. Lucy elaborates.

“I guess it’s a hard industry to work in. 19% of films are directed by women. Of all the film schools in Australia, the graduates coming out are 50/50 men and women. They are graduating with the same qualifications and then after that it’s dropping off and it’s the male graduates that are getting films made and not the women. There is clearly an issue.”

It’s not just the Gold Coast Film Festival which is raising awareness of this issue. Screen Australia (the Federal Government’s primary agency for supporting Australian screen production) have introduced Gender Matters, a suite of initiatives that address the imbalance within the Australian screen industry.

“They are putting five million dollars into promoting female filmmakers and women-led stories so they’re recognising that both things are important to change,” says Lucy.

“Screen Queensland have followed with a real focus on promoting female filmmakers. It’s starting to change; the development of films are there, scripts are getting funded, so we’re not going to see the change for a little bit because all films have to go through the process and we’re right at the start.”

It’s not just man-made films that don’t pass the Bechdel Test. Lucy discusses the conundrum that is presented by a female-led film conforming to the traditional characterisations.

“They are going to be trying to get films made, and if the story doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test is that a win? If they get to make their film?”

Drama, one of the offerings for this year’s festival, is a female written and directed film in which the director Sophie Mathisen insisted upon a 50/50 split for all behind the scenes crew roles on the film including set builders and lighting technicians which are usually male dominated roles.

“I’ve never heard of anyone doing it before!” exclaims Lucy.

“Particularly for a low budget filmmaker that would have made her task even harder, it’s hard enough getting a film made and she even made it harder for herself.”

Interestingly, Drama does not pass the Bechdel Test. This is why it is important to be aware of the test’s limitations.

“It’s not an ideal measure, it’s a conversation starter” Lucy continues.

“At the film festival what I can do in my small little sphere of influence is prioritise bringing female directed films to the festival. We have some really great ones.”

Ultimately, while the focus on women in film is important both to her personally and to the industry as a whole, Lucy wants Gold Coasters to understand that, at its heart, the Gold Coast Film Festival has something for everyone.

“I want people to attend it because it’s good, not just because it’s supporting women in film.”

The Gold Coast Film Festival runs from 31st March to the 10th April.

From internationally acclaimed dramas, comedies and genre films, incredible Japanese anime, locally made indie gems and family features, the GCFF offers a culturally diverse, interactive and engaging program of film, events and special guests. Films will be shown at the Arts Centre Gold Coast and Birch Carroll & Coyle in Coolangatta.

Visit gcfilmfestival.com from the 1st March for a full program announcement.
Tickets for The Arts Centre Gold Coast: theartscentregc.com.au
Tickets for Birch Carroll & Coyle: eventcinemas.com.au

Be first to comment