A look at the Femmes à la Caméra conference at Paris Images AFC Events 2022

By Margot Cavret for the AFC

Contre-Champ AFC n°329

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On 20 January, the Femmes à la Caméra collective opened AFC Events at Paris Images 2022 with a round-table discussion involving several female European cinematographers. The collective was also present for the entire duration of the event at their stand, which offered visitors the possibility of testing out several systems for optimizing the ergonomics of shoulder-carried cameras.

Since it was created four years ago, the Femmes à la Caméra collective has had amongst its goals being open to other countries in order to discuss and question the situation of women on film sets around the world. Many similar collectives or associations have been created faced with the growing awareness of the lack of equality in cinematographic production.

The round-table participants* presented their respective associations and collectives and were able to compare the different actions they have undertaken. These groups support and publish the results of studies and reports that have been conducted in their countries to quantify the gender gap in film production. Although the percentages show that parity is a distant goal in all countries, they also show that parity decreases as film budgets increase, which shows the lack of trust producers place in women to fulfill positions with greater responsibilities.

The different associations and collectives shared a sense of mutual assistance, inclusion and openness. These are spaces for sharing and expression, where female filmmakers help one another, technically and psychologically, and exchange contacts. Several of them have implemented mentoring or buddy systems, such as the “one-to-one” program in Spain, which allows young female cinematographers to be put into contact with a more experienced female cinematographer. Part of their openness to the rest of the world is manifested by their allowing women who have no local group to join them. In Serbia, there are only four female cinematographers in the SAS, the national association of cinematographers. One of them no longer works in Serbia. There is no female key grip, gaffer or Steadicam operator. Bojana Andric, who related the situation in Serbia, fell back on international associations, particularly the ”International Collective of Female Cinematographers”. She shared her personal experience and the difficulties she experienced : “there are no agents or unions in Serbia, so there is no support and no security. There is no system to encourage gender diversity put into place by the public authorities. One has to be persistent and determined, constantly prove one is not week, and therefore one may never complain about the working conditions. Today, I am respected on sets, as an equal of men, but I have had to fight more than they did. Many women give up or change jobs. Yet, at the Belgrade cinema school, there are more girls than boys.” Bojana Andric is now the vice-president both of SAS and Imago.

Bojana Andric sur le tournage de "Jesen Samuraja" - Photo Nataša Ilić, Marko Vlaović
Bojana Andric sur le tournage de "Jesen Samuraja"
Photo Nataša Ilić, Marko Vlaović

In Germany, Miriam Kolesnyk shared a similar story : although women make up over 25% of the students in film schools, they represent only 10% of cinematographers working on film sets. From her point of view, the mentality of deciders, and namely producers, has to change. She shared a collection of sexist prejudices that her network of female cinematographer colleagues has had to put up with : the idea that a female cinematographer cannot be hired to work on a film directed by another woman, for example, in order not to forgo a male gaze (but films made by men alone seems less problematic) ; or the idea that a woman cannot be a cinematographer because cameras are too heavy. “Yet,” she comments, “no one ever thought of telling a woman she cannot be a mother because three-year-old children are too heavy for her to carry !” The associations of which she is a member (Cinematographinnen, which brings together female cinematographers, and Pro Quote Film, which brings together women active in various departments) help her to combat these persistent stereotypes that make access to highly technical positions harder for women than for men. The BVK, the German association, is currently correcting its website to make the name of the profession gender neutral. In Austria, too, the title of the profession is no longer gendered in the cinematographer’s association, where they now say, “camera people”. In Spain, the AEC was renamed five years ago, to become the association of male and female cinematographers. In France, the members of Femmes à la Caméra hope that the AFC will soon get on board. Because, beyond a symbol, the inclusion of both genders in labels and in speech helps make female cinematographers visible and also legitimizes them.

For even if in France, certain female cinematographers have earned great renown, the data remain nonetheless alarming. Indeed, they infirm the widely held idea that the situation is improving : between 2010 and 2019, and besides the spike of 15.6% reached in 2014, female cinematographer’s share of French-produced fiction films has stagnated at 8-12% and shows no signs of changing.

Graphs from L’Union des Chefs Opérateurs

The collective today counts over 112 members, from all branches of the profession (cinematographers, assistant camerawomen, gaffers, key grips, DITs, etc.). They organize monthly meetings and conversation groups on more specific topics. They are engaged in the fight against harassment and have planned a poster campaign with equipment renters to warn about the risks and to inform about the appropriate response and what numbers to call. They regularly hold equipment test sessions with renters and at events, such as a round-table discussion in March on motherhood, or the one discussed in this article, which was followed by try-outs of various equipment for shooting from the shoulder.

As Miriam Kolesnyk wittily reminded the audience during the presentation, the problem of a shoulder camera isn’t the weight. However, one observes that manufacturers, and particular those involved in the production of systems making it easier to hold the camera, such as Easyrig, have let themselves be tricked by the invisibility of female cinematographers, or have pandered to the majority, and have designed their equipment based off of male body sizes. Femmes à la Caméra therefore organized a workshop that lasted the entire duration of Paris Images, which allowed women to test out different models, some of which were modified by their manufacturers in order to accommodate smaller-sized bodies. The workshop was mostly intended for women, but a few men tried the experience as well, showing that the importance of opening the range to a wider range of body sizes is a transversal concern. However, the experience was not conclusive for all participants. Reducing the dimensions of a particular piece of equipment isn’t the only modification that one must make when trying to make it truly ergonomic for women : the chest-level adjustable straps were problematic for some women, while others were bothered by the straight cut that didn’t take into account the fact that women’s hips are generally wider than their torso. Even the smaller sizes weren’t as significant as promised : at 159 cm tall (approx. 5’2”), I couldn’t find a small enough model to ensure a truly comfortable fit [editor’s note – MC]. The road to equality is still long, from equipment to filmmaking itself, and it will only be achieved by a general awareness and a deep change in mindset, which must be encouraged by essential associations and collectives such as Femmes à la Caméra.

Les différents équipements proposés à l'essai sur le stand de Femmes à la Caméra
Les différents équipements proposés à l’essai sur le stand de Femmes à la Caméra

*Alongside Nathalie Durand, AFC, Pascale Marin, AFC, and Céline Pagny, all three members of FALC, also participated Bojana Andric, SAS, Miriam Kolesnyk, BVK (Cinematographinnen, PQF), Elisabet Prandi, AEC (CIMA, Dones Visuals, Directoras de Fotografia) and Marie Zahir, BVK (Cinematographinnen, FC Gloria).

The thumbnail image above shows the participants in Femmes à la Caméra (from L to R : Marie Zahir, Miriam Kolesnyk, Elisabet Prandi, Céline Pagny, Bojana Andric, Pascale Marin, Nathalie Durand) – Photo Jean-Noël Ferragut