Miami International Film Festival and Google focus on diversity


The 33rd annual Miami International Film Festival wrapped up this weekend after ten days of screenings, parties and panels. I’ve covered the film side of things in prior posts, but I’d be remiss no to mention the way MIFF teamed up with Google to advocate for greatest diversity with their seminar series on gender and racial gaps in film and technology.

The first of those screenings took place on March 3rd and focused on cinematography, an aspect of the film industry that isn’t discussed as much as writing, directing and acting. Yet, as pointed out by moderator Julia Ann Crommett, Google’s Program Manager, CS Education in Media, it’s one in which the gender gap is particularly noticeable. “The statistics are ridiculous, really,” Crommett noted. “Only four percent of the American Cinematographers Guild is women, and the international number is only fifteen percent, but that also includes second ADs and some of the other camera [positions.]"

In keeping with MIFF’s international flavor, the cinematographers appearing on the panel hailed from countries around the globe, including France (Eponine Momenceau, DP of Grand Jury Prize winner Dheepan), Argentina (Sol Lopatin, whose Abzurdah was on the fest slate), Mexico (Maria Secco, I Promise You Anarchy) and Spain (Susana Ojea, Dark Glasses). Among the topics discussed were the misconception that cinematography is too physically demanding a field for women, the importance of proving oneself and gaining the respect of a team and whether there’s a difference between working with male and female directors. (All the panelists agreed that there isn’t, with Lopatin adding that actresses tend to be more comfortable filming a sex scene when the director is a female). The most interesting part of the panel for me personally was hearing how the issue of gender on film sets is handled differently in different countries; for example, per Momenceau, the gender gap is much more even in France, and Lopatin noted that, in Argentina, the pay is the same between male and female DPs. As opposed to the way it’s handled in the US, in that country’s there’s a standard pay scale.

The following day, Women Make Movies Executive Director Debra Zimmerman led a panel of four women directors called “Cultivating an Environment for Equality: When Women Call the Shots.” Attendees were treated to a spirited, wide-ranging discussion that benefited from the diverse viewpoints of Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s Plan), Dawn Porter (the abortion law documentary Trapped), Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon) and Vera Egito (Restless Love). A friendly tip from Scafaria: Don’t automatically assume that a film about women is better suited to the small screen. “I remember being told a million times, would I like to make [The Meddler] for TV?,” she recalls. “I think because it’s about a woman of a certain age and most of the other characters are women, and they don’t cure cancer or anything, it’s not an epic story - for the very reason that someone would ask me that question, that’s exactly why I would make it for film. I was so pissed. Every time someone would say, ‘Why won’t you make this for television?,’ I was like, ‘Because the entire point of this is to show that someone’s life story is worthy of a cinematic tale. Just because someone is a mother, a widow, she belongs on ABC, because that’s where we’re allowed to share our stories?” (How many indie coming-of-age dramas about white guys show at Sundance every year, anyways?) Porter also gave her opinion on working on the documentary side of industry “Yes, it’s better being a woman in documentary, but better than horrible is still horrible…. The only thing I hope is when people hear and read about how difficult it is that they are not dissuaded. I didn’t know that it was supposed to be impossible for me to do it. So I just did it. A lot of times women are not supposed to think like that. Nobody likes the ‘braggy girl’ on the playground. You have to say [that you can do it] to yourself.”

There were two other events that I wasn't lucky enough to go: “Shifting Tides in Decision-Making,” with Zimmerman, cinematographer and Digital Bolex Creative Director Elle Schneider, Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Yvonne Weldon and documentarian Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry), and the Florida premiere of Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson