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> > > London Film Festival Diversity Town Hall Discussion

16 October 2015

A year ago the BFI announced its ‘Three Ticks’ scheme, making its Lottery-based funding conditional on meeting set diversity criteria. Joe Turnbull was in attendance for a special event which discussed the progress of the scheme, the state of diversity in the film industry and how the industry can make steps going forward

A photograph of two young women attending the BFI's Film Academy, one is holding a clapperboard

Young people at the BFI's Film Academy, which is also making huge efforts to encourage diversity.

Picturehouse Central made for a grand and fitting venue for this important event, stuffed with the great and good of the film and television industry. In fact, such was the popularity of the event that dozens were turned away. This in itself is a positive sign for diversity in the sector – influential people are at least alive to this issue.

The event was kicked off by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey who made an important point that was reiterated a number of times throughout the event: there has been a lot of talk for a long time on diversity, and precious little action. The praise for Vaizey that gushed from other speakers at the event at times bordered on the sycophantic.

Another point of note raised by the minister and echoed throughout the afternoon was the unique position of media to influence wider society. Owing to this, the media has an obligation to get things right on diversity in order to positively impact opinions and the underlying culture.

The BFI’s Ben Roberts followed Vaizey and unveiled the BFI’s new working definition of diversity, which is to become a mantra, a strapline and a logo: ‘Recognising the quality of difference’. It is hoped this will be taken up by film makers and other figures across the industry, much like the ubiquitous ‘no animals were harmed in the making of this...’. The BFI’s Diversity Manager Deborah Williams quipped that the phrase originated as ‘No white people were harmed in the making of this’.

This strapline at least promotes a positive spin on diversity, making it about possibilities and opportunity – something producers, directors and commissioners can get excited about – rather than focussing on barriers and quotas.

The BFI’s Head of Research and Statistics Sean Perkins showed just how stark the current landscape is in terms of diversity. BAME groups are still vastly underrepresented in terms of crew, management and top talent. The figures on female directors are truly astonishing. Since 2007 on average only 12% of British films have been directed by a woman.

But they saved the worst until last for the figures relating to disability. Despite some 19% of the population being made up by disabled people, as little as 1% of the film industry is staffed by disabled people. Shameful to say the least.

Williams implored those in the audience who had the power to act on this information, dismissing the myth that diverse talent wasn’t out there and laying down the gauntlet for production teams to seek it out. She went on to outline the BFI’s new diversity initiative, which she said was moving from ‘ticks’ to ‘standards,’ to reflect a move away from a merely ‘tickbox’ approach to changing the underlying culture.

From now on projects funded by the BFI via Film Fund Lottery will have to meet at least two of the BFI Diversity Standards (which replaces Three Ticks), and will need to meet three to receive a Screen Diversity mark of good practice. The four standards cover: On Screen Representation, Themes and Narratives; Creative Practitioners & Artistic Leadership; Industry Access & Opportunities; Opportunities for Audience Development.

Throughout the discussion it was widely acknowledged that film makers had to start integrating thoughts about diversity into the very start of the process, rather than trying to tack it on at the end in an ad hoc approach. The BFI’s diversity initiative will most certainly precipitate this.

The event also provided a platform for the BFI to announce a new £1m ‘Diversity Fund’ which will be used to develop projects that address diversity in a structural way, whether that’s via training or strategic initiatives.

The BFI panellists were quick to acknowledge that they have still got a long way to go and are still constantly making mistakes, but felt the wheels were in motion to start to make a positive impact. A particularly bad gaffe was the fact the BFI films at the London Film Festival were not subtitled, a fact that was of clear personal embarrassment for Williams.

Clearly, the current film and television landscape is still rife with inequality but initiatives like this have the potential to make headway if the drive is sustained. Perhaps most encouraging of all was the abundance of people representing various underrepresented groups in attendance, all vocal, passionate and keen to show that diverse talent is everywhere, it’s just the mechanisms for getting them involved which are currently failing.

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