Here’s a fascinating statistic: around 85% of all films are directed by men and 70% of their speaking characters are male. But research conducted since 2009 has consistently shown that women buy more cinema tickets than men (it’s in the region of 52-55%). Back in 2014, the genteel Georgian city of Bath found itself at the centre of a feminist revolution aimed at addressing this disparity, generating headlines around the world. The city’s film festival, which has always punched well above its weight, had introduced a revolutionary F-rating system to its programme. To bag the F-Rating seal of approval, a film must meet one of three criteria: it has to be directed by a woman, written by a woman, or feature complex female characters who are not rescued by a man.
Three years on from setting the chattering classes’ chins wagging, the newly rebranded FilmBath festival has notched up another feminist coup: gender parity in its programme. Some 22 of the 43 films selected for screening from November 2-12 are directed by women. That’s 51% – exactly the same as the gender ratio across the UK – making Bath the first mainstream festival to achieve this distinction.
So what happened? Did the festival actively seek out female directors, or are more women making good films? “It’s both,” says FilmBath Executive Director Holly Tarquini. “We went out and looked for female directors. I’m all over social media all of the time, and most of what I’m following and sharing are films by and about women. So that’s one route by which they come to us. The other is that the lower down the food chain of film you get, the more women there are. Blockbusters have the fewest women directors and documentary features the most. So when you reach the more interesting films, there are more women.”
Publicity about the F-rating has led to a great deal more women submitting their films. FilmBath’s research among the 60 other festivals and cinemas around the world that have now adopted the system also reveals an overwhelmingly positive response. “They all said that they now programme more films directed by women and that they have had amazing feedback from their audiences,” says Holly.
This year’s festival also boasts a record 31 previews, underlining its increasing importance in the eyes of distributors. Highlights include In Bruges director Martin McDonagh’s uproarious Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; the true-life period tennis world male chauvinist piggery of Battle of the Sexes, which is the centrepiece of the festival’s opening event; and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, which explores the rather unlikely origins of DC’s Wonder Woman character. Offering local audiences regional premieres of such quality fare certainly adds to the festival’s prestige, but doesn’t necessarily boost the coffers. For a start, distributors demand a whopping 50% of the proceeds. And perhaps surprisingly, the screenings are not always sell-outs. “These are films that people will want to see,” observes Holly, “but because we’re ahead of the publicity curve, they don’t know it yet.”
Locally made films share the spotlight too. The festival offers your first opportunity to see We Can Be Heroes, which was shot at various locations in Bristol and Bath, including the busy Bottle Yard Studios, back in September 2016. The first feature to be produced by Bristol-based Thomasina Gibson, this family film is an adaptation of Bath-based author Catherine Bruton’s widely acclaimed young adult bestseller about a group of children who set out to foil a suspected suicide bomb plot.
Lost in Vagueness is a documentary about the combustible relationship between Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis and Roy Gurvitz – the New Age Traveller who established the festival’s colourful late-night venue, Lost Vagueness. Director Sofia Olins will be present for a Q&A at this event, which will also include Vagueness-themed music and burlesque performances.
Tickets for all FilmBath Festival events and screenings are on sale now. Go here for full details and to book.