The beautiful story of RÉALISATRICES ÉQUITABLES
The spark sprung to their minds at the beginning of 2007. Upon learning that French director Coline Serreau was visiting Quebec, Isabelle Hayeur and Ève Lamont set up an informal meeting with Quebec women directors to discuss their difficult but enthralling profession. Lucette Lupien, the moderator, presented statistics of the Half and Half group, active between 1988 and 1997. They are dumbstruck when they realize that the situation of women directors hasn’t improved in 20 years! While in 1985, the women directors’ share of SODEC’s budget was 22 %, this share has taken a free fall to 8% in 1995 and has barely gone back up to 13 % in 2005.
During the first year of the group’s life, Marquise Lepage, Isabelle Hayeur, Vanya Rose, and Marie-Pascale Laurencelle presented a brief to the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and another brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, to claim women’s share of the Canada Television Fund as well as ensure women’s participation at Radio Canada and the Canada Media Fund.
A small group of women gather around the founders. They adopt the name RÉALISATRICES ÉQUITABLES (RE). To sound the alarm, they publish a letter in La Presse and Le Devoir, which creates quite a stir! This letter denounces in no uncertain terms the meagre share of funds received by women directors. This period is a difficult one for the members of the fledgling organization: the letter is contested on all sides and the group is even accused of lying about the figures, in part because the myth of equality having already been achieved is well embedded in people’s minds, and because society is still mired in the anti-feminist backlash. But they don’t give up and ask Francine Descarries, a PhD, researcher at UQAM’s Institute of Feminist Research and Studies, and rock star of sociology in Quebec, to conduct a study, with the assistance of the researcher Marie-Julie Garneau. The study confirms the data for all the institutions. Entitled Women Directors’ Place in Public Financing of Film and Television in Quebec (2002-2007), this research, which has been monitored and revised by Sophie Bissonnette, is made public at the March 2008 press conference. The information is widely relayed by the media. This study is also doubted by many, still sceptics to women directors’ cause.
During that same year, RE met ALL the institutions to acquaint them with the result of the study and to ask for their cooperation: Christine St-Pierre, Quebec minister of Culture; Thérèse Mailloux, sous-ministre adjointe à la condition féminine du Québec (Assistant Deputy Minister of the Quebec ministry on the status of women); Tom Perlmutter and Monique Simard at the NFB; Valerie Creighton at the Canadian Television Fund, Ann Champoux, director for film and television at the SODEC; Michel Pradier, director for investment portfolio at Telefilm Canada; Christiane Pelchat, president of the Council on the Status of Women.
Thus, all institutions were informed, except for Heritage Canada since the minister, Josée Verner and her successor James Moore, refused to meet with RE.
At that time, ARRQ (l’Association of des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec) becomes RE’s ally and starts financing part of their activities. And of course, several women directors join in and devote a lot of volunteer time to RÉ which starts expanding!
RE continues presenting its study to the highest government authorities, ministries, institutions in Quebec, as well as at the federal level (excluding, to our great chagrin, a succession of Heritage Canada ministers).
During that time, several members become responsible for specific issues. Isabelle Hayeur questions the president of Telefilm Canada, Michel Roy, during the first public meeting of that institution. Sophie Bissonnette becomes responsible for women’s visibility at film festivals and contributes to a panel discussion at the Rencontres internationales du documentaire. Sophie Goyette and Lucette Lupien speak at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. Marquise Lepage collaborates with Union des Artistes actresses for the preparation of an event that takes place on March 2, 2009. RE conducts awareness-raising sessions about the situation of women directors at Radio Canada (with the person responsible for diversity). They also work with UQAM, raising the issue of the quasi-absence of female professors at its media school (3 women only out of a teaching staff of 27). RE networks with other organizations such as the Conseil québécois d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail (Quebec Council for Access of Women to Jobs). Outside Quebec RE networks with Rina Fraticelli, of Women in View in Vancouver.
Isabelle Hayeur and Ève Lamont create that same year the Cinéquitable film club, and show women’s films once a month at Casa Obscura. This event is extremely successful and even fosters a shouting match during a special « Shorts » screening, with Marc-André Forcier asking several pointed questions. It is an epic evening which will remain for a long time etched in the memories of Vanya Rose, Ève Lamont, Isabelle Hayeur and Chloé Leriche… They can provide details on demand!
Thanks to a grant from the Quebec Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women, RÉ carries out a promotional program called « Directors Direct », which includes: a series of lectures by women directors in colleges and universities, training workshops for women directors, and a mentoring program to foster sorority among women directors. L’Institut national de l’image et du son (INIS) and the NFB offer support during this project.
Thus, in 2010, about two and a half years after its creation, RE can assert that the inequality that women directors are experiencing is now a fact which is known and recognized by all, even if the solutions are neither yet clearly defined, nor create consensus.
On March 7, 2011 RE launches Encore pionnières (Still Pioneers), a longitudinal study on the careers of Quebec women directors in feature-length fiction films. This study results from a long-term endeavor by sociologists Anna Lupien and Francine Descarries, who are assisted by Isabelle Hayeur. The research and interviews with various filmmakers, data analysis, writing and distribution of the report, monopolizes a large share of RÉ members’ energy during that period.
At its launch, the study is widely broadcast by the media and then follows an impressive press review. The scope of media attention forces the institutions to change their tune: women directors’ plights are now taken seriously. It looks like RE’s message is finally getting through: there is a problem of inequality with women in film and the world of the media (film, television, etc.) begins to ask themselves questions, and see the need for change.
2011 is almost exclusively devoted to a new round of meetings to present this new study to the funding bodies responsible for film financing. RE spend a lot of time analysing the SODEC and Telefilm Canada grant programs, and request that they be amended.
2012 marks the beginning of an ambitious project dreamt by Marquise Lepage: 40 ans de vues rêvées par des femmes, (40 years of films dreamt by women), which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first independent feature-length fiction film directed by a woman in Quebec in 1972: La vie rêvée (The dream life), by Mireille Dansereau.
Marquise works day and night to look for financing and to create a series of events: first a retrospective of Mireille Dansereau’s work at the Cinémathèque québécoise during an entire week. Video capsules are shot where Mireille talks about the making of each one of her films. At the première, where La vie rêvée is shown, there is massive public participation and the house is so packed audience members are turned away at the door. The evening was a great and well celebrated success!
RE members direct and produce eight video portraits of Quebec women feature film directors: Les dames aux caméras (The ladies behind the cameras). These capsules are posted online on our website, as well as on the ARRQ and TV5 websites.
That same year, Christine Chevarie directs her poignant film, La comédienne d’Amérique (The American Actress) with the collaboration of actresses who are members of the Union des Artistes Women’s Committee. The film is widely broadcast during the entire month of March before the feature is shown at Cinéma Beaubien, and subsequently at various film festivals.
Carolle Brabant, who has become the head of Telefilm Canada, adopts a reform of film programs which thoroughly dismays RE. The funding program for independent film is abolished and the funding for script development will become almost inaccessible. Isabelle Hayeur creates a team to analyze the programs and a RE delegation meets Carolle Brabant to illustrate that these changes will be extremely damaging to women, since the vast majority of their films are financed through the now defunct independent film program. In addition, women directors are often their own producers and a vast majority of them will no longer be eligible for development financing.
Despite this sad shift on the part of Telefilm Canada, RE feels that by 2012 it has met with the overall approval of the film world, and that the efforts it has devoted to showcase women directors have a wide and appreciative audience.
Our 20 courts et grand talent (20 shorts and great talent) DVD set is launched at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois in February. This set, coordinated by Lisa Sfriso and Nicole Giguère, is a compilation of 20 short films by women directors who are ready to move to feature length films. The set, which contains 4 DVDs, is distributed free of charge to producers who are members of the APFTQ (Association des producteurs de films et télévision du Québec) to whet their appetites: here is a pool of talented women directors from which you can draw your future golden girls!
In March, RE publishes a third study: L’avant et l’arrière de l’écran (In front of, and behind, the screen) which analyses the male and female representation in all Quebec films released in 2012. This study requires enormous efforts on the part of sociologist Anna Lupien and Isabelle Hayeur, who work tirelessly during their Christmas vacations, and even on December 24th, while the turkey is roasting in the oven for the Christmas Eve feast! The study results are shocking: men and women in Quebec films are still as stereotyped as before, unless the film is directed by a woman, in which case a greater number of women as main characters are seen, and are less stereotyped. The media give broad coverage to the study and RE’s press review file is ever more impressive.
RÉ packs a great number of projects during that year and it is difficult to believe that they have managed to accomplish all that.
RE organizes an exchange with a group of Mexican film directors: Mujeres en el cine y la television (Women in Film and Television). Marquise Lepage and Nicole Giguère fly to Mexico City to present a selection of Quebec women directors’ films. Sophie Deraspe and Martine Chartrand join this small delegation set up by RE.
In partnership with Vidéo Femmes and the Cinémathèque québécoise, Nicole Giguère and Helen Doyle organize a Retrospective of the works of Cecilia Mangini, the first woman documentary director in Italy. This 87-year old lady charms the Cinémathèque audiences. She is brilliant, has a great sense of humour and integrity: everyone loves her! She is accompanied by Jackie Buet and Marina Mazzotti, from the Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil (Créteil International Women’s Film Festival), who invite RE to their next festival.
Isabelle Hayeur, Anna Lupien, and Sophie Bissonnette give several lectures in Quebec Cégep and university film classes, in order to raise the awareness of future producers and directors (whether male or female) on the challenges facing women who want to practice this profession. They take advantage of these lectures to give ten pieces of advice to young women directors.
Needless to say, meetings with elected officials and institutions continue. Maka Kotto, the new Quebec Minister of Culture, consults RE several times and engenders hope that equity in the area of culture will be officially part of the Parti québécois mandate. Unfortunately, this government is short-lived and RE’s as well as the new minister’s enthusiasm will have no impact on the political scene.
RE also present a brief: Les enjeux du cinéma québécois: la distribution?, prepared by Isabelle Hayeur, Marquise Lepage and Nicole Giguère, to the Groupe de travail sur les enjeux du cinema québécois (Working Group on Quebec film issues), where RE is invited to speak during the first round of consultations. RE is highly disappointed, at a later date, to observe that none of their recommendations on women have been included in the report that results from these consultations.
During that period, RE notice that traffic on its Facebook page, which has been managed for several years by Catherine Pallascio, increases significantly and that this page is becoming a reference for news on women in the world of media.
This is the year in which the celebration of the 40th anniversary of La vie rêvée concludes by the publication by RE and les Éditions Somme toute of 40 ans de vues rêvées par des femmes (40 years of films dreamt by women). The workload was huge, and a huge part fell to Marquise Lepage, Nicole Giguère, Isabelle Hayeur, Anna Lupien (author of most of the text and photos). The book launch is widely publicised and is attended by more than 400 people in the Cinémathèque Quebecoise’s main hall. The concurrent exhibition Les filles des vues (Film Women), which shows about sixty portraits of women directors photographed by Anna Lupien is displayed at the Cinémathèque and draws crowds!
Later that same year, Anna Lupien and her exhibit are invited to the Toronto Women’s Film Festival; Anna Lupien also represents RE at the St-John’s Women’s Films festival, where a symposium of all Canadian groups representing women in media write recommendations that are presented to the federal and provincial ministers of culture.
For its part of the exchange, RE welcomes six Mexican women directors during the fall. RE volunteers to translate the films in French. Nicole Giguère coordinates the screenings at the Cinémathèque, Concordia University and the Quebec Film Festival, in addition to introducing the Mexican directors to smoked meat and sharing with them a fabulous potluck organised by RE members. The Mexican ladies are enchanted by their experience and wish to pursue working with their Canadian sisters.
Our promotional meetings continue with the new Minister of Culture Hélène David, the Deputy Minister for the Status of Women, Catherine Ferembach, with Julie Miville-Dechêne, from the Council on the Status of Women, and the new SODEC president, Monique Simard, during the fall.
Isabelle Hayeur, Sophie Bissonnette and Anna Lupien continue their lectures in CEGEPs and universities.
RE hosts a panel conducted by Sabrina Jacques, director, and Anne Gibault, producer, about the creation of video games, which is highly appreciated by its members. Anne Gibault relates that Monopoly, the most popular game of all times, was created by a woman … but purchased and marketed by a man, who pocketed all the profit… Strange?
In 2014, Isabelle Hayeur replaces Marquise Lepage as the president of Réalisatrices Équitables.
In March, Nicole Giguère and Isabelle Hayeur fly to France. Jacky Buet has followed through on her promise and highlighted RE at the Festival de films de femmes de Créteil (Créteil Women’s Film Festival). Nicole and Isabelle present eight films directed by Quebec women, participate in a symposium and various meetings during the festival. They take advantage of their stay in Paris to set up various meetings and link up with various key figures: Coline Serreau, Pascale Cosse from the Délégation du Québec, Bérénice Vincent from Deuxième Regard, Amélie Martin at the Ministère du Droit des Femmes (Women’s rights ministry), among others.
At the same time, Pascale Malaterre represents RE at the Florac Festival in France where six films by Quebec women directors are shown. She makes a well-received presentation on RE.
Following her return, Isabelle Hayeur sets up a study on the profession of documentary filmmakers, to be conducted by UQAM and ARRQ, in order to ensure that the data will be gender-desegregated. The results show that the place of women in documentary production is not as positive as what is usually believed.
The Ciné-club LES DAMES DU DOC also begins in 2015 under the responsibility of Christine Chevarie. It is launched with the beautiful Les filles du roy, by Anne-Claire Poirier, the pioneer of documentary film in Québec, present at the screening. The evening turns out to be a great success. The offices of ARRQ, where the screening takes place, overflow. About 60 flat grilled cheese sandwiches are served, office chairs are loaned so that everybody can sit! Following the screening, Anne-Claire relates her three true stories about the behind-the-scenes of the film, in front of a charmed audience. Then, a small group of students sits around Anne-Claire, who keeps them entranced until well after midnight!
This evening is a preview of the LES DAMES DU DOC project that is planned for 2016 to enhance and promote women documentary filmmakers in Quebec. The entire Board of Directors of RE works on this project, while at the same time continuing the struggle to ensure that a fair share of women directors are able to make films in Quebec. RE organizes a Study Day on women and culture on creative women in cultural areas and participates in the revision of the upcoming Quebec gender equity guide. RE presents a brief at the beginning of 2016 and will keep monitoring this issue, in the hope that it will soon produce results.