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.
Lucette Lupien and Yanick B. Gélinas continue to distribute a weekly bulletin and blog, thus highlighting the presence of women directors in the media, their successes, and difficulties encountered in their profession.
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 (flying high on legal drugs!) boarded a plane headed for France. Jackie Buet had kept her promise to highlight RÉ at the women's international film festival at Créteil, (FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE FILMS DE FEMMES DE CRÉTEIL). Nicole and Isabelle presented 8 films by women film directors from Québec. They were accompanied by Julie Lambert, whose documentary on women and hunting, Un film de chasse de filles, was among the films screened. During the conference on the female point of view (is it different or not?), French panelists were divided. Isabelle presented a summary of a study on women's presence on and off screen, «L’AVANT ET L’ARRIÈRE DE L’ÉCRAN», which demonstrates that the female perspective is indeed statistically different, since the data confirms greater diversity in terms of gender, age, body types, casting etc., in films directed by women.
While in Paris, Nicole and Isabelle had an emotion-filled encounter with Coline Serreau, RÉ’s first ally. They also met with the Québec Délégation's representative Pascale Cosse, Bérénice Vincent from the activist group DEUXIÈME REGARD, and Amélie Martin from France's Department of Women's Rights.
Meanwhile, Pascale Malaterre attended the Florac film festival (FESTIVAL DE FLORAC) in central Lozère, France, where she showed 6 films by women directors. Her talk on RÉ was warmly welcomed, particularly by the prominent québécois male directors in attendance. Bit by bit, things change…
Back in Montréal, Isabelle participated in a study on documentary filmmakers, (ÉTUDE SUR LE MÉTIER DE DOCUMENTARISTE) led by the ARRQ's Bruno Bouliane, Nathalie Trépanier, and Diane Poitras. The data on women in documentary film was worse than we expected.
2015 also marked the inception of the Film Club LES DAMES DU DOC, coordinated by Christine Chevarie. The series was inaugurated with the wonderful film Les filles du Roy, in the presence of Anne-Claire Poirier, Québec's first female film director. It was a magical evening. We requisitioned all the office chairs in order to seat everyone, and served over 60 grilled cheese sandwiches (made with an iron, of course). Before the screening, Anne-Claire enchanted her audience with her «THREE TRUE STORIES », anecdotes from film shoots. At the end of the evening, a small group of students gathered around this great lady of Québec cinema who kept them spellbound well past midnight! The ARRQ’s screening room was filled to capacity at the Film Club's monthly screenings, which were merely a taste of things to come. RÉ’s entire Board of Directors were mobilized around a new project to be implemented the following year.
2016 marked a historic victory for RÉ. The NFB announced gender parity for project selection and production budgets. We all cheered loudly, jumping for joy, and immediately invited Claude Joli-Coeur, the politically courageous new NFB Commissioner, to join us in a champagne toast.
That year, RÉ was on everyone’s lips. Two important projects caused much ink to flow and lit up the mediasphere.
Over the previous year, Isabelle Hayeur and Lucette Lupien had been working on a project to form a coalition of creators' associations in all artistic disciplines. Jenny Cartwright was hired as project coordinator. The three relentlessly pursued groups of writers, visual artists, video game creators, scriptwriters, musical composers, etc., persuading them to compile statistics on the presence of women in their respective artistic fields.
The report was released with great fanfare at a press conference following a Study Day that brought together representatives of creative women’s associations. It featured the first statistical data compiled in Québec to cover the entire cultural spectrum. While the evidence was painful, we were hardly surprised by the report’s findings. Women creators faced intense discrimination across all disciplines, and in some sectors were simply absent. This problem was not limited to film! The Coalition for Gender Equality was born. The following year, it would have a new title, «FEMMES EN CRÉATION».
Also in 2016, we launched our Internet portal LES DAMES DU DOC, at the Québec Cinémathèque. Catherine Pallascio threw herself heart and soul into this colossal collective endeavour in collaboration with Isabelle Hayeur and Gris-Gris Design’s Julie Belpair, to ensure that our virtual creation worked like a charm. This impressive portal includes extensive files on 130 women documentary filmmakers compiled by Sylvie Rosenthal, along with links to all their available films and interviews directed by Sophie Bissonnette, Nicole Giguère and Christine Chevarie.
2016 was an intense year of political lobbying, made even more impactful by the «Coalition’s» release of the data on the presence of women in other cultural sectors. Isabelle Hayeur, Nicole Giguère and Marie-Hélène Panisset unleashed a tornado of energy, organizing 13 meetings with representatives of various film institutions and submitting briefs to federal and provincial Departments of Culture and Québec’s status of women secretariat. Meanwhile, Isabelle and Anna Lupien continued to speak at universities and cegeps, encouraging young women to pursue careers as directors.
For years, RÉ had been repeating incessantly: « Yes, gender parity is possible, they did it in Sweden!» A few years later, on learning that parity had actually been achieved at the Swedish Film Institute thanks to a visionary named Anna Serner, we circulated the information widely, making doubly sure it reached the ears of the directors of our key institutions. Telefilm’s Carolle Brabant and SODEC’s Monique Simard joined forces to bring Ms. Serner to Québec in 2016. Marie-Hélène Panisset and other RÉ members filmed her lecture, «HOW WE ARE WORKING FOR EQUALITY». Naomie Décarie-Daigneault translated and put it online to ensure maximum circulation. From that moment on, Ms. Serner’s action plan became the basis for our demands.
A feeling of rebellion verging on disgust was becoming palpable among women’s groups working in defense of Canadian women creators who wanted more equal, diversified representation of female characters onscreen. In Toronto at TIFF that same year, Telefilm was the target of severe criticism. Soon afterwards, Carolle Brabant set up a task force uniting the key audio-visual unions and Canadian organizations defending women’s place in the media. RÉ delegated Isabelle Hayeur and Marie-Hélène Panisset to sit on the task force. A very turbulent first meeting was marked by demands from RÉ and the other women’s groups for Canadian gender parity measures as clear and unambiguous as Sweden’s.
2017 was a year of victories. Following the 2nd meeting of the Telefilm Task Force in which RÉ participated, Carolle Brabant officially announced Telefilm Canada's goal to implement gender parity in project selection by 2020. We posed for a historical photo. All RÉ board members cheered heartily and invited Carolle Brabant, the first female ever to head Telefilm Canada, to raise a glass of champagne with us in celebration of her enormous political courage.
Soon afterwards, it was Monique Simard’s turn to announce measures to help women obtain their rightful share of SODEC funding. These measures were more discreet and less clearly defined. RÉ’s members were perplexed. Would this be sufficient to allow women directors to attain parity? Only time would tell…
That year, Isabelle Hayeur and Catherine Pallascio represented RÉ on another task force, this time at the NFB. The Film Board moved to extend gender parity to media professionals such as scriptwriters, cinematographers, editors and music composers. Another win!
In the fall, QUEBEC'S FILM OBSERVATORY awarded RÉ with a prize for activism at the Université de Montréal. Olivier Asselin, who presented the prize, moved us to tears with his magnificent speech about our group.
2017 was also a year of research and preparation for future projects: our 10th Anniversary Celebration, a new Internet portal, updating our studies. Naomie Décarie-Daigneault, Anik Salas and Geneviève Thibert, young and dynamic additions to our Board, bring renewed energy to the task at hand, for despite gender parity announcements, much remains to be done, and RÉ has no intention of slowing down!