When Alison Bechdel first wrote about a test for films, to interrogate their gender representation, she was making a joke. It seemed then in 1985, (and still now in 2017!) laughable that a film would ever fail the Bechdel test. To pass the test, a film needs to fulfil three simple rules: to have two female characters, who talked to each-other, about something other than a man. Obviously, this is a low bar to jump for any film, and yet when these criteria are applied to many films, they fail. This obvious misrepresentation or lack of representation of women on screen has become one of the most discussed issues affecting the film industry in today’s climate. However, sadly, there is still a very long way to go!
The connection between who is telling the story and the representation on screen cannot be ignored, and with women making up only approximately 15% of writers and directors it comes as no surprise that on-screen representation is still a matter of concern.
Bath Film Festival, in 2014, set out to change that situation. The F-Rating, a system of acknowledging, advertising and promoting work sets its own criteria for qualification. To be F-Rated a film needs to be either directed by or written by a woman, or have significant women on screen. If a film has all three it is Triple-F-Rated. Since then, this system of rating a film has really taken off and now the Showroom is on board too. Across the film programme, in print and online, the F-Rating logo will now appear to highlight which films are F-rated. Across the programme for last year, over 40% of films shown at the Showroom were F-rated, but we want to do better this year and hope that Sheffield’s audiences are also keen to promote and support on-screen and off-screen diversity.
June’s Showroom ‘Film of The Month’, the gripping thriller Berlin Syndrome is a great example of F-Rated cinema. From acclaimed Australian director Cate Shortland, this story of a lone backpacker exploring Berlin and meeting people along her way is far from the traditional image of a ‘women’s film’ or a ‘chick-flick’. This is an action packed, aggressive and disconcerting film with a lot to say about personal safety as well as the more generic conventions.
The aim of the F-Rating is to work until it is no longer needed - when women are making and watching a huge variety of films; when they make hits and flops; when their difficult second films are funded; when they are paid the same in our notoriously unequal industry; when awards are equal with women winning just as many as men; and when we are fully represented equally at all levels. Until then, we fight on.