Holly Tarquini on gender equality in film

In 2014, Holly Tarquini, the executive director of the Bath Film Festival in England, came across an article in Hollywood Reporter that said fewer than five per cent of the top 250 ...
January 9, 2017

In 2014, Holly Tarquini, the executive director of the Bath Film Festival in England, came across an article in Hollywood Reporter that said fewer than five per cent of the top 250 films were directed by women. While she knew inequality was an issue in the film industry, the realization that so little of what was being created was done so by women called her to action.

In response, Tarquini created The F-Rating — a system that gives audiences an idea of how much female input was involved in the film. The F-Rating appears like other classifications used by the British Board of Film Classification such as PG and 12A.

Since its inception, the response to the system has been mostly positive, with the number of independent film festivals and cinemas increasingly using the rating, said Tarquini. Both the Barbican and the Genesis cinemas in London have recently committed to showing an F-rated film per week in 2017 including recent dramas Halfway and The Edge of Seventeen. In March, the celebrity and movie information site IMDb agreed to offer a free “hackathon” at the British Film Institue (BFI) Southbank, giving volunteer writers to the site an opportunity to add F-Rated tags to all features with the significant female presence on screen.

In highlighting the inequality, while also giving those wishing to support female-backed (and fronted) projects an easy tool for identifying films to see, Tarquini is hoping to help drive success of these films — thus encouraging the success of these films and their achievements with the aim of making her own rating system obsolete by 2020.

Realscreen spoke to Tarquini in a phone interview about her initiative.

What was your motivation for creating the F-Rating?

I was interested in who is telling the stories on screen. Obviously, the life experience of the storyteller has a massive impact on what is going on the screen. The three criteria are: Is it directed by a woman, is it written by a woman, or are there significant women on screen in their own right?

What was the response to the initiative since it was launched in 2014? 

It’s been completely amazing. In the first year, I was expecting some local press but the local press didn’t mention it at all. Every single major newspaper in the UK covered it.

In 2015, we invited all the independent cinemas and film festivals in the UK to F-Rate their programs. There are now more than 40 who are F-Rating themselves. This means programmers are looking at the films and having conversations of who is telling the stories and what the stories on screen are about.

Have you seen an increase since 2014 in female produced or directed content because of your initiative?

I think it would be impossible to say due to us being one initiative. There is so much work being done at the moment. If there is any increase, I would say it’s because of everyone. Not because of one single organization.

How did IMDb come on board with the F-Rating?

The CEO of IMDb, (Colin) Needham, lives in Bristol, England which is 15 miles from us. He is very supportive of the F-Rating so we have been looking at ways of working together. Basically, they made sure the keyword (F-Rated) could be added to films that have been directed by women and written by women because those are easy searches to do in IMDb. Whether the movie has significant women on screen is much harder to do.

Is it realistic to have this initiative done by 2020 as you were hoping for, given the current inequality in film? 

I think it’s a little optimistic to have equal representation behind and on screen by 2020. What I think is realistic, is the public funding bodies in England could easily commit t0 50/50 funding by 2020. It’s much harder to put pressures on the private companies, obviously. (But) equal opportunity is a reasonable ask of us, the public, to our public funding bodies.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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