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How Swedish Cinema Gave Women Directors a Bigger Role

It is an established fact that women are underrepresented in cinema, particularly among the ranks of directors.

In the United States, women direct from 5 to 10 percent of feature films, according to statistics compiled by the
entertainment website Indiewire. Last month, the European Women’s Audiovisual Network released statistics it had
collected showing that the situation was only slightly better in Europe, where 16 percent of the movies released
from 2003 to 2012 were directed by women.

Before one assumes that this gender imbalance is one of those regrettably intractable problems, tied to social
forces that take decades to alter, consider the case of Sweden.

The government-backed Swedish Film Institute helps fund most of the country’s cinematic output. Between 2000
and 2012, these films were essentially dominated by men, who in a given year typically directed between 70 and 90 percent
of all productions. Those statistics began to change quite rapidly after the 2011 appointment of Anna Serner as chief
executive of the Institute. She called the gender imbalance in Swedish cinema a “catastrophe” and set an ambitious target
that half the films supported by the Institute should be made by women. Last year, the Institute achieved gender parity
among directors for the first time and is on track to replicate its success, or come close, in 2015.

“We succeeded in Sweden because we are the only ones who decided to stop talking and start acting,” said Ms. Serner,
explaining that the policy shift pushed producers to rethink their projects and put forward more female directors.
“The film business in this country is very dependent on our money,” she added. “They understood that if they wanted it,
they would have to find women directors. And so they started finding them.”