By Isabella Weber
Film distribution, like most cultural sectors in Europe, is a professional field where women are largely employed. Women who work in marketing, social media, PR and programming. More rarely in acquisitions. Much more rarely in managing positions. Out of the 113 independent distribution companies that are part of Europa Distribution’s network, only 27 are managed by women. Less than 24%.
Back in 2019, having this indication in mind, Europa Distribution decided to tackle the issue by creating a whole female think-tank within the association. The group, formed by Greta Akcijonaite (Greta Garbo, Lithuania), Hanna Lajunen (Cinemanse, Finland), Babette Wijntjes (Vedette, Netherlands), Margherita Chiti (former-Teodora, Italy) and Christine Eloy and Isabella Weber (Europa Distribution), discussed about the creation of a mentoring programme especially dedicated to women in distribution, with the goal of reducing the gender gap responsible for the scarcity of women in decision-making positions.
Fast-forward two years and one world pandemic later. November 2021. The participants of the first edition of EDMentorShe finally got the chance to gather in Brussels to share the outcome of their experience.
The programme, started in June 2020, consisted in pairing four junior professionals with four experienced mentors who, over the course of 18 months helped them to identify their professional goals and offered them career advice based on their own experience. Due to the pandemic all meetings were online and each pair followed its own calendar to arrange the sessions, adapting the structure of the discussion to the needs of the mentees and to the expertise of the mentor. Travelling restrictions linked to Covid made it impossible for the pair composed by the mentee Aleksandra Karyakina, PR manager at the Russian company A-One Films, and her mentor Kate Schaeffer, Head of acquisition at Arsenal in Germany, to attend the gathering in Brussels, and from the pairs attending the event, one opted for a hybrid participation, with one person connected in remote and the other physically in Brussels.
The Greek mentor Ioanna Panagiotidou, Head of Acquisition at Rosebud.21, and her Portuguese mentee Joana Sousa, Head of Marketing at Outsider Films, were the first to share their experience. During their frequent meetings they approached a broad variety of topics, while keeping themselves informed about the films’ release situation in each other’s country during the pandemic. Discussing about the role of women in their respective film industries they quickly realized there is room for improvement: while in Greece 4 out of 10 main distribution companies are headed by a woman, in Portugal the percentage gets lower: only 2 out 12. This led the conversation to the analysis of the life events that are often turned into “handicaps” in a woman’s career such as period, pregnancy, abortion and childcare. Another issue explored was the difficulty of penetrating the “boys’ club” and the need for women to constantly prove themselves in a male dominated environment. Panagiotidou and Sousa also identified some “feminine” characteristics that help women make it: the capacity to have more complex and broader views on things, deeper sensitivity and ability to connect to the counterpart in any negotiation, efficiency and, of course, multitasking!
During their exchange Panagiotidou and Sousa also exchanged ideas about a wide range of topics: the right criteria to buy films, the branding of the companies, the best ways to reach young audiences, the dangers and the potential represented by platforms.
The second duo brought together France-based Karin Beyens, former Head of Acquisitions at Diaphana Film and currently working in international acquisition consulting at Orange Entertainment, and Dutch Julia van Berlo from the marketing department of Cinéart. Together they took into exam the current market and the possibilities for career paths within the sector. Their exchange was mainly focused on script reading training. It was the opportunity for van Berlo to develop new analytical tools under the guidance of a dedicated and non-judgmental tutor, and for Beyens to experiment herself in a mentoring role for the first time. Throughout the exchange they mainly focused on the challenges linked to films’ acquisition, discussing the arguments that can help rationalize an impression or a gut feeling, the need to balance passion with logic in order to best communicate about a project, and about the trade tricks that can help you reach your conclusions about the potential of a film based on the script fast enough to keep up with the markets’ bidding game.
Due to the lack of new releases during the pandemic, Carola Stern, Ex Board President and stakeholder of the Swiss distribution company Filmcoopi, and her mentee Xénia Puiggros, Distribution Manager at the Spanish company Segarra Films, had to adapt their initial plan to discuss about their companies’ day-to-day businesses, opening instead a broader dialogue about the film industry, the career opportunities and what are the specific challenges for women. For Puiggros, as for the other mentees, finding role models in other women who “got there” was especially important because, as anyone working with cinema would know, representation does count.
Besides presenting the pairs’ experiences, during the event the participants also discussed about their concerns about the present situation, and all agreed that over these past months of geographical confinement, the mentorship programme had offered all of them a precious window into the world, and a safe space to ventilate, to test ideas and to make plans for the future.
This hybrid format the event itself took, partly in presence and partly online, was effective to include as many participants as possible and Europa Distribution is continuing to use both formats for the association’s activities, considering inclusion key. And yet even now there is no arguing that nothing replaces the possibility to actually meet in person and use those precious informal moments to develop the personal connections that are key in this industry.
The conversation among the participants left many important points open: how can more women reach the top of the ladder in film distribution? What does it take, and how does one stay true to who she is while in the process? What can the industry do to become more inclusive and diverse in this sense? Committed to the idea that these questions deserve concrete actions, Europa Distribution will soon launch the second edition of EDMentorShe.