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2015 in review: Australia's film industry boys club

  • 13 January 2016

First published 22 November 2015

It's always exciting when an Australian film does well at the box office, especially when that film is identifiably local, and not just a Hollywood blockbuster filmed here for tax breaks and cheap labour. And so the success of the outrageously stylish and very Australian gothic comedy The Dressmaker is rather thrilling to those closely watching the film industry.

The Dressmaker, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and adapted from Rosalie Ham's bestselling novel of the same name, is currently strong on Australian charts ahead of Ridley Scott's The Martian and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. It has taken more than $11 million in three weeks and looks capable of making at least $15 million in its full run. In an environment where the majority of Australian films struggle to pass the $1 million mark, this is cause for celebration.

There's even more to cheer in the fact the film is proudly female in both its story and its production, being written and directed by a woman (Moorhouse), produced by a woman (Sue Maslin) and led by a raft of superb female characters played by Kate Winslet, Judy Davis and Sarah Snook.

Female book clubs, mothers groups and gaggles of girlfriends are flocking to The Dressmaker, proving yet again that women not only constitute more than half the human race, they also (in a fact seemingly little-known by film executives) purchase more than 50 per cent of movie tickets.

And yet we have an ongoing problem, in the world, and in Australia: there are just not enough films for women, about women and by women. We are nowhere near gender parity.

As researcher Monica Davidson reports in the Women in Film edition of Lumina (May 2015), here in Australia, 'Male directors are responsible for more than 85 per cent of the feature films made since the 1970s. This figure has not changed significantly for 25 years, nor has this disproportionate power been strenuously questioned.'

In fact, as Davidson laments, citing a 2012 study by Lisa French, the perception is that things are getting better and the problem is solving itself. Yet in 2015 (an unexceptional year similar to the five years preceding it) only 16 per cent of Australian feature films were directed by women, 20 per cent were written by women and 29 per cent were produced by women — startling given the fact that roughly half the graduates coming out of film school