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Waking the Feminists inspires documentary on gender inequality in the Irish arts

We chatted to its makers.


Source: Them's The Breaks/Vimeo

A NEW DOCUMENTARY on gender inequality in the Irish arts is being made following the launch of the Waking the Feminists movement.

Young film graduates Sarah Barr and Aoife Kelly (producers), Sarah Corcoran (director) and Stephen Elliott (writer) have teamed up to create Them’s the Breaks, which they hope will help in the effort to bring about gender equality in the arena.

With the documentary, they want to “expose and examine gender inequality in Irish theatre and the arts”.

Them’s The Breaks critiques and explores the many reasons and ways women have been forgotten both in our national history and on our national stage.

“The title comes from a tweet that Fiach Mac Conghail of The Abbey Theatre sent during a Q and A session on twitter regarding the Waking The Nation programme,” said Barr.

“He said: ‘Sometimes plays written by women don’t work out… Them’s The Breaks’. We thought it was a perfect example of the attitudes that exist in our society towards women. It demonstrates the unconscious bias that exists in people’s minds and how they don’t examine their own privilege. Fiach himself admitted that this was where he went wrong and apologised on the day of Waking The Feminists in The Abbey.”

For Barr and the Them’s The Breaks team, the project is all about education, showing people “this isn’t just people moaning – it’s a real thing, it’s an actual problem”.

Waking the Feminists

12/11/2015 Waking The Feminists Waking the Feminists at the Abbey Source: Leah Farrell

One female artist out of 10 programmed for The Abbey Theatre’s Waking The Nation centenary programme.

The makers of Them’s The Breaks seek “to examine why this is and ask how we, as a progressive society may begin to create a more inclusive and equal Ireland”.

Sarah Barr told TheJournal.ie that she, Corcoran and Elliott were all involved in the DCU masters course in TV and film. After finishing up in September, they were looking for jobs and decided to get involved in a project that was socially engaged and relevant to their lives.

At the same time, the Waking the Feminists movement, spurred on by Lian Bell, emerged.

“We decided this was a project we were passionate about,” said Barr. “We could relate to it so we thought it was something so important to document.”

1508607_1695487320665813_5686340927011380863_n Lian Bell Source: Them's the Breaks

They have already interviewed figures including Bell, journalist Una Mullally and writer and playwright Belinda McKeon, and have now launched a Fundit campaign to raise money for the project.

The documentary’s purpose is twofold – to document the Waking the Feminists movement as it happens, and also to bring issues around gender and the arts to a wider audience.

“We want to explore the wider arts, not just focus on theatre,” said Barr. “We will also go into film and art, even journalism. Because it’s across the board, this inequality and gender bias. Once you start picking away at it you just see it is everywhere.

For example we were looking into stats, and to find out there are only four female Irish directors who have more than three feature films made… We didn’t realise that starting this. And for every one female on screen there’s 2.24 males.

“We want to look at what has been done and what will be done,” said Barr. That includes talking to people in organisations like the Irish Film Board and Abbey Theatre. They hope to film until at least November of this year.

12821428_1692339974313881_4688951675530960891_n Actress Olwen Foueré (left) Source: Them's the Breaks

How will funding help Them’s the Breaks get made? Barr said that the money raised on Fundit is “just a small portion of what the film will actually cost”. The majority of the money will go to post-production, as well as equipment rental, legal details, licensing, copyright and payment of crew.

Confidence issue

The documentary will explore the issues around why women aren’t represented at certain levels of the arts.

“It’s ingrained in our psyche that men are better writers,” said Barr. “It’s a confidence issue as well. You always look at people to inspire you for your career choices. With novelists, there are loads of really amazing writers. With films, you don’t see it – it’s just not as apparent. The ‘greats’ are men, and that’s what’s been given and it’s the same with theatre. So you really have to fight to look for someone to look up to. I think that has a lot to do with it.

Even with film it’s seen as a man’s industry, it’s hard work, it’s outdoor, it’s not stable, it’s not conducive to family life. These industries are not conducive to raising children. There’s no stability in your job – that’s a huge problem especially in theatre.

“I think for women in the industry it feels like such a hard slog at a certain point where so many walls are being put up, and you see your male counterparts who have the same education and same training having a much easier run of it. It’s very hard to keep producing creatively when that’s the case.”

“I really hope this film can really shed light on that and really expose what it’s like to be a woman working in the arts,” said Barr. “And also what we can do to make it a level playing field.”

She said that although the issues of unconscious bias and gender inequality are worrying, “for me I try my best to focus on the positive things and try and do things like this.”

I think the way of dealing with that is to question it and make sure the conversation doesn’t peter out slowly… making this film is just my way of making sure that things change for myself as well as for other women.

“The intention of this film is 100% to inspire change and to make sure people are aware that this is happening as well. 

“The hope is it will spill over into industries,” said Barr.

The Fundit campaign for Them’s The Breaks is online here

Read: ‘People tell me my book has changed their life’>

Read: Fury, apologies, and calls for respect as feminists shake the Irish theatre world>

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