On Women and Men - Bridging the Gap 2016

Next in our series of profile pieces related to our Equality Matters survey we speak to Sonja Henrici, Co-Director of Scottish Documentary Institute, about Bridging the Gap.

Bridging the Gap from the Scottish Documentary Institute is one of the leading documentary new talent initiatives for cinema and broadcast in the UK. Consistently picking up awards, BAFTAs, special mentions and festival screenings in over 40 countries worldwide, it offers a creative training programme alongside production.

Now in its 13th year, the initiative aims to bridge the gap between training/graduation and a first commission by offering the opportunity to work closely with Scottish Documentary Institute and make a 10 minute documentary.

Bridging the Gap films 

What response did you have to Bridging the Gap’s latest theme of Women?

When we decided on Women as the theme for Bridging the Gap this year, we thought it was a pretty wide theme. Given that it covers more than 50% of the population surely it would have provided ample opportunities for stories and characters, and perhaps even, a clever way to talk about men.

But, looking at our (admittedly unrepresentative) sample, I think male filmmakers chickened out: either they really couldn’t think of stories involving female characters, or they felt too shy to talk on “behalf of women”, or they mistakenly thought our call could only have been for female directors.

Regardless, we were very surprised, and a bit shocked even, that we had a 28% reduction of applications this year compared to last year, but on the plus side a 22% increase of women applicants.

The quality of applicants or applications were not lower this year; in fact our workshops give so much scope to develop an idea from the ground up, which often becomes a leveller for those filmmakers who are better at writing treatments than others. And, for the first time we also made tasters/teasers mandatory as part of the submission.

As a first, we shortlisted 80% women this year. 8 out of 10! And what a wonderful group gathered at our first workshop. Supportive of each other. Excited. Friendly. Warm. Funny. Honest. Of course, documentary filmmakers as a whole are usually very friendly folk, and this year is no exception! However, I felt that there was a certain emotional maturity this year. Of all filmmakers (male or female) 60% of them have dependants, many more than one.

Bridging the Gap screening 

What were some of the projects like?

Even though perhaps some filmmakers had less time to focus on making their own films until now, the standard was really quite high with projects dealing with very diverse themes such as disability / life limiting illness, ageing, immigration and immigrant heritage, queer / transitioning, motherhood, women in sport, mental health and women in Africa.

Many of the projects come out of really knowing a person, having been close friends, or representing a family member. The projects were intense and vital and they were pushed further in an intense pitching workshop, which prepared them for the commissioning pitch. At this point it becomes really hard, and often more films should get made than we have money for. They all have a right to exist, a need to be told. But we are forced to choose four.

How are things looking in terms of gender balance in applications to Bridging the Gap?

Looking back over the stats of the last five years, I’m pleased to say that female applicants are at least 47% upwards, except 5 years ago when we had 43% female applicants only. That year went on to be on the theme of MEN (although we did not ask for submissions on any theme that year) because we had 100% male directors and film subjects. Since the inception of BTG and as of this year, its 13th edition, 36 women and 39 men have been commissioned (including 2 man/man and 1 woman/man co-directions). So that’s a split of 48% vs 52%, a balance we’re pretty proud of. 

Bridging the Gap: Resilience | THE THIRD DAD - Trailer from Scottish Documentary Institute on Vimeo.

What about gender balance of directors in documentary in general?

On the whole documentary has around 34.5% of female directors, as opposed to fiction which is around 16.9% (stats from Indiewire blog). So although documentary is slightly more proportionate there’s still a lot of work to be done there, and I’m hopeful that through initiatives like Bridging the Gap we can continue to tackle underrepresentation. It’s so vital that we continue to create opportunities for new and emerging filmmakers, and we’re very excited to see the work of our 2016 Bridging the Gap commissioned filmmakers which will be ready this summer; Lindsay Brown, Natalia Kouneli, Lucie Rachel and Wilma Smith.

Equality Matters

Creative Scotland is calling on Scotland’s Film and TV professionals to take part in a wide-ranging screen equalities survey, to inform our understanding of issues of under-representation. The findings will help us to address these issues through positive action, going forward. The survey opened on Wednesday 10 February and will close on 7 March. Take part in the survey.

This article was published on 01 Mar 2016