Having previewed some of the films in the Women in Adventure category I was excited to attend the ShAFF networking event to hear the women that made and appear in the films talking about their experiences. Festival organiser Lissa Cook was keen to explain that the theme of Women in Adventure was something that ran right through the heart of the festival, not a separate or minority part of it. The panel and networking event provided a forum to discuss issues specific to women, and the aims were celebration, inspiration, sourcing, conversation, and networking.
The event started with a celebration of some of this year’s films, showing clips from the Women in Adventure category (made by or featuring women). Selected by ShAFF judge Claire-Jane Carter, they demonstrated the wider themes of the festival, some of them thoughtful, emotional, funny, or that played with the concept of gender roles and what we expect of women. Danielle Sellwood of the Women’s Sport Trust introduced the discussion, reminding us with some shocking statistics that as with many industries there is still a way to go before women have equality of opportunity and all that comes with it – professional recognition, sponsorship, funding, and equal levels of participation. This led to wider discussion in form of Q&A with the panel.
One of the critical questions addressed whether it is necessary or counterproductive to categorise ‘women’s’ films? For some the focus on gender may not feel helpful or relevant – in some cases even patronising. The panel recognised the responsibility of filmmakers to consider the way they represent individuals in the editing of their films – are negative stereotypes enforced if we see women crying or expressing strong emotions? Freelance producer and director Brenda Piekarski is aware that there is power in the choices made by filmmakers as they edit and interpret what they capture. With filmmaker Jen Randall, she discussed a ‘movement’ in film making away from action and focusing on storytelling. She described it as a search for authenticity and truthfulness, telling the story of the individual whatever that may be. The requirement for authenticity and quality was reflected in the selection process where there was no positive discrimination, every film was judged by the same demanding criteria. Having selected the films on merit though, there is a purpose in identifying levels of representation of women.
Increasing representation and inclusion isn’t just about high profile women, but as Danielle says “you can’t be what you can’t see.” We need more stories to be spread as widely as possible – and this means more sponsorship and support. Women that are making a career out of something that they love, work hard at and excel in should be recognised for it. As adventurer Squash Falconer and stunt woman Steph Carey explained, in the moment of action they are not aware of their gender, and their achievements don’t need to be increased or diminished because they happen to be female. Some women in high profile positions do feel obliged to make things better for the women that come after them, and to achieve this there are several issues to tackle. This includes raising women’s confidence and sometimes challenging the way that we perceive ourselves.
It is exposing to share, and it requires women to be brave enough to share their stories. US Ultra Runner Nikki Kimball in Finding Traction tells a deeply personal story about how running helps her survive depression. Professional climber Mina Leslie-Wujastyk in Project Mina temporarily breaks down under the pressure to achieve, demonstrating that confidence can be an issue no matter what your level of ability. Women may feel that their stories aren’t interesting, aren’t worth telling, or worry about how they will be perceived, but women like Nikki and Mina are leading the way for other women. The moments of vulnerability are where we all relate and connect, through that connection comes inspiration.
The event ended with a networking session, an opportunity to put names to faces and for people within the industry to meet. In future the aim is that it will not be necessary to specifically promote women due to gender inequality, and ShAFF is working towards a ten year plan. The outdoors industry is fortunate that there are women and men with the vision and the passion to effect real change. Thank you to ShAFF for starting this conversation and for inviting us to be a part of it.
Details about the event and ShAFF in general are here : http://www.shaff.co.uk/shaff-fringe/women-in-adventure-network/