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SWEDEN

Anna Serner • CEO, Swedish Film Institute

"If we don’t see change I’m not afraid to give bigger budgets to only women for one year"

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- Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner talks to Cinema Femme about the institution's objectives related to gender equality and the importance of women in the film industry

Anna Serner • CEO, Swedish Film Institute
(© Marie-Therese Karlberg)

Anna Serner is driven to get to 50/50 gender parity in the film industry. As CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, Anna can influence real change in her country, part of her influence is in providing crucial data. Annually, the SFI puts out a gender equality report exploring a different area of gender inequality in Sweden’s film industry. Last year’s 2018 report was called "The Money Issue" (read here). Being released this March, the 2019 report is focused on race, women of color in the film industry in Sweden and will be called “What Women?” Cinema Femme's Rebecca Martin talks to Serner about this and other topics.

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Charlemagne Youth Prize

Cinema Femme: What led you to your position as CEO of the Swedish Film Institute?
Anna Serner
: I became SFI’s CEO fairly young. I was 34 years old. The first thing they told me is that you’ll get a lot of questions from reporters in regards to how you manage with family life, and I got a lot of personal questions. I was old and aware enough to be able to understand that now we’re talking about gender in-equality, so I addressed that. It was clear from the beginning that we have a problem in society. And being a woman in this kind of leadership role is very rare.

Women hesitate in talking about these issues because they don’t want to be stigmatized, and they just want to do their work, to be the token for quantity. Since the #MeToo movement, there really has been a big change, which is very helpful. When I started off the work, I was in no real position to make any change, because the organization that I was a part of didn’t have any real power. We were just members of an organization, so the members have all the power to do everything by themselves. I was very tired of having to talk about the problems without any tools to do anything about it. I decided to stop talking, and start acting.

Because I realized it doesn’t really matter what you do. As soon as you do something, you start a conversation about your process of change. Even if you do things that don’t really make a change, the action makes a change in attitude. When I got my position at the Swedish Film Institute, I suddenly got power because we are responsible for so much of the decision-making for the films that are being made in Sweden. We are the public funders. If we say things, they really react and listen. Suddenly I had a position where I could make change. As an outspoken feminist before, the media was very interested in what we were doing. I’ve had to answer hard questions, and I did it by saying we’re doing okay, but we’re not happy with our numbers, and I will face that. I give myself three years to reach parity 50/50 by 2020. I’m not afraid of quotas.  

I love that, I applaud you for that.
I gave myself six months to find out what the real obstacles are for women. Then we went into action, and our studies are all online. We developed a lot of information about the industry and that has a significant impact on how people act. 

We reached 50/50 after two years. We met it over time, and because we are a small country, we are in a different position. It would be good if it went to 50/50 every year. We want overtime to be 50/50. Some years we are up to 60 in gender, other years we are down to 40. But the average for a four-year period should be 50/50.

Over the last twenty years, my knowledge has become pretty deep. I am not afraid of taking arguments, I am not afraid of meeting people and explaining things, because I know what research has been made. The reason for our work is–we’ve been working a lot on talking about equality, instead of just gender equality. We have a responsibility to find the equality in the industry. We want to work with gender equality and diversity, and we want to take ALL of the talent in consideration. It’s really a matter of us doing our job properly. And I think everyone can do that because it’s just ridiculous to believe that you leave half of the population out, specifically to find the best filmmakers despite of gender and race. I’ve been working a lot with that message. 

I’d love to see what you’re doing in Sweden be applied more in the U.S. With your research, you are able to answer why there is in-equality, and it’s making a difference.
We are still not equal in Sweden either. There is still a lot of work to do. To keep aware of the state of equality, we’ve made a new action plan, and in our action plan there are two things that are always there. One is the numbers, getting the latest and aggregating the numbers. We must always understand where we are right now. What do we have to do to achieve 50/50? The challenge is that once a year you gather all of the information, by April you have the numbers, then you realize you did not reach quota on that aspect either. So then you have your goals going into the next year.

We are calculating every decision we make every month. By June, we can see the diagnosis for the year, and then we can make a proper diagnosis for the coming year. We ask ourselves where is our problem right now. We have too few female screenwriters in bigger budgeted films. What can we do? OK, we make a special request for female scriptwriters to be used for films with bigger budgets. Like what we are doing right now, for instance. That is really keeping up the pace through aggregating and monitoring.

The second thing that we have in our action plan is to always try to find new knowledge. We have decided every year to publish our gender equality report. The first one, which was in 2018, was summing up what was happening in Sweden, because we have been doing a lot of work since the 70s. And we’ve acquired the knowledge that there are a lot of women working outside the limelight and power, and what had to be done. What I really did was take over the big work that had to be made, and sharpened up the requirements by stressing them with a quota. No one before me had done that. 

Our 2019 report for 2018 was the money issue, because we realized that the report actually reads parity in funding decisions. We wanted to understand if the funding decisions were equal, so we started to count money. In the money issue, we could measure how big the inequality is the bigger the budget gets. By making that report, we made everyone aware of that problem. And we made a new announcement, which really pissed people off. If we don’t see change I’m not afraid to give bigger budgets to only women for one year.

Read the full interview here.

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