Inclusive Cinema spoke to Rianne Pictures founder Caris Rianne and team member Sophie Duncan on their approach to implementing the toolkit Dismantling Structural Inequality in Your Cinema by Sadia Hameed.
How did you hear about the toolkit?
Caris: We came across it, I think it was around January time, and it was on my to do list to go through and get printed. I read it back to front in a couple of hours and I was simply enamored with it. Then I sent it to everyone in the team and said: “you’ve got to read this”. Everyone is reading this because not only is it of interest, but it contained useful action points as well. It wasn’t just informative but also offered guidance on how to implement it.
What was the response like when you shared it with the rest of the team?
Caris: They responded to it well. We’ve been very big on accessibility since the start of the company and festival. Our whole ethos is about supporting women and underrepresented voices in film. We have learned so much in the past eight years, and I entered the film industry as a 21-year-old, feeling I had to support everyone. With our online event library, we’re having captions for all of our films, and upload our panels and workshops after they’ve become live and then transcribe them. And Sophie (confirm role) and I were in the office last year during the festival, and everyone was editing the captions after it was live to make sure it was all sorted. Then last year with Black Lives Matter, we did a whole section on the history of the Academy Awards when it comes to people of colour. We have constantly been learning actioning by implementing the toolkit and other recourses into our policies.
Our team for the Women X festival is 50% women of colour, and our mentoring scheme is 50% run by women of colour. We’re constantly adapting and listening out for what else we can do. And when we got the toolkit, it was very much: “right, what else can we do” – because that’s the kind of company we are. We never think we don’t have time for improvement. For us, it’s very much about that lasting change and being able to adapt, thinking about new terminology, we take pride in being a forward thinking company, we want to be part of the change and part of listening to voices that will actually tell us how they feel about things as opposed to our only response being: “Oh, they’ll like that kind of thing”. Instead we’re constantly thinking “What else can we do? How can we implement this really?” We now have bi-weekly meetings where we brainstorm together, on how we can implement the toolkit successfully.
Was there anything in the toolkit which surprised you?
Caris: One big thing for me, which I’m shocked that I hadn’t thought about was relaxed screenings at festivals. Sophie and I have worked at festivals for years, and a lot of the team members have as well. Our approach was to think of things we’d seen that we didn’t think worked and then adapt and change it. The result was introducing little breaks between screenings, you can go and have a coffee and decompress. I used to get to 7pm in the evening without eating because I’d watched four films back-to-back so introducing a more relaxed atmosphere was important to me. We’ve created a designated area for relaxing between screenings as part of the festival this year. You have the choice, and we are not going to enforce it but it’s there for anyone who needs to take a break.
Another priority of ours is, being welcoming to women of colour, and for women of colour to submit their film to our festival. We didn’t necessarily know how to communicate that appropriately and clearly. We now go into the communities and organisations that have that audience and care about their audience and say: “How can we work together on this, you’re involved and we’re involved and we need to find a way to show that underrepresented audiences are welcome here”. So, we’ve put these processes in place, where we regularly communicate to audiences and filmmakers that our festival is open for them and that we’d like to see them submit their films to us.
When it comes to audio description captions, we worked with a brilliant consultant last year, Charlotte Little, who’s a great friend now as well. She was our accessibility consultant, and walked us through access needs, relaxed screenings and pricing.
Because we’re both from working class backgrounds and to paraphrase something from the toolkit: “If you reduce the prices for those people, you’re not going to lose any money, because they wouldn’t have been able to come in the first place” – so that’s stuck with me and has made us more mindful about how we set the prices.
Sophie: I’ve been very interested in the ‘pay what you can’ schemes and every time we go somewhere and hear a talk on something, we are bringing it up and chatting about it with the rest of the team. I’m always keeping an eye out for other organisations who are doing it, I think Glasgow are pretty good at implementing it.
Something that I enjoyed reading about in particular, which I didn’t expect was the evaluation aspect.
Because sometimes I’ve worked at festivals where the evaluation is just a ‘box tick’ scenario. That has always felt uncomfortable to me and doesn’t encourage change. It’s often approached as a need to measure diversity and to feed into further funding applications. But, the toolkit shows how that data can serve as a way to improve practices and reach wider audiences. We run the risk of having organisations using the information purely for funding reasons and not to improve their practices. I’ve not seen the approach to evaluation done as well as it was in the toolkit so I encourage everyone to read it and adopt the approach to evaluation as it’s not been communicated that well in the past, and think there’s always scope to learn more about the evaluation process.
Do you think there’s a difference in implementing the toolkit as a festival as opposed to a venue?
Caris: We pride ourselves in not operating like any other festival, we want to offer a different event, and not be about getting as many admissions in as possible or screening the best films, but instead it’s about platforming underrepresented voices and filmmakers and offering a safe space to a traditionally excluded audience. Implementing the toolkit felt like part of our culture straightaway and found ways to tailor our marketing strategy moving forward based on the toolkit. We were not going to put pressure on members of our team to tell us how to be more inclusive to a wider audience. It has educated us on how to effectively put action into change without just aimlessly going in and thinking that the women of colour who part of our team are to take the lead on diversity and representation for the festival. That has really helped me as a leader as well to say: “I’ve got this great team, that’s quite diverse across the ranks, but it can be more diverse, and I’m not going to pigeonhole those members into those roles”. Instead, I’ve built a team with members who have experience, have great values, views and whose opinions I appreciate across the board without feeling any pressure to represent their background as part of the festival.
I think the toolkit works for any kind of film event, or anything in the industry which wants to be more inclusive. There was a study done recently by Screen Skills which showed that only 25% in the industry came from a working class background. That figure and the toolkit then helped us price our festival as it wouldn’t make any sense to set it as a price which is unaffordable. We have minimal funding for the festival, because we are new and we’re women and we’re in the North so there isn’t much available for us – but not having a big budget isn’t an excuse to not try to be part of the change. Instead, we ask ourselves what we can do with the budget and with the resources we have in place and the toolkit helped us in making things more achievable.
Sophie: It’s helpful as a festival as well because we’re not a venue, we’re an additional activity. Because we don’t have a set venue that we work in it’s important to recognize the things we need to take into consideration. When we were booking a venue for this year we wanted to make sure that they held the same values as us and the toolkit, that they want to work with us on our message. The toolkit gave us a list of ideas for us to tick off in a venue, or to at least find a venue which would want to work with us on offering gender neutral toilets for example. Because we aren’t a venue, we hadn’t thought of everything in terms of operations and access in a physical space. It led to a useful conversation with the venue which gave us the opportunity to discuss access needs and ways that not only the festival could be more inclusive, but also the venue moving forward.
Caris: We faced a lot of ‘we don’t do that’ and someone has to go to the venue and question why not, with toolkit in hand to reference it and point out the simple changes that could make a big difference to a visitor’s experience. We put together a checklist from the toolkit which we had prepared for when we looked at venues including tech requirements, toilets, changing facilities, use of pronouns. It helped us establish which things were in place and which things we had to work with the venue on supplying. We take a townhall approach to making decisions on big things like venue – there’s a Word doc where anyone from the team just throws in their thoughts and then we structure it together and make a decision as an organization. It’s very open and transparent and ideas are valued equally whether the person has been involved for years or only joined a few weeks ago.
From the evaluation forms last year we created actions to work on every single point that was made. we wanted to listen to everyone. We didn’t get any feedback which suggested that people didn’t feel welcome, we had one comment which said they wanted to see more transwomen featured in the festival. With festivals it really is dependent on who submits their films, so in addition to our open submissions we created a scouting spreadsheet. As we attend festivals all the time, we kept track of key films we had seen and if we liked it, we got in touch to tell them more about our festival and to encourage them to submit to it. Each month we had a meeting for submissions, where we had the percentage of how many women of colour submitted, how many students submitted, how many queer films we received, how many non-binary filmmakers submitted etc. Then if those figures were really low we knew how to target our outreach. As a team we were very transparent about it.
We would say: “Look, last month, we only had 3% of women of colour submit to the festival. Does anyone have any ideas on how to approach this?” Someone from the team would then come up with an approach to going out and talking to people. It’s everyone’s responsibility to get that percentage up and by checking in every month we could recgonise the issues we were having, rather than getting to the end of the festival realising there was a lack of diversity.
We have to make it very clear that there is a space for everyone here. When it comes to our panel members the panel was 50% women of colour and 50% white women last year. People have sent us long lists of panelists, with great suggestions but they tend to all be white. We can’t comfortably have that lack of diversity on our panels. An event can’t be successful if we’re only hearing one voice, and we want to hear about different approaches. Different people from different backgrounds will bring a different experience to the conversation. We want full representation where our audience can come and feel seen.
Sophie: It’s building trust as well, we want to build trust, because at the end of the day, trans women and non-binary people may look at the festival and ask “is this for me, is this an inclusive space for all women? Or is there an issue of gatekeeping?”
Because we were purely online last year, we had a few comments asking us to keep an online element. Hopefully more festivals will have a hybrid model moving forward too, and our experience from last year has helped us decide that because we want to be accessible, we want to keep an online presence because not everyone can make it to physical spaces, but that shouldn’t serve as a barrier or be an issue for them to watch a film and take part in the festival.
I’ve attended more festivals in the past year than I’ve ever been to because and that’s good that they can work it around my time and I don’t have to spend money on travel and accommodation.
This is brought out of a terrible situation, but people have been shouting about it for years and people haven’t listened and now because it’s affected everybody, there’s been a wider conversation about it which hopefully means it’ll continue.
Was there anything in the toolkit that you couldn’t look at because of budget, because it wasn’t relevant to your festival, or did you feel you tried to cover as much as possible?
Caris: I don’t think anything wasn’t relevant. In an ideal situation I would have implemented everything. We’d like to have a British Sign Language interpreter in every single screen but that’s something we currently can’t accommodate with our budget but something which we’d love to do. In terms of audio description, it’s very dependent on the venue you’re working with – we’ve been very fortunate in finding that that was already in place and we have a very good partnership with our venue.
When it comes to recruitment and development and we want to ensure that there’s retention of a good team whose development we support. The team we have now is brilliant, but it may just be the case that they’ve not been given the opportunity to be part of a submissions process before and now they can add that to their CV. We have people on our team who have been offered jobs at other festivals already, which is amazing, I’m proud and hate to lose them for a period of time but I’m jumping of joy for them.
We wrote a dream list for things we wanted to implement from the toolkit and realistically recognizing what we can and can’t do, but also trying to find alternatives even if only temporary ones. So for eg. Going back to the BSL – we couldn’t have a live interpreter but because of cost so as an alternative we’re going to film the panels and talks and then put them up online with subtitles and captions afterwards. It’s not the best-case scenario, but it’s the best we can do scenario. I think that’s maybe one of the thing that we, wouldn’t be able to do we would want to be able to do. Also, thanks to the venue we can have audio descriptions, and we can offer a relaxed space too. We try to be transparent about it too, to recognize the things we’d like to do but are unable to due to budget.
Any advice to someone who is just starting to work with the toolkit?
Caris: Really sit with the toolkit and go through it properly. I annotate my copies like a study book, I had a highlighter and post it notes to mark clearly the areas I wanted to focus on and added ideas on how we could implement it. I recognized that the toolkit educated me but I was very mindful that I there were action points to follow and conversations to be had with the team. I would share my notes, and ideas and ask what everyone else thought and suggested – so that it served as a tool to start a conversation and not have it end with just reading the toolkit. There’s also some great contacts at the back for more research and recourses, which you can get in touch with and funnily enough we did know a few of them.
It’s important to know what you can do on your scale, not everything will be applicable for everything but there’s enough there to implement something. That’s the easiest way to do it, make it specific for yourself, organisation and team.
Sophie: I would add to look at your policies and training as well. We have anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and anti-racism policies in place. Last year we went to our venue and our partners, to make sure they had similar policies in place. Reading the toolkit is fantastic but you need to implement the work too and have actual training consultancy as well. We have an accessibility consultant for our festivals and dependent on funding, we’re looking for more training for our staff members as well. It’s a toolkit, but there’s a lot more that can be done as well. A commitment to being consistent is important too – it can’t be: “Oh, four years ago, we did this training” but instead look at what you can do annually so you’re always up to date with what’s happening and is relevant to you.