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Male dominance at Nordic cinemas

Only six per cent of all films shown at Icelandic cinemas last year were directed by women, according to a gender equality review of film offerings in Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. The results of the review will be presented at the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival.

A vast majority of films shown at cinemas and on television in the Nordic countries are made by men. In Iceland, 94 per cent of all films shown at cinemas last year were directed by men. In 2015, this figure was 87 per cent for Denmark and 86 per cent for Sweden. The same pattern is found for screenwriters. In Sweden, the share of male screenwriters was 74 per cent in 2016. In Iceland and Denmark, the figure was 84 per cent.

Both the review and the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival are part of a project titled Increase the Gender Equality in Nordic Film. The project has received funding from the Nordic Gender Equality Fund, which is administered by Nordic Information on Gender (NIKK). Stephanie Thögersen is director of the film festival and contact person for the Nordic fund project.

Stephanie Thögersen. Press photo
 Stephanie Thögersen. Press photo

Tell us a little bit about the review. How did you carry it out?
‘We looked at all films that premiered at cinemas in Sweden, Denmark and Iceland in 2015 and 2016 and kept track of whether they had male or female directors, screenwriters, producers and protagonists. We also analysed the gender equality in the films shown at the major film festivals in the three countries, and in Sweden we even included the films available via the online streaming service Netflix.’

What differences between the countries did you find?
‘We found gender inequality across the board. The fact that Iceland had a whopping 94 per cent male directors, which is higher than the other studied countries, may be due to their own film output being lower. This makes them more vulnerable to the film production in other countries.
In Denmark, domestic films make up almost one-third of all films shown at cinemas, compared with 17 per cent in Sweden. This means that Denmark could achieve a higher level of gender equality in the films shown in the country by dealing with their own production. And the film institutes in both the Denmark and Iceland are starting to do just that. Maybe we have helped push them in the right direction.’

How good are we at gender equality in film in the Nordic region?
‘Sweden has come a long way in its work to make the film industry more gender equal. The funding from the Swedish Film Institute is divided almost equally between women and men. The film institutes in the Nordic countries can hopefully join forces in their efforts to increase the gender equality in the production and showing of films. If all Nordic countries decided to increase the share of woman-made films at cinemas, it could have a noticeable effect. Not just here, but also on the European and international film market. ‘

What can the Nordic countries learn from each other in this area?
‘A lot of interesting work has been done in the Nordic countries to increase the gender equality in film. The Swedish Film Institute was a pioneer with analyses and clear gender equality objectives, and now Denmark and Iceland are gaining momentum. It would be great if all countries kept statistics like the ones we created and then followed the development and worked actively to change things. The Nordic countries should promote this model in the EU.’

What would you like the review to lead to?
‘We want the film industry to take a greater responsibility, not only for which stories are told by Nordic films but also for which stories the Nordic film audience has access to. As for what we will do next, we will continue to monitor the development and work for increased gender equality in the film offerings for example by arranging a yearly film festival to show that there is an abundance of fantastic films made by women out there.’

Updated 23 January 2020