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Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. (Rachel Boekel photography)
Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. (Rachel Boekel photography)

The script for women behind the camera is not a comedy, new studies show Add to ...

It’s happened so many times, she’s lost count. Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk will be out on a shoot, and someone – the interviewee, a passerby – will approach her cameraman, figuring it must be his film. It’s because, Yanchyk is certain, her cameraman is male, and she’s not.

“They always ask him about his film, and they never, ever assume that it’s my film,” says the Edmonton-based producer/director. “All the time. It’s very, very frustrating for me.”

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In fact, in an industry that’s so dependent on women in front of the camera – hello, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Paré, Kim Cattrall – the situation for Canadian women behind the camera is a bit of a horror movie.

The gender divide in the industry isn’t Yanchyk’s imagination, two new studies to be discussed at the Banff World Media Festival report. The festival kicks off Sunday, when a panel of Canadian Media Leaders will feature, tellingly (thanks to the departure of Kirstine Stewart from the CBC), four men: broadcast executives at the top of Bell, Rogers, Corus and Shaw.

What these studies show is that while Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg may be confidently instructing women to lean in, in terms of their careers, these data suggest there is reason, at least in this industry, to freak out.

Focus On Women 2013, the most comprehensive national report to date on gender equality in unionized positions in the Canadian independent screen-based production industry, paints a picture of a “heavily gendered” industry, where females are ghettoized in areas considered “women’s work” – hair, makeup, costume, and production and office staff. Released this week by Canadian Unions for Equality on Screen (CUES), the report shows gender balance in entry-level positions, but that men progress to decision-making levels (and higher-income brackets) in roles such as director at much higher rates than women, who encounter “systemic barriers” to advancement. Onscreen, meanwhile, ACTRA figures show men make more money than women, as they age past 30.

The study Women in View on TV 2013, released last week, was also sobering. The non-profit organization dedicated to greater racial and gender equity in Canadian media industries examined 21 Canadian series – the live-action TV series that received the most money from the Canada Media Fund (CMF) for 2010-11. Eleven of them did not employ a single woman director. Eighty-four per cent of the 272 episodes were directed by men. None of the episodes employed a visible-minority woman director or a female cinematographer. In the writing room, things were a little less bleak: 36 per cent of the screenwriters employed by these shows were women.

“You know things are not as they should be, but there’s still a bit of a breath intake when you actually see the numbers,” says Women in View executive director Rina Fraticelli, who will be at Banff to present the findings.

Her report calls for “sustainable measurable practices” – possibly a 60-40 rule on CMF funding to balance things out.

Fraticelli knows this will be controversial; more regulation for this industry is bound to meet with resistance. She suggests there may be other options, pointing to the model the Ontario government is looking at, in which public companies would be asked to set targets for women in senior positions.

You can’t have change on-set if you don’t have change at the top, says Siobhan Devine, who stood up at a CUES event in Vancouver Wednesday (an event incidentally filled with women and exactly one man) to suggest solutions lie higher up the food chain. “Someone has to hire us,” she said. “Someone has to take that risk.”

Devine landed a job as trainee camera co-ordinator on the YTV series Mr. Young and immediately picked up on the male vibe on-set.

“TV is such a boys’ club. It really is. Except for those girl departments,” says Devine, who is an award-winning short filmmaker. “When I first started, I noticed that all the men would bond over the game that was on; I thought I’d better start watching hockey.”

Devine rejects calls for more training to fix the inequity; she says the stats need to be presented to the decision-makers.

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