Scottish Documentary Institute

Case study

Women Direct campaign

(Credit: Lea Luiz de Oliveira)

Scottish Documentary Institute was established in 2004. Since then it has been developing Scotland’s emerging documentary talent and building a diverse community of documentary filmmakers here.

We are a women-led organisation and at least 50% of the filmmakers we work with each year are women. However, it was sadly predictable that many of the highly talented women we trained would either move to London to find work or leave documentary filmmaking in search of a more sustainable career.

Data from the British Film Institute highlighted for us just how bad the situation was: between 2016 and 2018 women directed just 16% of Scotland’s feature length documentaries (this figure was 24% for the UK as a whole). It appeared that just one of those films was directed by a woman of colour.

Scotland needs an environment where all documentary talent rises. We launched the Women Direct campaign in 2019 in response to that need.

Our aim is that by 2025, at least 50% of Scotland’s documentaries will be directed by women. 

With more women in documentary filmmaking, women will be more visible, we broaden ideas around what it means to be a woman, stimulate informed debate and remember the women who have gone before us. Our understanding of ourselves and our society is enriched by these new perspectives.

(Credit: CA Media)

Through this campaign we are (or will) support women documentary filmmakers through the following activities

  • A mentoring and development scheme for beyond-entry-level women filmmakers, which builds their confidence, connections and industry knowledge
  • Data collection and analysis
  • The creation of a publicly-available and free to use directory of women involved in documentary filmmaking (all disciplines and levels of experience)
  • Outreach to encourage more young and emerging female filmmaking talent
  • More networking opportunities for women working in the field
  • A pledge campaign – asking individuals and organisations working in the documentary ecosystem to commit to actions which support women to sustain careers in the industry.
  • And in the longer term we hope to create a flexible grant fund for women working on feature-length documentaries.

In 2020, women were directing 30% of Scotland’s documentaries. This is far better than the 16% recorded in 2018, and shows great progress. We should recognise however, that COVID lockdowns/restrictions, children at home and the massive drop in documentary commissions and productions is likely to have had an impact we’re not aware of yet.

Since the campaign launch in November 2019 we have tried to support the careers of as many women documentary filmmakers as possible.

We have, for example:

  • delivered a new 6-month programme called ‘New Voices’, solely for women. The programme combines mentoring, career coaching and sessions with industry leaders. Our mentors and speakers were all highly diverse women, with rich and varied film and TV experience and interests. Our career coach specialises in the sustainable development of ethnically diverse women. New Voices has been a great success; directly resulting in more TV commissions and film funding for participants. Some participants are also now working with Producers, which means their feature-length films are progressing for the first time.
  • created a directory of women working in documentary in Scotland. We know companies are using it to hire women onto their crews.
  • partnered with others to facilitate screenings of women-led films. One example is a monthly, online documentary film club we are hosting with Audacious Women Festival, which features documentaries directed by Scotland-based women.

Please get in touch if you’d like to help give the campaign momentum – this might be through political support, gathering public pledges from people and organisations, or through sponsorship or donations.

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