Culture · Features

In Conversation with… Gráinne Humphreys

Grainne Humphreys of Dublin International Film Festival
Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Dublin-born Gráinne Humphreys has been the Festival Director of the Dublin International Film Festival since 2007. Starting initially as a festival volunteer, she has been working in film programming for over twenty years. As the 15th Annual Dublin International Film Festival draws to a close this Sunday, we speak to Gráinne about her career as a woman in the film industry, diversity, and women in the director’s chair.

Gráinne, your experience as a woman working in the film industry as a critic: has it been predominantly positive or negative and would you feel that your gender has ever had an impact on whether or not you were taken seriously?

Generally positive. I think that I’ve been quite lucky in that, while I’ve been in an industry where there’s quite a lot of older men and that was defined as the experienced role, I actually had quite a lot of female mentors and role models, and not only did they give you an example, but there was promotion and development possible in your career. They created a support mechanism for people coming behind them, which is something I’m quite interested in. Generally, I don’t think that I’ve been subjected to any particular major bias in my career goals by being a woman but it’s definitely something that is increasingly coming to the fore, and definitely in terms of confidence it’s a huge issue.

In general, there aren’t nearly as many female directors as there are male. Do you feel that there is an emerging space for female directors in international cinema at the moment? Is it on the rise?

I don’t know if it’s actually on the rise – it seems to come in waves. There’s always been quite small numbers but there are some absolutely fantastic directors. A good friend of mine, Agnès Varda, has been working since the fifties in France. I am intrigued by the fact that there is a kind of tendency to sometimes see directors as a particular gender, or particular types of films that are made by studios are perceived as films that are made by and for men, whereas I think there is actually a growing diversity. You can see that the change through recent lobbying has included more African-American and Asian film-makers and actors.

Mostly, that lack of numbers means you say the words “we’ll be bringing the director in to say a few words after the screening,” and a lot of people will think that that would be a man – that’s what I’d like to address. The idea that a director would be a man is quite interesting because in Ireland I noticed that a lot of the producers that I’ve been working with for the Irish films have been women.One of the largest, I think predominantly female roles in film in Ireland is production. I’m conscious that a number of times already during the festival the dynamic has been a male director and a female producer, but there’s no reason why there couldn’t be two women in the future.

Mostly, that lack of numbers means you say the words “we’ll be bringing the director in to say a few words after the screening,” and a lot of people will think that that would be a man.

Regarding greater diversity, in an interview you did with a few years back you mentioned an increasing conservativism in the media that made it hard to get foreign-language films out there. So do you think there has been an improvement – are people opening up more to the foreign-language films and the diverse stories and perspectives that these films bring us?

No, I think we like to think that we are. I’d still say that there is a very strong middle-class art audience who will go to see films, but they’ll go to see them in festivals or go to see them maybe for the first week of release, and very few films will break out beyond that to new audiences. There is that growing conservativism between distributors who feel like their films are only worth one or two releases, which is matched by audiences who can be increasingly conservative in the choices that they make. If you say something is in black and white, if you say it’s three hours long, if you say it’s Finnish, there are all triggers that actually repel audiences rather than actually intrigue them. Predominantly, it seems like editorial is pulled towards what it’s familiar with and what it’s familiar with is English-language, either local familiar or very well-known mainstream, and anything that falls outside of that they prefer people to find by themselves.

Predominantly, it seems like editorial is pulled towards what it’s familiar with and what it’s familiar with is English-language, either local familiar or very well-known mainstream

In terms of films made by women, do you feel that there are more opportunities for women in films in decision-making roles like producing and directing outside the mainstream of Hollywood than there are within Hollywood?

Absolutely. We’ve had loads of female directors over since I’ve been working on the festival and you know, they work a lot. They work primarily outside of big budgets, partly because they don’t like them – they don’t want to make huge action blockbusters – it’s not what they’re interested in. I know a couple who do and they do it very well. The other side of it is that a lot of actresses are turning to making films now: Kristen Stewart is doing it, Kristin Scott Thomas is just about to make a film, Ellen Burstyn is making a film, so I think there is definitely a surge of interest and awareness.

Then there are the more recent funding opportunities where they’re trying to achieve a gender parity – they’re trying to get it to 50-50 – I think, in New Zealand and Sweden. That is creating a positive incentive for producers and directors who are women, and people who have a choice to appoint a man or a woman are choosing a female director, producer, etc. I think that’s fantastic; I think that should bring out something you can see – something tangible – in the next couple of years.

Lastly, out of the female directors in this year’s line-up, is there anybody in particular you recommend that we should look out for?

Katell Quillévéré is a French director; she’s done a film called Heal the Living. This is a really good example because it opens with a fantastic surfing sequence so it has touches of another film which it reminds me of – Point Break with Kathryn Bigelow – and Kathryn Bigelow is always seen as the incredible director who kind of takes on the “boys’ films” and changes them in her own way. In Loco Parentis is a very interesting documentary, a documentary that was in Sundance.

Another really interesting film is The Farthest, the Emer Reynolds film, the documentary about the Voyager space program. It is a fascinating film – Emer’s been an editor for many many years and I think this is her first solo début feature and it’s really incredible. For many years, Emer’s been the person shaping so many Irish films alongside the director, and a very modest character. So I think it will be really interesting to see the film comes out on Sunday afternoon, and her response.

Thank you very much for your time, Gráinne, and congratulations on the festival!

The Farthest is being screened as a special presentation on Sunday afternoon, but the tickets are unforunately sold out! For anyone interested in seeing In Loco Parentis, there will be a further screening in the IFI in the coming week. Quillévéré’s Heal the Living plays today in Cineworld at 18:30.

For more information, check out these links!

Dublin International Film Festival Website
Gráinne’s Interview with on her job
Working toward gender equality in the Irish film industry
The woman behind Swedish film’s gender parity
The filmography of Agnès Varda
Katheryn Bigelow’s Landmark Oscar win

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