DIRECTOR’S BLOG

Jane Williams on her way to film in London

Jane Williams travelling to London to film interview about diversity at Houses of Parliament

Jane Williams is a director, producer and writer. Her work ranges from filming in the gardens of Buckingham Palace to going undercover to investigate racism on the streets of Britain. 

Along the way she has arranged major search and rescue operations for stranded celebrities, built a Jacuzzi out of a whiskey barrel, and danced an Argentine tango. 

Jane is currently making ‘Pilgrim Home’, a documentary about the English origins of the Mayflower Pilgrims who are remembered in America at Thanksgiving. 

BE BOLD FOR CHANGE IN THE MEDIA

The media industry is hard on everyone, especially women. I’m a ‘doer’ so I rarely stop to reflect on what it means to be a female director in this business. A look at the statistics has forced the issues back into my focus.

In Europe, 4 out of 5 films are made by a man and in England only 1 in 5 of those films have a gender-balanced cast. Ahead of this year’s OSCAR ceremony Fortune Magazine reported that top actresses make about 40 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts.  This is ironic in an industry considered liberal.

There is also general industry mistrust in the ability of women to deliver big budget films. Such attitudes help explain why many women Directors, like myself, seek to eke out a living in micro budget documentary filmmaking.

The media might not directly tell us what to think, but by omission it does influence what we think and how we think about it. The balance both on and off screen is currently weighted towards men.

As a woman, and a member of half of the population, it is important that my voice is heard. I am also a storyteller and a truth seeker. I’ve fought hard to retain the idealism of a teenager and want to achieve and see positive change –  be a role model.

This need was echoed when I spoke to Lord Holmes of Richmond, MBE. It’s a peerage title he earned, not inherited, as a lifelong campaigner for equality and inclusion. Lord Holmes told me “If you don’t see or hear people who sound, who look like you, who come from a similar background as you, why would you possibly think you could do that? Role models are so essential”.

Until recently my own career progression felt like the feminism of the last century. It was a time when women thought that to succeed they had to ‘act like a man’ and adopt stereotypical male characteristics. Consequently I would be found drinking and staying out until I was last woman standing. This was coupled with a pressure to provide a witty repartee to rival that of a professional comedian. I was never any good at either.

By the time I was in my 30s, I began to see there was an alternative route. A better balance was required in my own life and being myself was perfectly fine. My film shoots weren’t going to be revered for their wild parties. Instead they would be civilised and nurturing, with carefully chosen food and accommodation. Essentially more ‘mothering’ in a job that often demands that you be ‘married to your work’.

I began to make different choices. If I decided to leave a celebrity alone for the evening, contrary to etiquette, it wasn’t going to kill either of our careers. Turning your back on a industry culture known for its long hours takes strength.

Passion and experience would propel me forward as I walked my own path. Naivety would protect me from the difficult journey that lay ahead.

Diversity in the media and arts has always been a problem. I want to be assessed and valued for my talent alone, but the fact that women directors are so poorly represented proves that there must be barriers.

 “I think that people often say that talent will always come through but this is fundamentally flawed. Talent is everywhere; opportunity isn’t, because of structures, systems, institutions and organisations” says Lord Holmes of Richmond, Britains most successful Paralympic swimmer.

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CLICK ON CLIP TO HEAR INTERVIEW

These barriers need to be opened.  Does being a woman make me see the world differently? Probably. Do women’s views need to be represented in society? Definitely. Is this a good time to be a woman in the media? Certainly. We still have everything to play for and our own future to create.

To find out more about Jane’s documentary film ‘Pilgrim Home’ visit: http://www.fandangomedia.co.uk/pilgrim-home

SOURCES

http://time.com/money/4207416/hollywood-wage-gap/

‘Where are all the women directors?’, a report on gender equality in the European film industry by the European Women’s audiovisual network.

http://www.ewawomen.com

‘Cinema & Society, Shaping our Worldview Beyond the Lens’, an investigation on the impact of Gender Representation in United Kingdom Films by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media.

http://seejane.org

‘Thinking Outside the Box’ report on diversity in broadcasting.

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/our-work/key-projects/diversity-broadcasting

 

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 THE PILGRIM STORY YOU HAVEN’T HEARD 

British documentary director, Jane Williams, reveals how she found Scrooby Manor.

The people who met there over 400 years ago would come to define the spirit and ideals of the United States of America.

 

 

“Hello, good Pilgrim.” Standing in a small village square high in the Polish Tatra Mountains, the words were as unexpected as they were unfamiliar. I had just finished university and adventure was on my mind. I was hundreds of miles away from home and a world away from this warm, yet simple, greeting.

Hearing my English accent, an American historian presumed my familiarity with the Pilgrims. The story is a central theme in the culture and identity of America, yet it is seldom heard in England. He explained to me about the voyage of the Mayflower, her Pilgrim passengers and Thanksgiving. I was intrigued; a seed was planted but it took years to take root.

My interest in the Pilgrims was reignited years later when I met a woman who calls herself ‘The Pilgrim Mother’ in order to honour female pioneers. It is a peculiarity in Britain that we generally only refer to the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ and the women go unacknowledged.

The women who sailed on the Mayflower are important because they formed the first families travelling to New England. Only four adult women were left after the first year to look after the 50 surviving men and children. Today, despite this, an astonishing 1 in 12 Americans could be descended from those first 102 Pilgrims.

The Pilgrim Mother and I began to investigate the women Mayflower passengers. We were connected with Julie Dunstan who owns Scrooby Manor in Nottinghamshire, East England. The Manor was once grand enough to be described as a palace and was visited by royalty. Julie Dunstan with the help of local historian, Sue Allan, is unraveling the Manor’s story. This is history explored from the heart of the home, a true living history.

Little of that original building remains, but on the same site sits a farmhouse lived in by three generations of women. Sitting above the oven in Julie Dunstan’s kitchen is a plaque that reads ‘Enter as strangers and leave as friends’, a philosophy that I wholeheartedly agree with. Julie Dustan says “I fell in love with the Manor the first time I saw it….we feel like custodians of a history that’s forgotten.”

In the 1500s a man by the name of William Brewster worked at Scrooby Manor. Later he and his wife Mary, together with two of their children, were passengers on the Mayflower. Not only was William Brewster the group’s spiritual leader, he is also thought to have been instrumental in writing the Mayflower Compact, often cited as the precursor to the Constitution of the United States.

As for William’s wife Mary, we can’t even be certain of her maiden name or where she came from. Her details are disputed as written records were rarely kept about women. What we do know is that her children were named Love, Jonathan, Thomas, Fear, Patience and Wrestling. Brewster descendants include George W. Bush, Geena Davis, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Gere and Seth MacFarlane.

To the Dunstans, Scrooby Manor is simply their home, but they are gracious to the occasional devoted descendants who make a reverse pilgrimage back to Scrooby. It heartens me that Scrooby Manor is lived in by a family who cherishes it and ensures its continuing story.

 

To find out more go to http://www.fandangomedia.co.uk/pilgrim-home

 You can follow the film’s progress on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pilgrimhomeuk

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