New Frontiers in Film: The Gender Equality Revolution

Stories of Sundance directors and industry professionals, presented with the Vancouver Queer Film Festival

Join us at SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus on Monday, August 18th for a moderated panel discussion exploring the emergence of women in the film industry.

Many of us have heard of the Bechdel Test for Women in Movies. It tests movies according to 3 simple criteria:

  1. Are there at least two women in the film?
  2. Do they talk to one another?
  3. About something other than a man? Sadly, most of the celluloid canon fails this test.

Is it surprising that women's lives remain unexplored in popular cinema given not much has changed for women in film since the 1940s? The most encouraging numbers show that just 6% of directors in Hollywood are women (internationally, it’s 8%).

This is why the Queer Film Festival's 2014 season is a watershed moment. In a year of groundbreaking cinema, over 50% of the festival's feature programs are helmed by women. Not only that, these directors are Aboriginal, transgender, women with disabilities and women of colour—intersecting identities that are the least common in above-the-line credits.

Is there a paradigm shift happening that is levelling the playing field for women directors? What roles do festivals, and particularly queer film festivals, play in creating exhibition opportunities?  Join us as two directors on the fast track share their paths to Sundance, HBO, and beyond.


Mon, 18 Aug 2014 12:00 PM


Room 7000
Harbour Centre
SFU's Vancouver Campus
515 W. Hastings St.


Event is FREE, but registration is required.


Iranian-American filmmaker Desiree Akhavan is the writer/director/star of Appropriate Behavior, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. She is also the co-creator and star of the critically acclaimed web series The Slope, a comedy that follows a pair of superficial, homophobic lesbians in love. Desiree was featured as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s "25 New Faces of Independent Film” and will appear on the next season of Girls. She has a BA from Smith College and an MFA from NYU’s Grad Film Program.

Born and raised in New Mexico, Sydney Freeland is the Navajo writer/director of Drunktown’s Finest, which was executive produced by Robert Redford, and premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. She is a 2009 Sundance Institute Native Lab fellow, a 2008 Disney Fellowship semifinalist and a 2007 Disney Scholarship recipient. Freeland received a Fulbright scholarship in 2004 for a field study of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador. She currently splits her time between Los Angeles and New Mexico.


Carolyn Combs’ work as an independent director-producer is known for being rigorously visual and extremely sensitive to character and performance. She has worked on both narrative features and shorts, as well as on docs and in more experimental forms. A graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Director Residency Program, she has been an active member of Main Film and Videograph (Montreal),  Video Pool (Winnipeg), and Cineworks (Vancouver). She is currently the Executive Director of Women in Film and Television Vancouver. Carolyn is also the director and co-writer of Looking South. She directed and co-produced the feature drama, Acts of Imagination, in 2006. Her film Small Currents, released in January 2011, is distributed by Ouat Media. She holds a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Manitoba and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre from Concordia University. She has taught Acting and Directing for Film in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.


Helen Hok-Sze Leung is Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University. She has published widely on queer cinema and is the author of Undercurrents: Queer Culture and Postcolonial Hong Kong (UBC Press, 2008) and Farewell My Concubine: A Queer Film Classic (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). In addition to cinema studies, her current research interests include a co-authored project (with Audrey Yue) on Queer Asian cities as well as an exploratory study of Vancouver’s transpacific and inter-Asian cultural flows. She is a co-founder and co-editor of the Queer Asia Book Series (Hong Kong UP) and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Chinese Cinemas (Routledge), Transgender Studies Quarterly (Duke UP), and the Asian Visual Cultures Book Series (Amsterdam UP).

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