Melanie Iredale, Deputy Director of Sheffield Doc/ Fest spoke to Helen Thackery of Hull City Council, Mat Steel, Head of Production at Sheffield Doc / Fest, Tracy Ford of Sheffield Council and Maxine Rowson representing Rape Crisis, in the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations, and asks what we could be doing as an industry to improve safety for staff and guests.
Iredale referred to a recent Indiewire article which suggests that film festivals often create an environment where there is potential for harm; namely, groups of people away from home for long periods of time, a culture of heavy drinking and partying, and the attitude that ‘what happens at a film festival, stays at a film festival.’
Maxime of Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland spoke of the importance of treating those who come forward with dignity and respect. It is vital not to tell victims that they are being silly, it is important to respect privacy, and to hand autonomy back to victims by asking them what they want to do.
All of the panelists reiterated the need to work with local authorities- councils, the emergency services, and other organisations which may have examples of best practice, and can help to create a safer environment for staff members and guests.
Tracy Ford spoke of the Ask for Angela campaign, which is now being rolled out across England and Wales, which aims to help women or men who are feeling vulnerable, and the Best Bar None campaign which similarly aims to assist young people under the influence of alcohol. Whilst these schemes may not be relevant for the exhibition industry in their entirety, there are elements of both campaigns that could be used for events where many people are meeting, possibly for the first time, and alcohol is being consumed.
Once questions were thrown to the audience, many were asking for guidelines, with one suggestion being that members of the UK Cinema Association should be offering such guidelines. However, it was reiterated by Tracy Ford, that responsibility needs to fall on the venue, who may well have a different relationship with their customers, or different sorts of issues with their events.
It was also pointed out by other audience members that certain jobs within film festivals are at an increased risk of harm. Volunteers are particularly vulnerable, and with the role of Volunteer Coordinator often starting later than the rest of the core team, this can lead to serious breeches of safety. A shocking remark from Helen Thackery, was that the film industry is one of the only industries that still allows lone workers, and when female members of staff are being left alone to look after older, sometimes famous men, this immediately creates a high risk, and that risk needs to be eradicated.
The clear learnings from the panel, are that systems need to continuously be reviewed, and examples of best practice shared. Film festivals, for the most part, are fun, exciting, and sometimes glamorous events. But the fun can be easily spoiled if procedures aren’t in place. It is also important to remember that it is not just visiting guests that need to be protected, it is also the staff. An open environment where staff feel they can speak freely is essential in any organisation, and it is vital that the film industry gets up to speed.