NZ's Documentary Edge film festival achieves gender balance

It's 2018, the film industry still has a gender problem, and it's something the Documentary Edge film festival hopes can change.

"It shouldn't be an issue - and if it's an issue, it needs to be addressed," says festival director Dan Shanan.

The festival's just hit Wellington screens, and of the 74 films selected for this year's festival out of more than 900 entries, more than half are directed or co-directed by women.

To put it into context, of the top 100 grossing films of 2017 in the USA, just 8 percent were directed by women. Only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.

"We need to have that cross-section, and make sure as much as we can that there's equal opportunity for everyone," says Shanan.

Organisers say it was a coincidence, but the positive reaction shows other festivals can, and should, follow suit.

"At the end of the day, it has to be a good film - but we need to celebrate the fact that there are so many great films made by female directors, and we need to select them, we need to have them at the awards ceremonies as well," Shanan says.

Shanan believes documentaries in general have better female representation than other genres - something director Juanita Deely, whose film A Home in this World is screening at Documentary Edge, agrees with.

"I was moved, and I think other women are moved to tell stories with verisimilitude. Not fiction, not special effects, but something with a real story that's something we understand in its reality today," she says.

A Home in this World interviews Derek Challis, the illegitimate son of Kiwi poet and journalist Robin Hyde.

"I love seeing women succeeding in a man's world, but Robin Hyde did not succeed in a man's world," says Deely. "The life that she lived was just full of discrimination."

Having a child out of wedlock ruined Hyde's career 87 years ago.

"We'd never describe anyone's baby as illegitimate anymore. The word could be cut out of the dictionary," says Deely.

Hyde felt unable to return to New Zealand, and died of a Benzedrine overdose aged just 36.

"I don't want her to be remembered as a tragic figure - she's far more than that. I want her to be remembered as a hell of a writer, but also a courageous woman who went about her unconventional life no matter how difficult it was for her," Deely says.

Deely believes her film's subject in a festival with such strong female representation - amid an industry rocked by scandal - is fitting.

"If she was around today - I mean she's inspired it probably anyway - but the #MeToo movement would be something she'd be very vocal in," says Deely.

And while Documentary Edge can't promise the same level of representation next year, they'd definitely like it to continue.

The festival runs in Wellington from May 9-20, before hitting Auckland from May 23-June 4.