Since revealing the painful story of Daniela Elstner during the AFM, Screen has spoken to dozens of women in the industry who have also experienced sexual harassment, often at film festivals and markets.
Encounters range from lewd jokes to unwanted physical contact with one instance of the latter taking place at this year’s AFM.
“Most of the women I know in the business have been through experiences that range from inappropriate to criminal,” said Anais Clanet, general manager of French sales company Wide House, which has sold films including Oscar nominee I Am Not Your Negro and Berlin winner The Circle.
Clanet told Screen that she has experienced two incidents of physical harassment.
The first involved a Korean buyer at a French film festival 10 years ago. On concluding a deal with the buyer, Clanet suggested the two have dinner to celebrate. However, after the buyer started to touch Clanet’s hands and arms during dinner she immediately felt uncomfortable and left the meal. She was then followed by the buyer who tried to push her into an alley and follow her into a party.
“Other women knew he was a creep,” Clanet said of the buyer, who she said is no longer in the industry.
The second incident, which also took place around the same time, involved a German man with a market badge at Cannes who claimed he was a buyer.
“We were having a meeting at my booth,” Clanet said. “When we stood up to conclude the meeting he grabbed my ass. I pushed him away. People around me saw the incident. I’m not sure whether he was a real buyer but he had a badge.”
To date, Elstner and Clanet are the only European executives in the sales and distribution business who have been willing to go on record to talk about their experiences. Many others were prepared to speak anonymously.
One male company head Screen spoke to detailed the story of a junior executive who was unexpectedly kissed by the head of a major sales company in a bar. When quizzed on why she let the executive take advantage of her, the junior replied that the male executive was ’a mentor’ to her so she felt she had to go along with it.
“A lot of girls think naively that getting closer to big-shots will get them somewhere,” Clanet explained. “I don’t want to hang out with those types of men when they’re drunk. I don’t put myself in that situation. I don’t go out clubbing with them and I don’t go to strip clubs with them. And they know that.”
Like Elstner, Clanet is a successful and respected executive who has adjusted her demeanour since her experiences.
“I’m not myself in the sector,” she continued. “That’s how you survive. You need to give off something of a cold persona. People who don’t know me say I’m cold. That’s fine by me. If you open yourself up too much, a game starts that I don’t want to play.”
Unseemly male behaviour towards women on the circuit is not only historical. One US sales executive Screen spoke to was made to feel uncomfortable at this year’s AFM following inappropriate and intimate physical contact from a male buyer one evening.
Such incidents in the industrial sector are not confined to markets. One European head of sales detailed the story of a female executive at a funding body who was aggressively pursued by a male financier over email a couple of years ago.
“He was desperate to sleep with her and it became offensive and very inappropriate,” the experienced seller claimed.
Meanwhile, a US-based female producer told Screen how she had been propositioned by well-known married executives during meetings and another time when she had been psychologically harassed by a rising director.
Many professionals Screen spoke to put the prevalence of such incidents down to power imbalances (which often have a gender bias) and abuses of power. Others said it was a generational problem. Certainly, the majority of incidents Screen heard about were committed against young women by older men.
A handful of professionals Screen spoke to had not personally experienced anything untoward but all knew people who had.
“It’s going to take a long time to change,” Clanet lamented. “Women need to know that they aren’t guilty of anything by saying no. In the meantime they need to be careful.”
Since Screen reported Elstner’s story, we have reached out to a number of sales and distribution companies and film organisations for comment. While a number of organisations commented immediately few private companies felt able to do so. There remains an element of fear and caution around publicly commenting on the subject.
Two companies, and more organisations, have commented subsequently.
Stefano Massenzi, Andrea Occhipinti and Catia Rossi of Italian mainstays Lucky Red and True Colours told Screen: “There are borders that cannot be crossed, in our business like in any other. We were astonished by what we read [in Daniela’s testimony]. Violent and threatening behaviour is not acceptable and what is possibly worse is underestimating such behaviour.”
Europa Distribution, the network of 120 independent distributors from 29 countries, commented: “We are as shocked as everybody else that sexual harassment is so present in our society and our industry. We all know women who have put a #MeToo on their socials.
“It is very courageous for Daniela and all these women in our society and our industry to speak out. It is also very important for the future that this kind of omerta must stop.
”It is obviously not acceptable to tolerate harassment but the same goes for the silence around it, especially once a woman has spoken out. It is extremely shocking to read that Daniela was laughed at when she told her story and to blame a victim and make her feel responsible for what happened to her is revolting and shameful.
”The minimum one can do when hearing such a sad and difficult story is to comfort and listen to the victim. Again, it takes a lot of courage to talk and without anyone to listen there will just be more silence, more omerta, more victims.”
Meanwhile, Mariette Rissenbeek, managing director of German Films, added: “German Films strongly condemns any kind of sexual assault and abuse of power. We want to express our solidarity with anyone who has been a victim of that. Sexual assault is unjustifiable and anyone who has had to experience that must be supported.”