Thirteen of the 22 films premiering at the Ryerson University Film Festival (RUFF) are directed by women this year. (Courtesy of Rachel Glassman)

This year’s Ryerson University Film Festival (RUFF) is setting an example for the rest of the industry by prioritizing diversity, both on and off-screen.

The festival, which showcases a select number of films created by fourth-year film students, features diverse stories about everything from lesbian and gay relationships to sexual assault, according to advertising lead and fourth-year film student Brittney Hockley.

“Under-represented voices, there’s a lot of that,” said Hockley, who is also an editor for three of the films in RUFF.

In addition to featuring untold stories, RUFF is making strides in diversity behind the camera. Out of the 22 films that will be showcased at this year’s event, 13 were directed by women, one was directed by a non-binary individual and one by a two-spirited individual.

But compared to RUFF, the film industry itself still has a long way to go. According to Women and Hollywood, of the 250 top grossing films of 2018, only eight per cent were directed by women.

“A lot of the students in our program are so passionate and want to make a change in the industry and I think that starts in the university and in school settings,” said Hockley. “So it’s great to see that we’re doing that and that change is happening and hopefully we can carry that forward into the industry after we graduate.”

Rachel Glassman is a fourth-year film student and the director of False Spring, one of the films that will be featured at RUFF this year. She has attended RUFF every year since she got to Ryerson, but she doesn’t believe more than half the films have ever been directed by women until this year.

“That’s not to say that there weren’t women directors in the past or previous years. It’s just nice because now I feel like it’s much more noticeable and people are making an effort. Rather than it being a bonus if that happens by chance, they make sure that it happens,” Glassman said.

Beyond female directors, Glassman said she is also seeing more female-led crews than ever before, and that many female directors have a mandate requiring a certain amount of women on their set.

Glassman said the film industry can learn a lot from Ryerson film students and the diversity at the heart of RUFF this year.

“The industry needs to realize that half the population is women,” she said. “They should be represented equally on the screen as well. And when there are more women writing the stories, that means that half of the population will be able to see themselves on the screen. It only makes sense. For it to be disproportionate doesn’t make sense.”

She added the inaccurate assumption that women are any less capable in leadership positions than men has to be squashed in order for progress to continue.

“We’re capable, there’s no difference,” she said. “In terms of quality, it’s not like ours is any less.”

Jean Kim is a fourth-year film student and the producer of False Spring. She said when women are put in leadership roles they often make the effort to prioritize having members of other marginalized communities on the team. According to Kim, False Spring’s crew was comprised of about 66 per cent people of colour.

Kim also said all the female directors in their year have been extremely supportive of one another and have made an effort to promote each other’s work.

“On International Women’s Day, all the female directors were promoting other female directors’ films. Even though you want to promote your own and stuff, they were still launching everyone else’s platforms too,” she said. “It was really amazing. I think it’s important to stay strong together.”

All 22 of the films will be screened at RUFF on May 3 and 4.

“People should go to the festival because it’s really cool to watch someone that, in 10 to 15 years, is going to be making change and making huge steps in the industry,” Hockley said. “It’s nice to see people when they’re first starting out and emerging.”

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