To coincide with International Women’s Day, cinematographer, photographer and storyteller Elisa Iannacone talks to TVBEurope about her work telling the stories of female survivors of trauma, what IWD means to her and what more needs to be done in the film industry to stamp out gender inequality.
Why do you think International Women’s Day (IWD) is important?
International Women’s Day for me means a huge amount. Firstly, I see it as a moment in the year for both men and women – not just a day for women – to shift their gaze towards the struggles, challenges and work that women are doing throughout the world to fight for equality. Now more than ever, it’s so important for men and women to work cohesively, because we are stronger together than apart. Secondly, I see the day as an important catalyst to get everyone thinking about issues throughout the rest of the year and until the next IWD, when we regroup and see the progress from the last year. We should never see it as a stand-alone day.
What does IWD mean to you personally?
I grew up in Mexico, a very male dominated country, so I’ve seen first-hand the ‘roles’ expected of women to play. In some cases, women have no choice in adhering to these roles and rules – be that for cultural, political or societal reasons – and this is the same for many women across the globe. As a sexual violence survivor, and a person who also helps tell other survivors’ stories, I believe IWD is an important day to reflect on stories of women around the world and use these as a catalyst for change. Many women around the globe are fighting a form of oppression and striving for change. We are all more similar than we think.
This year’s IWD theme is ‘choose to challenge’, can you tell us what that means for you and your work?
The biggest challenge I have faced in life was breaking away from my extended family. I left Mexico at 18 years old, unmarried and with plans to go to film school – something that was very out of the norm for my traditional Catholic background. Years later, I outed a family member that had abused me and sadly, as a result, many of my family still don’t speak to me today. By choosing to challenge back then, I was able to further my education, travel the world, meet great friends and my husband. I am now in the fortunate position to be working on really exciting projects and, with companies like Canon, to be able to tell others’ stories.
Myself aside, in every country my work has taken me to, I’ve witnessed women of all ages challenging the status quo – it seems to be rooted within us and very much part of our nature. I remember standing in awe of the great resilience found in women living in refugee camps. They may have experienced some of the most terrible things under atrocious circumstances, and yet, they are finding the strength to challenge norms. In every corner of the world there is change happening – whether that’s in countries with progressive female rights or countries where women are faced with layers upon layers of gender inequality. Even in the latter, change is happening – albeit slowly.
You’re a female in a male dominated industry, have you experienced gender inequality in the film/photography industry?
Because I travel to certain parts of the world deemed dangerous, or non-progressive when it comes to female rights, I do get a lot of people within the industry asking me ‘why do you do what you do?’ or telling me that I’m crazy. I’m also quite often the only woman, or a part of a very small group. So, it’s clear that we are still not remotely there when it comes to gender equality in film or photography or, more broadly, storytelling.
What more do you think needs to be done to stamp out inequality in the industry?
A lot more! And it begins with everyone involved in a project looking around at the people around them – the film crew, those building the exhibition – whatever it is – and asking themselves: is this a diverse, gender-balanced team? It’s important for producers and employers to be actively thinking about this, not as a tick box situation, but to ultimately create something that is balanced with the male and female gaze – as they can be so different. It’s equally as important to have people from different backgrounds too, as only then will the work be more interesting and speak to a wider and truer audience.