Comprising programmers who are POCs, women and TSLGBTQ+*, the objective of the recently formed POC2 (Programmers of Colour Collective) is to advocate for a more inclusive programming pool worldwide. Festival programmers are curators of culture, tastemakers and ultimately decision-makers whose choices define whose voices will be heard and whose narratives will be seen. Like film critics, they form an integral part of the filmic eco-system whose choices, in the eyes of the film industry and the general public, also define the value given to the films they select at film festivals. Programmers are above all individuals who carry their own set of vantage points, privileges, perspectives and biases. Film festivals and international film festivals in particular strive to present selections that bear witness to the world’s multiplicity, bringing a diversity of perspectives from near and far to the silver screen. Yet, if the pool of programmers is predominantly homogenous, male-dominated and primarily middle-class, then how does that affect the gaze that such pools collectively cast on the world through their selections? Can such festival programmer pools see the world other than through the dominant lens? What legitimacy do such pools of festival programmers have to select films from a diverse world that isn’t reflected among their ranks? As much as reframing one’s perspective to include others is part of a programmer’s work, programming pools that don’t reflect and include their local and global diversity cannot legitimately claim to be purveyors of the best that the world has to offer if that world isn’t reflected in their staff. Spurred by the many cases of (unconscious) bias in film festival selections that are gender-imbalanced, lack representation of people of colour or else portray them or other underrepresented groups in a way that is inauthentic or culturally appropriative, this group of festival and industry programmers decided to take a magnifying glass to the international programming pool. The collective’s primary aim is not only to stimulate a conversation around the lack of programmers who are people of colour at international film festivals, but also to be a catalyst for transformative change towards a more inclusive international programming pool. As a collective, we feel it is important to advocate for greater inclusion of POC festival staff, including at senior levels, but to also explore how that inclusivity can affect decision-making as well as the way films are curated, submissions practices and outreach to diverse talent. As a collective, we also aim at increasing our visibility as programmers who are POCs in the more general context that is by and large white, cis-gendered, male and middle-class. Despite the primary focus being on POCs, the collective’s approach is intersectional in its recognition that questions of ethnicity within the international programming pool are inextricably linked to those of gender, sexual orientation, religion, caste, colorism, socio-economic background, disability, etc. As we want to bring more POCs into the profession and act as ambassadors for those entering into it, POC2 also seeks to swell its ranks in an effort to bring the needle forward on our inclusion internationally. Ultimately, our primary objective is to make festival programs themselves more robust, reflective of international audiences and richer through our inclusion. In the same vein, POC2 is dedicated to encouraging independent programing in response to corporate and top-down selection processes.
POC2 advocates for studies, research and statistics on the composition of the international film festival programming pool. Such studies are now commonplace in terms of film production, corporate structures and even in film criticism, yet the programming pool has thus far avoided the gaze of hard facts. Empirical data will provide an effective tool to facilitate the discussion and change we wish to stimulate. It is the intention of POC2 that this form of advocacy will create accountability (through reporting) on the level of inclusion at international film festivals as well as sustainability for the presence of POCs within festivals’ staffing profiles. As part of its advocacy, POC2 will campaign for a greater representation of POCs at senior programming levels, not just at the volunteer and minimum wage capacity. Through mentoring schemes, generating greater awareness on the profession of film and industry programmers as well as outreach to universities and schools, POC2 will create pathways for POCs, those belonging to underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds and underrepresented groups more generally. The mentoring/mentee schemes, in particular, will pair an experienced programmer with an entry level programmer/student/intern at major film festivals. In order to provide a resource to identify other POC programmers and more generally increase their profiles, POC2 will create an internal database as well as an online repertory of POC programmers. Similarly, in order to remain interconnected, POC2 will also organize regular gatherings and themed events at major international film festivals.