Diversity of filmmakers in the Irish screen industry: Interview with EAVE graduates Katie Holly and Evan Horan on X-Pollinator

"Our viewpoint is to create opportunity and action change in order to address the lack of gender diversity, and not dwell on the general state of the industry."

By Lilla Kadar

EAVE has been actively engaging in the overall transformation of the European film industry as a key player, promoting cross-border and cross-disciplinary collaboration since its inception in 1988. We empower graduates to become agents of change and shape their local, regional and national communities, like “rings in the water”. The EAVE community is committed to sharing experience and expertise to sustain and transform the business - and society – in a collaborative effort.

New tutors and experts constantly emerge from the pool of past participants and knowledge spreads globally through the members of the community. We are exploring this ‘ripple effect’ in a series of interviews where EAVE graduates talk about their inspiring new initiatives, such as training programmes, funding initiatives or networking events in their countries, with the scope of having on impact on the industry.


In this interview, Katie Holly and Evan Horan of X-Pollinator, both EAVE graduate producers, talk about their inspiring initiative to foster diversity in the Irish screen industry. Gain valuable insights into their mission to promote gender equality and inclusivity while advocating for emerging talent and nurturing cross-disciplinary collaborations.


EAVE: What is X-Pollinator and how did you come up with the name for your initiative?

Katie Holly: The idea for X-Pollinator came from the desire to try and make a real change in the diversity of filmmakers in the Irish screen industry.  It was inspired by my own experience doing an initiative called Catalyst (through which I produced my first feature, many moons ago) which the Irish Film Board, as it was known at the time, ran over two weekends, with a view to fully funding three low budget films. 150 aspiring writers, directors and producers spent time together and from that three films were made through the scheme, but at least 7 more came out of it directly from the relationships made at the workshops. I thought if we could do the same for female, non-binary and trans talent we could actually make some change so recruited my colleague Evan Horan who had brilliant experience with festivals and events, and Lara Hickey who was coming from a stellar background producing theatre into film to start X-Pollinator. 

The name was a play on the X-chromosome, and also our desire to have a true cross disciplinary approach, bringing in artists and practitioners across writing, directing and producing, and other practitioners working in film and TV, but also artists from other creative industries such as theatre, comedy, performance, advertising, literature and journalism who have ambitions to create and want to make work for the screen. Lara was instrumental in helping recruit practitioners beyond those already working for the screen.

Evan Horan: Our initiative, which has been running for five years now, provides the space for our participants to meet, develop, network and share ideas, and to help with the cross pollination of future creative teams and projects.


Could you share an overview of the programs offered by X-Pollinator and who are the specific professionals they target?

EH: When we set out our goal was to support participants at the more emerging stage of their career, so anyone who hadn’t yet made a feature or similar was eligible to apply.  Over the course of the five years of X-Pollinator, we have managed to run different programmes that each year has a distinct purpose, addressing an identified gap in the Irish screen industry. In 2019, we started our goal of addressing gender diversity with X-Pollinator 2019, a two-weekend event which saw 140 participants, 37 sessions and 63 industry guest speakers inspire collaborations and networking amongst the next wave of female Irish talent.  

After our launch, we were then affected by the pandemic and had to pivot our initiative’s event online. We then followed up with INCUBATOR, a female-driven development initiative that aimed to build on the success of X-Pollinator 2019 to encourage and support collaborations between teams of X-Pollinator participants to create new feature film or TV pitches and treatments. INCUBATOR offered a paid and structured period of development for six projects, providing support in the form of mentorship, script editing and pitch creation, enabling writers to work up treatments with creative and practical input from their director and producer teammates.

In 2021, we launched ELEVATOR, a development programme that identified and supported twenty emerging and diverse female and non-binary writers and directors; it was our goal to actively seek out and support a deeper range of under-represented and emerging voices. Through case studies and panels, ELEVATOR offered participants a comprehensive understanding of the development process, and of the opportunities and careers in writing and directing for the screen, pitching, how to find a producer, and a chance to build a network of collaborators.  

KH: After two years online, X-Pollinator was keen to get back in the room; in 2023, we then ran CREATOR, an immersive residential talent development lab for twelve directors who took part in a week-long residency in Adare, Co. Limerick, working on their own individual projects under the guidance of renowned director Aisling Walsh (MAUDIE, SONG FOR A RAGGY BOY) as our lead Creative Mentor, and featured speakers such as Clio Barnard (ALI & AVA), Sophie Hyde (GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE), Kate Dolan (YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER), and Frank Berry (AISHA).

And this year, we felt there was a need to run a large-scale event again, with 140 participants, and X-Pollinator 2024 was held in TU Dublin School of Media earlier this year.  We also try to do an event every year at a film festival, which have always been really well attended and shows the need and importance of such networks, so this aspect is something we hope to be able to offer more of, in terms of more regular networking opportunities.


How do you measure the success of your initiatives in promoting gender diversity and equality within the screen industry?

KH: As we have grown and delivered a range of different programmes, we have continued to champion our X-Pollinator participants and their productions and successes. X-Pollinator participation is frequently noted as a marker in participants careers, and we are so thrilled to be a part of their professional journeys. Beyond the intangible impact and positive feedback there have also been multiple tangible outcomes from X-Pollinator with collaborations and productions such as the establishment and launch of Raising Films Ireland; various award winning Screen Ireland funded shorts including SHADOW (Janna Kemperman), LAMB (Sinead O’Loughlin), and WAITING DAY (Grace Dyas); three former participants were named Screen Rising Stars Ireland - Collie McCarthy, Mia Mullarkey and Katie McNeice; three projects from INCUBATOR have since received development support from Screen Ireland - HIT WHERE IT HURTS (Roisin Agnew), DAUGHTERHOOD (Karen Healy and Claire Frances Byrne) and SHAY (Mia Mullarkey), and finally one of CREATOR participants director Claire Frances Byrne will be launching her feature debut READY OR NOT.  We were also thrilled to be nominated for a Big Screen Diversity & Inclusion Award last year which felt like a real recognition of our work.  We continue to see the need and the positive impact we have for the opportunity to contribute to making the Irish screen industry more diverse, inclusive and successful.


How have you observed gender diversity and equality evolve within both the Irish and international film industries since the inception of your initiatives?

EH: While as an initiative, X-Pollinator’s position on this point remains positive and hopeful; our viewpoint is to create opportunity and action change in order to address the lack of gender diversity, and not dwell on the general state of the industry. Of course, there has been a lot of advancements in recent years but more needs to be done.

The statistics in relation to female writers, directors and producers remain at a critically low level. In particular, we look to the European Audiovisual Observatory who recently released findings that only 26% of European feature films were directed by women from 2018 – 2022. Justine Triet, this year, became the eighth woman ever to be nominated for the Best Director Academy Award. And we have also seen the Re-Framing the Picture report that recently showed the UK film industry may achieve gender parity by 2085 – only sixty-one years to go!  

In terms of Ireland specifically, there have certainly been improvements in the number of female writers and directors getting funded and produced and studies show that projects helmed by women tend to have more diversity throughout both in front of and behind the camera, so it’s a virtuous circle that helps further change happen. 

When it comes to other equality measures and across crew representation progress is slower, and data is lacking to understand our starting point so we can measure and set meaningful targets for change.  We would also be curious to know more about total funding awards and budget levels broken down by gender, we’d expect there is still quite a disparity there. With costs of production increasing and challenges in the market, it’s more important than ever to ensure that those at the earlier stage in their careers particularly those from more diverse groups can have opportunities to make their first features, and that it’s sustainable.  Shorts and other schemes are great but really market finance beyond local funders will only come after people have made their first feature, Kate Dolan is a brilliant recent example of that, so we hope we can help advocate for first feature funding pathways locally too.  It is clear there is still a crucial need to improve gender balance and diversity in the industry worldwide, and in terms of our work, specifically in Ireland, we remain motivated to keep going and continue this work.


Could you elaborate on the process of establishing an Irish branch of Raising Films, a support network for parents and carers in the screen sectors?

KH: The establishment of Raising Films Ireland has most definitely been one of our biggest measures of success across our years of running X-Pollinator.

In 2019, during our inaugural event in 2019, we invited writer/director Hope Dickson Leach (THE LEVELLING) for a Director in Focus panel. Hope is a co-founder of Raising Films, and was interested in helping set up an Irish branch of the organisation. During a coffee break after the panel, Hope was approached by a large number of participants, inspired by her talk and eager to be a part of establishing this new body; emails were exchanged and not too long after, Raising Films Ireland was launched and it’s been hugely active in trying to make the Irish screen industries a more welcoming place to work for those that are carers.

Working towards a more inclusive screen industry is a main goal for X-Pollinator, which is a shared mission for Raising Films Ireland who want to make the screen industry accessible for parents and carers. Over our recent X-Pollinator events, we have had childcare onsite available for our participants as well as an accessibility fund set aside in our budget, in order to address any barriers for our participants and help those who may not have been able to attend otherwise.


What upcoming events or projects do you have planned? Are there any initiatives on the horizon that you're particularly excited about?

KH: We just wrapped on X-Pollinator 2024 which took place over one weekend in late February. This marked our return to a large-scale event which saw 140 participants, 23 sessions and 39 industry guest speakers including directors Ella Glendining (IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?), Aoife McArdle (SEVERANCE), Sofia Exarchou (ANIMAL) and producers Cleona Ní Chrualaoí (AN CAILÍN CIÚIN) and Maria Drandaki of Homemade Films and EAVE Producers Workshop alumni.

We intend to run one major X-Pollinator event every year so we are now in the process of figuring out our 2025 plans. We do see potential in taking our cross-pollination idea further, for instance with our CREATOR Directors Lab, might there be opportunities to expand this into Europe, partnering with other European screen agencies for a bi-lateral event.

EH: We have also managed to secure some funding from our long-standing supporters Coimisiún na Meán to develop our network of over 310 participants, and run smaller events throughout the year to ensure our previous participants remain engaged with X-Pollinator, and to continue to highlight and cheerlead their work.  We plan to do some year-round meet ups, which could be screenings, networking reception, or panels.  We want to keep this networking growing and support our participants as they develop their careers.

I have always been an admirer of the BFI Flare x BAFTA development programme which showcases and supports six LGBTQIA+ filmmakers each year. I have recently joined the Board of GAZE International LGBTQIA+ Film Festival in Dublin, and would love to see a similar programme developed for Irish LGBTQIA+ talent.

Page published 15 April 2024. Updated 30 April 2024.

Donate to the EAVE Alan Fountain International Scholarship Fund

A scholarship has been set up to honour the memory of Alan Fountain, former Head of Studies and President of EAVE, who passed away in 2016. Its goal is to enable one producer from outside the EU to participate in all three sessions of the EAVE Producers Workshop each year.

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