Director: Ili Baré
Review: Sarah List
The Leadership is something of an onion. At first it’s an ambitious project headed by coach Fabian Dattner, to bring together 70 of the world’s leading female scientists to strengthen their leadership skills to put toward the enormous problem of saving the earth from climate change. She believes that female leadership is crucial in the fight, and hopes to foster this by taking a total of 1000 women through her course as part of an immersive 20 day trip to Antarctica to see climate change’s effects first hand. It’s also a study in the challenges that scientists face in an uncertain, cutthroat job based on short term contracts, ultra-competitiveness and uncertainty, and the specific biological and cultural pressures that being female in that world layers on top. A final twist sees the unshakably confident Dattner rocked to her foundations by the program attendees, when they fail to respond to her program in the way she expected after so many years of professional training life. It’s a challenging watch not only for the themes included, but also due to the concurrent emotive storylines that threaten to unravel the entire program and Dattner herself.
Self declaration – I had a bit of personal interest in the premise of The Leadership, having spent a fair chunk of my education at university, acquiring a PhD in Microbiology. The challenges faced by the participants on a personal level accounted for a substantial chunk of the reasons why after completing my PhD I decided to pursue a non-research career. They are all looking for the guidance around how to make the endless hours of dedication into a successful career. Dattner’s program lacked insight into the challenges of a research career generally, and those specifically faced by women, and lost the groups’ trust early on when given the same all too familiar advice that they had heard before. Dattner’s lack of empathy and self-reflection triggered a rift in the group where the lofty environmental ideals of her program fell to the wayside. It was only in hindsight of the onboard experiment that she was able to recognise that without understanding her cohort she could not achieve her goals – and substantial steps were taken to ensure a better program fit for the next group of scientists.
The deep deep desire of the women to do good work in their respective fields and to overcome their challenges resonated well with the overwhelming scale of the problem of addressing climate change. The cinematography of Antarctica is beautiful, and there’s genuine heart and emotive connection from the featured women. Despite the challenges on board, many emerge with renewed enthusiasm for their work, and perhaps with a little more hope for the planet too.