About two months ago whilst Girls on Film were casually scrolling through the endless abyss that is our twitter feed, we came across something that caught our eye. Something different from the usual political garb or self-promotion. Real Ladies wanting to do something Real Good for female filmmaking. Enter REEL WOMEN, a monthly short film night started by Sarah McIntosh in the hopes of showcasing some unseen talent and widening audiences minds, and perhaps changing the dialogue on what ‘womens cinema’ means.
Unfortunately for the rest of the UK this fantastic project is exclusive to Cambridge (the Cambridge Arts Picture House to be specific) right now. But after talking to the three amazing women who run this event I know I’m gonna find a way to get there. I’ll see you at the train station.
Please read our interview below to find out more:
SMc – Sarah McIntosh, founder and programmer for Reel Women
RH – Rosy Hunt, Editor-in-chief of TAKE ONE and the Reel Women fanzine
JC- Jenny Clarke, coordinator and programmer for Reel Women
When did you start Reel Women and why?
SMc: Reel Women was started about a year ago but was an idea that had been brewing for a while. Whilst studying for my undergrad degree I randomly picked up a book in the library about the first female filmmaker. Her name is Alice Guy Blache and not only was she the first female director but she is also the first director, regardless of gender, to write and direct a narrative film. She also went on to be the head of film at Gaumont before moving to America and creating her own film studio. SHE HAD HER OWN FILM STUDIO! Yet I had been studying film for four years and had never heard of her. I then started thinking about the directors we HAD been taught about and realised the majority of those were men. Female directors mentioned in a degree about the history of film made about 1% of the total. Obviously there are some female filmmakers who do get remembered and some might argue that the percentage is proportionate but they are wrong. So wrong! There is a much richer history of female filmmaking than is currently widely known. In creating Reel Women I hoped to give a slightly louder voice to that history and to provide in some small way a platform to current filmmakers.
Did you feel like there was a gap that needed to be filled?
SMc: Not so much a gap that needed to be filled so much as some noise to be made and some awareness given. Gender inequality did not get settled in the 70s, either in the film industry or more broadly. I guess I thought rather than pine over the unfairness of the imbalance or sit patiently waiting for somebody else to raise their voice and fix it (which is so easy to do when these issues remain so endemic on a societal level that they feel insurmountable) that I’d take the action I knew how to do and felt comfortable doing. In doing so I was extremely lucky in bringing together a group of intelligent and passionate likeminded women and we’ve created this together.
How would you describe the film culture in Cambridge?
SMc: Being in a two-university city we are very lucky in Cambridge. Not only does that mean an ever-changing population bringing in new ideas and excitement but that academic desire for knowledge often extends outwards toward other pursuits, like cinema and film culture. There is an intellectual voracity for film viewing in Cambridge that I believe is in a large part thanks to the students and academics but not exclusively so. Anglia Ruskin University has two undergraduate degrees devoted to film – one theoretical and one practical and Cambridge university has an MPhil.Cambridge is also home to Cambridge Film Festival – the third longest running film festival in the UK, CAFF – an annual African film festival and Watersprite – a student film festival run exclusively by students but with patronage from key figures in the film industry. There are also film magazines and radio shows people can get involved in as well as short film nights like ours and Queers in Shorts, an LGBT themed night also run from the Arts Picturehouse. If you are passionate about cinema and want to get involved in film-themed activity, Cambridge is a brilliant and inspiring place to be.
JC: Sometimes it seems the ‘Cambridge film audience’ is very predictable, working front-of-house at a cinema, it is so easy to guess which films will do well, and it is sad to see good films go unnoticed and underattended because they don’t have a big name director or stars. But Reel Women and the other events prove that an audience will show up to something new and take a risk, which is really reassuring!
Tell us a bit more about the filmmakers shown at your events…
JC: Our filmmakers come from all around the world and we try to make our programmes ad diverse as possible. But we have recently held an event of work exclusively from local filmmakers, this was really exciting as the range of genres and topics was really broad. Luckily as Sarah mentioned the universities have some really good courses for filmmaking and the BFI Film Academy has been running for a while. There are also a couple of local filmmaking groups who were instrumental in helping us connect with local filmmakers, particularly Project Trident.
How cooperative have you found the filmmakers/the cinema?
JC: I am always worried when I start approaching filmmakers, in case they don’t want to be labelled as a “woman filmmaker”, but the response has been so positive. Luckily quite a few of the Reel Women team work at or have worked at the cinema, and the format of our event was based on Queers in Shorts, an LGBT themed short film night, which had been running for a year and is really popular. So we didn’t have any problems with the cinema.
SMc: The screening life of a short film is not a particularly long one. So many festivals insist on films being premieres so after about 18months the opportunities to have your work that you’ve laboured over with such love and commitment screened start to dwindle or dry up. Film nights like ours help prolong that life span. I always think any artist, but particularly filmmakers, just want their work to be seen. I have yet to have – touch wood – a filmmaker give a negative response to a request. Though I still hold my breath each time and then get super excited when they say yes.
Can you tell us some more about the fanzine?
RH: The Reel Women fanzine is produced by Take One Magazine, a voluntary organisation which started running in 2011. We also provide official review publications for the Cambridge Film Festival, the Cambridge African Film Festival and the British Silent Film Festival, as well as coordinating the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse Film Quiz. Our website covers worldwide festivals, events and independent filmmaking all year round. Only about a quarter of our writers are female but we hope to achieve a better gender balance in future – and we do strive to promote female filmmakers and actors wherever possible in our journalism and in our film quizzes. We even have a feminist bent to our writers’ style guide! We tell all our new writers that we have vowed always to address imbalance in gender stereotypical language – we avoid disempowering and objectifying female filmmakers or actors with words such as “feisty”, or “blonde” and apply those words instead to men wherever possible. Don’t get me started on the word “actress” or the phrase “strong female character”…
What’s next for the Reel Women?
JC: So many exciting things! In partnership with a local film group: Screen St Ives and support from the BFI Film Hub and the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse we are presenting three films by Iranian director Mania Akbari, and we are hosting a Q+A with her. These will be our first feature films and from June onwards, with the help of Picturehouses, we will be arranging a monthly feature film screening. We are hoping to use this opportunity to present the work of female filmmakers from all around the world, who wouldn’t usually get much of a release in Cambridge or the UK.
If you are in the Cambridge area, head down to the Arts Picturehouse on April 25th for Reel Women’s next event.