Category Archives: Meet The Filmmaker

Interview: Muriel d’Ansembourg – BAFTA Nominated Writer/Director

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“There are certain things which the eye of a female can

see quicker than those of a hundred men”.

When Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was writing these words in “The Freethinker”, cinema was a far cry from its’ early pioneering experiments. Yet, they are a sign of respect for the creativity and understanding of the female gaze. This will remain untouched until the birth of the new Art, when a surprising number of women were appreciated in front of and behind the camera, such as Alice Guy-Blaché, the first true female director in history and (perhaps) the first director of “narrative” films. With such a promising premise, even the most talented screenwriter would have struggled to imagine such a bleak future scenario for “female” cinema.

Let’s face it: the film industry seems to have become a “Men’s Club”, especially in the UK. in July 2013, the BFI released statistics revealing that, in the previous year, a mere 14 feature films were directed by women in the UK, compared to 164 by men. While a study of the UK Film Council found out that female screenwriters are still under represented (less than one in ten of the BAFTA nominees and winners). Data that testify to the widespread flair of misogynystic attitudes within the Seventh Art. Even more perplexing if we consider that women aged 35 plus make up the biggest part of British cinema-goers.

After decades spent ignoring the elephant in the room, the Industry masters have finally got it. So, while new critical trends bring back the Feminist Film theory, the followers of the new gender-inequality crusade sift through every upcoming film using the “Bechdel Test” to verify its women-friendliness. Meanwhile, the 2015 Cannes Film Festival has opened for the first time since 1987 with a film directed by a woman. And top class film events competed this year to break their records of selected female filmmakers.

Yet, despite all the recent years of silence, a new wave of young female filmmakers managed to push through. And Female filmmakers’ communities in the UK are more lively than ever, brimming with incredible talented fresh authors.

We met one of the most promising indie female filmmaker of today, asking what’s her take on women in the industry.

Writer/Director Muriel d’Ansembourg (www.muriel-dansembourg.com) ran a production company in The Netherlands before settling in London, where she studied Directing at the London Film School. Her graduation film ‘Good Night’ was theatrically released in the UK and screened at over 200 festivals, winning various awards and nominations, including Best Screenplay and Best Editing at Colchester FF (http://colchesterfilmfestival.com/) and a BAFTA 2013 nomination.

As a woman and a filmmaker, do you think there’s a problem concerning women in the Industry?

As it stands now, the film industry is still dominated by men.

The higher the ladder you climb the fewer women you pass, but that’s not only the case in film. I’m a London based writer-director but lived most of my life in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is considered the best place for women to be a director at the moment with 39% being women. In the UK this is around 14%. Funny isn’t it, that I decided to move to a place where the figures aren’t in my favour, however I do feel there is a shift in awareness at the moment creating an opening for change to manifest.

Women tend to write and direct more films about complex female characters, something we still lack in mainstream cinema. So this is an opportunity to enrich our cinema.

In her 1975 Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of “male gaze”. Are we still at that point?

Change never seems in a hurry, so I guess fourty years isn’t that long in the eyes of change. The male gaze is still very present in mainstream Hollywood cinema. In contemporary Independent cinema things are a bit better but it’s there too. The tricky thing about the male gaze is that women start to look at themselves through the eyes of men, with the risk of becoming too self conscious, thereby losing their natural behaviour in favour of an imaginary ideal.

This male gaze is also very present in music videos, and I’m always surprised when I hear people say that young girls are taking control by using the male gaze to their advantage. I don’t see how that can be an advantage. Having to be sexier and sexier, and in the end just doing exactly what the guys in control of the gaze want, does not give you any true power.

In 2013 only 14 feature films were directed by women in the UK compared to 164 directed by men. So, why are there so “few” women in filmmaking?

I thought that most women preferred directing independent films, making them less interested in directing mainstream big budget movies. I had to adjust that view as I have met plenty of talented female directors who would give an arm and a leg to shoot a “big” film. It has been researched that women and men directors get the same box office result when given the same budget, so why so few? It’s a burning question.

I don’t find gender inequality an easy thing to talk about., but our society is still rooted in a patriarchal system. Most of the positions of power and prestige are held by men and I still see most women taking on the biggest part of the parental chores. And men are missing out here as well, as they end up not getting to spend enough time with their kids. It’s a tricky balance. The pay gap between men and women is slowly closing but the fact that it still does exist is barking mad. All this affects the way we look at girls and boys, our upbringing, what we emphasise as important for each gender and what gives them their sense of self-worth and place within society. The film industry is just a tiny piece in a puzzle in which women at the top might be the missing piece; as role models and mentors for the young.

Just a provocation. What is a film for “women”? Is there any discernible female sensibility in film?

I think putting things into neat little boxes means you are reducing something, which can be a killer for creativity and finding one’s unique voice. The world is starving for unique voices. I once read that the difference between individual girls and individual boys is much bigger than the difference between a so called ‘average’ girl and an ‘average’ boy. When I catch myself generalising I also catch myself being lazy, cutting the corners. Being vulnerable or being strong, for instance, aren’t particularly male or female traits, they are human traits and I enjoy seeing them in both sexes, in life and in the cinema. Same goes for seeing directing as a ‘male’ thing. It’s not. It’s a job, and a job is neither male nor female.
As for a specific female sensibility in film, I’m not sure if it exists. Although…I’ve come across scenes in films in which I felt ‘there’s a female mind behind this’. For instance there’s a particular sex scene between Kate Dickie and Tony Curran in Red Road by Andrea Arnold. The way we are taken into this scene, the build up, the particular details, the focus on female pleasure, it felt very much like a women’s perspective and it felt believable to me, all the way through. It’s fascinating to see something that feels new yet strangely recognisable at the same time. We’re not that used to seeing female sexuality portrayed this truthfully, this raw and in such detail. I see so little of this which I truly believe is a loss for both men and women.

Which advice would you give to a young female filmmaker or film school graduate?

Don’t let yourself be fooled by preconceived ideas of what a director is or should be. Everyone has their own style of doing things. The world needs uniqueness, especially in the arts. Don’t let the business side take over too much of your mindset while you are still in the process of creating, as it will kill your spirit. You will never be everyone’s cup of earl grey. Wanting to be liked by all is a trap, but it’s tricky because it is so deeply ingrained in our culture and definitely in the upbringing of most girls. Don’t let it stand in your way of speaking up, giving your opinion, disagreeing. It’s nice to hear your voice in here.

Interview: Jesper Quistgaard – Colchester Film Festival Best Film Winner

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In the lead up to Colchester Film Festival 2015 this October, we caught up with last year’s Best Film winner.

Danish filmmaker Jesper Quistgaard submitted his 16 minute film Heavyweight (available to view here) with no expectations, and came away awarded with Best Film. “It’s a great interest to us that the film is screened out in the world. I want people to see it. My feelings are that, except maybe at Colchester, most film festivals around the world very much try to take in films that are more artsy and intellectually stimulating, rather than emotionally stimulating. Colchester is the first film award I have received so it means a lot!”

Heavyweight follows one parking attendant as he faces the constant hardships of his job. Inspired by his 6 year old son who believes he is a police officer, he turns vigilante against one particular group of individuals who wronged him the previous day. “There’s justification for drama in everyday life and we, as an audience, quickly understand how he must feel. The reason we made a sympathetic lead character is because I want the audience to feel with him. In general the audience is indifferent to what they see on screen, we have to really give them a reason to cheer for a guy. We felt we accomplished that, and for that I’m proud.”

“The writer and I wanted to do parking attendants justice, so we were out a few days ourselves with the real attendants. I got shouted at and it was really quite horrific. Even Rudi [Köhnke], our lead actor, went out one day with an attendant in Copenhagen.”

“We faced many challenges making the film, as it is when working for free on something that has a tiny budget.” One of Quistgaard and his team’s biggest challenges was the tight time limit they had for development and pre-production; “The deadlines in the film school we made the film through were pretty harsh. In effect, that meant we had to write and produce it at the same time. So while writing it, we had to pin ourselves to some things such as how many characters there would be and who they were. We had to cast Rudi and the boy William in particular while writing, thus making us unable to change that later in the writing process. That was hard.”

“I became interested in filmmaking after seeing the scene where Boromir dies in The Lord of the Rings aged 11. That scene holds almost everything I think is epic and wish to accomplish as a filmmaker, but it was a short film called Kinderspiel by German director Lars Kornhoff that pulled the blanket from under me. I guess it taught me what a short film could tell. It made the whole audience cry including me. From then on I was hooked.”

Colchester Film Festival has a dedicated Foreign Drama category as well as a varied mix of foreign films integrated in its other categories; comedy and romance, animation, comedy, and sci-fi and horror. “It’s always difficult making great drama in Denmark because it’s such a small, cosy society. The truly amazing and horrifying thing at international film festivals is that there is so much wild talent out there. It makes me feel small but also forces me to push harder.”

“Film festivals are a huge part of why we even make films. If I could make a living off of short films, I would do that. But right now we need film festival’s recognition to impress the established business to allow us to make feature films.” Not even a year on Quistgaard has already felt the benefits of winning Best Film; “Suddenly I am more eligible to receive funding and support for future endeavours, but personally it’s given me self-esteem and more backbone. I was actually on Danish TV for winning, so yeah, it’s a big deal.”

Unfortunately Quistgaard was unable to pick up his award in person due to commitments for his next film Ødeland [translated: Wasteland). “It’s practically the same team as before with a new producer called Cathrine Odgaard, who is also my editor. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s about a father who finds out his daughter is suicidal and they have to travel to “the mainland” to find antibiotics for her self-inflicted wounds. There they find a boy with medicine and decide to bring him back to their little island. The question is whether they can trust him or not, since they are unsure if he belongs to a cannibalistic gang. I guarantee plenty of drama and action with another great performance by Rudi Køhnke.”

“My experience at Colchester Film Festival has led me to think that I’m on the right track and that I did some right things. I will definitely be sending in “Ødeland” as well.”

When asked what advice he had for aspiring filmmakers, Quistgaard replied “Consider how little the world needs new film makers. Supply and demand is not in our favour. So the only way you can ever get to make films is to prove that you do something better or more unique. Also, don’t be a know-it-all. Listen every time someone says anything, especially when it comes to getting critique. It’s always easier to see what’s wrong with someone else’s work than your own. So listen when people give you their opinion – they see clearly and you don’t.”

Last year Colchester Film Festival received more than 5,000 short films from over 60 countries worldwide. For many of the 36 selected, it was their UK premiere.

Short and feature film entries for this year’s festival are now open. Submissions are free until 1st June (www.colchesterfilmfestival.com/submissions)

By Cara Weatherley
(www.caraweatherleyartsaward.wordpress.com)

http://colchesterfilmfestival.com
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Meet the Filmmakers: The Rendlesham UFO Incident

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A sold out auditorium watched the world of ‘The Rendlesham UFO Incident’ on the opening night of the 2014 Colchester Film Festival back in October. Daniel Simpson’s found footage sci-fi thriller was a fitting opening to the festival as the film was shot on location in Rendlesham forest just a short distance from Colchester.

The film follows three metal detector enthusiasts as they venture into the forest in search of Saxon gold 33 years after the infamous Rendlesham UFO incident. Their attentions soon shift from treasure hunting to aliens as they capture incredible footage of a UFO. Their friendships are put to the test as night falls, their navigation equipment fails and they find themselves facing a terrifying encounter with an unforgiving alien presence.

Writer and Director Daniel Simpson, producer Laurie Cook, screenwriter Adam Preston and the film’s stars Danny Shayler and Robert Curtis attended the premiere and took questions from the audience after the screening. Here are some highlights of what the cast and crew had to say:

Camera: Roger Allen
Editor: Angela Makepeace

The Rendlesham UFO Incident is now available to purchase on DVD, in store or online from http://bit.ly/RendleshamUFO

Submissions are now open for this year’s Colchester Film Festival at
www.colchesterfilmfestival.com/submissions