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Female voices, film collectives and looking to the future: Rowan Woods talks about East End Film Festival 2018

Photo: Rowan Woods

April in London means we eagerly await for the East End Film Festival (11-29 April 2018) to take place. With an eclectic programme of feature films, shorts, live shows and workshops means there is always something new to discover. We spoke to film programmer, Rowan Woods about what to expect from this year’s festival as well as the importance of new talent and new voices emerging in the industry.

Katie Hogan: Over this past year, Times Up has made a major impact in the industry. How important is it that women’s voices are heard, not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well?
Rowan Woods:
Oh, it’s imperative! On-screen representation is important, but it’s also a question of articulation – whose voices are heard, whose stories are told, whose perspectives are valued. It’s vital that women are given the platforms to tell the stories they want to tell, in the ways they want to tell them.
 
Having more women behind the camera is also crucial to the long-term sustainability of the industry. A wide range of voices means fresh ideas, new stories and ultimately betters films and bigger audiences. The relative scarcity of films directed by women should, quite frankly, be a source of embarrassment for all of us, but it does feel like an exciting moment where real change is possible. I mean, let’s see where we are a few years from now, but it does feel like we’re potentially on the cusp of something…
 
Katie: Music festivals have pledged gender equal line-ups. With many female filmmakers/artists included in the programme this year, how important is it that film festivals follow suit?
Rowan:
I think strict quotas are tricky because a festival has to be able to retain its curatorial integrity, but proactive and mindful programming that is alive to the challenges and imbalances in the industry is essential. It’s not good enough for festivals to say that they can only respond to supply. While it’s certainly true that there aren’t enough films by women currently being made, good programmers have a responsibility to actively seek out new talent and under-represented voices and introduce them to audiences and the wider industry.
 
And of course it’s worth saying that the issue of representation isn’t just limited to gender, and addressing imbalances and a lack of diversity across ethnicity, sexual orientation, social background, nationality etc also has to be part of the conversation.
 
Katie: EEFF prides itself on showcasing new talent including first and second time directors. For the young creative out there, wanting to breakthrough in the industry, what parts of the festival would you encourage they seek out?
Rowan:
As a young filmmaker it’s really important to be watching the work of your peers - not only will you get a good sense of what else is being made, but the cast and crew of these films are likely to be your future collaborators and it’s important to get to know them and their work. We’ve got a great selection of shorts programmes featuring some of the best work by emerging filmmakers; so definitely get stuck into those.
 
It’s also really worth digging into the Discovery strand, which showcases exciting new voices by first and second time filmmakers from around the world. The competition titles - five out of eight of which are by female directors - are a good place to start. And look out for screenings with the filmmakers in attendance - it’s always so instructive and inspiring to hear directors discuss their process.
 
Katie: The focus of new talent is usually aimed at those in the craft and technical roles on films. As a programmer do you think there should be more on an emphasis on curation and exhibition and other sectors within the industry?
Rowan:
Oh, without a doubt! I’m glad you brought this up. Filmmaking talent is obviously at the heart of it all, but it’s important not to forget the crucial role that curators, critics and exhibitors play in determining which films audiences see. The people in these positions are gatekeepers and tastemakers who dictate which filmmakers are supported, which films receive the kind of festival platform that makes them attractive to distributors, and which films or voices are deemed to have cultural value, so new talent that ensures there are a wide range of voices, tastes and perspectives in these areas is just as important as the range of voices producing the work itself.
 
Katie: As well as programming for EEFF you are part of Misc. Films collective. With other collectives putting on events as part of the festival, there seems to be more opportunities for those interested in this side of film exhibition. What would be your advice for those looking to start their own collective?
Rowan:
It’s such an exciting time for independent programming and there’s a really active scene in London with collectives like Bechdel Test Fest, The Final Girls, Badlands Collective, Reel Good Film Club, Club de femmes – and Misc. Films of course! – all doing interesting things.
 
In terms of advice, I’d say that while it’s an exciting time, it’s also quite a crowded scene, so it’s vital to find your USP and your curatorial ‘voice’. Keep an eye on what other collectives are doing and the rep strands at independent cinemas, so you have a good sense of what works, what doesn’t, and what the curatorial gaps are and how you can fill them.
 
Work out whom your audience is and how to reach them, and figure out what’s going to make them turn out for your event when there are so many other forms of entertainment competing for their attention.
 
Build relationships with venues and programmers and seek out partnerships, which are a great way to build your audience. So for example, this year EEFF is partnering with feminist horror collective The Final Girls on a weekend of screenings exploring the figure of the female ghost, and with intersectional feminist collective Dispatch on a 35th anniversary screening of Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames.
 
It’s a community built on passion and a love of cinema - support each other’s work and, above all, have fun!
 
Katie: In the shadow of Brexit, industries across the board will be affected with the arts being no exception. Do you think home grown festivals such as EEFF will still be able to thrive under these circumstances?
Rowan:
It’s so hard to know exactly what the impact of Brexit is going to be on anything at this stage! There are likely to be some changes to the way international cultural funding and partnerships work, but new models will emerge, so I can’t see any cause for alarm. There are other areas of the industry that stand to be affected in a much bigger way, but EEFF will continue to play a role in championing new voices from around the world and giving London audiences an opportunity to see work by the next generation of international filmmakers as well as new British talent.
 
Katie: Finally, is there a particular film/filmmaker you’re excited to screen/bring to EEFF?
Rowan:
I’m really excited by the wide range of work by female filmmakers in the line-up this year. I love Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts by Mouly Surya – an Indonesian feminist revenge western, which makes for a fascinating companion piece to Coralie Fargeat’s thriller Revenge. They’re both rape-revenge thrillers that take a subversive approach to genre, but with strikingly different tones and textures. I’m also excited by Tigre – a terrific debut by Argentinian filmmaking duo Silvina Schnicer and Ulises Porra Guardiola. And it’s great to be showing Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion to a London audience – a really distinctive British debut that opened the Venice Critics’ Week last year. I could go on and on…

@rowanwoods

East End Film Festival
11-29 April 2018
at various venues and locations
eastendfilmfestival.com