March 5, 2008

Bird's Eye View Women's Film Festival Kicks Off in London

The Bird's Eye View Film Festival, which celebrates women filmmakers, launches its fourth festival tomorrow night (March 6) in London. The program includes shorts, documentaries and features, and this year has a special feature that looks at the women focused comedies of earlier Hollywood. These smart women also conduct education programs and take some of the films on the road to other festivals and events to spread the word of the importance of including female voices and perspectives as part of the cultural discussion.

More information: Bird's Eye View

Festival director Rachel Millward answered some questions as she prepared for this year's festival.

Women & Hollywood: Why did you name the festival Bird's Eye View?

Rachel Millward: In the UK the term ‘bird’ is a derogatory term for women. It can be affectionate, like chick, but it doesn’t tend to be particularly respectful. So, this is all about seeing the world from the perspective of women – so it is, literally, a bird’s eye view. I think it works because it’s pretty tongue in cheek and shows that we’re fun and not precious or ranty.

This is massively serious to us, but to get our message across and to be true to who we are, we’re going to have a giggle while we get on with it… So it’s somehow disarming for a lot of people who would be put off by a ‘women’s/feminist film festival’ type title.
W&H: How do you pick the films to be included?
RM: We have about 600 shorts submitted from around the world and whittle that down to 20 – 6 for opening night. We get docs and features submitted too, but most of these we request from around the world. Researching other film festivals, putting word out etc. It’s a massive job but it’s a joy when you find such amazing talents!
W&H: What premieres are you particularly excited about?
RM: Hotel Very Welcome is our closing night – it’s a lovely, funny, laid back and painfully accurate movie about travelers in the East. Makes you cringe it’s so familiar! Expired has Sam Morton being her usual brilliant self. Sleepwalking Land is from Mozambique – a really beautiful and heart-rending tale based on Mia Couta’s magical realism novel. We always try to have a chunk of our programme showcasing women from developing countries.

The docs are amazing this year – Her Name is Sabine is a fascinating and frankly quite upsetting doc from the famous French actress Sandrine Bonnaire about her autistic sister going through various stages of treatment and care. All these are UK premieres.
W&H: I noticed that you have a focus on the early comedies of Hollywood. The recent trend in Hollywood has been away from comedies including romantic comedies that feature a female perspective. Do British comedies have more of a female perspective? And what message are you trying to send by showing these films that star strong women?
RM: No, there are hardly any British comedies with strong female leads. The stats here are just as bad as Hollywood. (6.5% films produced in the UK last year were directed by women, 11% were written by women – and if women aren’t writing, the likelihood of having real, complex, multi-dimensional and fabulous female characters is very very slim!). We’ve got a bit more women’s perspective in TV comedy now, since Smack the Pony did their TV sketch show which was encouraged by the Spice Girls success in music (our first girl band). But really, comedy is very much a boys game.

The comedy retrospective idea came about because last year our programme was full of these incredible dramas by women – really stunning and wonderful films – but all tended towards the harrowing/weepy/emotional. It made me think, and wonder why we didn’t get more comedies. So I thought it was a good plan to look back and see what women’s involvement in comedy film over the last century has been. We started with the pre-1930s silent films (in our ‘clowning glories’ retrospective) – there is some fantastically refreshing zaniness – really bonkers and ridiculous humour – all slapstick and physical. Then it moves into the era of classical Hollywood comediennes – the Screwball Women – who are far more glamorous and men-obsessed, but are also feisty, quick, intelligent, strong – they run the show! We just don’t see that anymore. I think Hollywood made films more for a middle aged female audience in those days. Now it’s all about the teen boy market – hence this kind of character just isn’t seen as relevant, I guess.

Looking back highlights what we don’t have now. We’re also using this retrospective to launch a new initiative for women writing comedy feature films – we’ll be bringing together female comic talent from tv, radio, theatre and standup and running an intensive ‘lab’ to generate feature film ideas, which will then get taken into development with a partner production company.
W&H: In the US less that 6% of the top 250 grossing films were directed by women, yet most people don't know about this issue. Is the situation as bad in Britain, and in general why do you think that it's important to focus on female directed movies?
RM: It’s the same situation here. Bad. As to why it’s important to focus on female directed movies (and I’d extend that to female-written too) well, I really believe that film has an enormous influence on our culture. More than that, it can actually affect the way in which we see each other and ourselves. So it’s absolutely crucial to get a balanced perspective on screen. If all I see are one-dimensional female characters, I’m missing the chance to explore life’s dilemmas and imaginative possibilities through the films I watch, because I can’t relate to the characters I see. And film is hardly offering men more insight into womanhood – but it can and should!
If you're anywhere near London this weekend, support the great work of this Festival!