What inspired you to make experimental films and why are you focusing on this particular genre of filmmaking?
I accidentally fell into filmmaking 6 years ago. My first foray into filmmaking was turning my live dance work,Table Manners/Stopping at Red Lights,into a film. I had no experience but worked with a very talented Cinematographer,Luca Truffarelli. I did the same thing with my live dance work,Freedom- to go!, turning it into a film. I thought I was just making a short dance film. It was only six months later,having used Film Freeway to submit my films internationally,that I realized that there was a category called Experimental Film.I actually was not too sure what this category meant.But,by a process of elimination,I deduced that my film probably was an experimental one (given that it was non-narrative,not a documentary nor an animation film). I now,six years later,can very definitely say that my films are experimental in nature.They are non-linear,non-narrative,but still make an overall point.
It was a chance remark by my stage manager,seven years ago,(after we had finished doing a triple bill of my work in a theatre) that led me to filmmaking.She said of my three works:'These should be made into films!'. So,initially,I had no burning desire nor inclination to work in films.
Which directors have influenced your filmmaking?
Very early on in my adventure in filmmaking,I came across some films by Maya Deren. I just saw some snippets of them and they really appealed to me.But what inspired me more was that she was a woman.For me,finding a successful woman filmmaker from the 1940s and 1950s was a true inspiration.I was thinking along the lines of 'well,if she could do this,given all the societal restrictions that were in operation at the time,then surely I,in 2014,with more advantages,can do the same...'
It was akin to my feeling when I visited Ibsen's house in Oslo.I read that his wife had said to him that she would only make him lunch if he started work early in the morning -something like that! I felt a kinship with him in that I know the struggle that artists face when facing their work head on: the prevarication,thinking that maybe it was all a waste of time... I am not saying that he felt that but that simply seeing his work space prompted me to get going on a project I had at the time.We were in Lillehammer as a family and I don't ski(because I dance and am terrified of injuring myself).The family went skiing and I went to work on whatever film I was working on at that time (I can't remember which one!).
What are some of the challenges of distributing experimental films and finding an audience for indie films?
I would say that,in general,it is difficult.However,thanks to Film Freeway and its distribution platform for all categories of films (including Experimental ones),it has made the job of getting my Experimental films seen much easier. Also,for me.the States has been wonderful! All the festivals that I have attended,which have screened my films, have been so helpful and inspiring for the indie filmmaker. I have attended the Brooklyn Film Festival,the Athens International FIlm and Video Festival,Los Angeles Movie Awards etc and everyone involved has been so helpful and respectful. I truly found a home at the Brooklyn Film Festival where they have screened two of my films and this year I was invited to be on the Experimental Judging Panel.
If you are talking about money,then I have really no idea about that! I probably earned less than $100 last year from my films.Because of this I have always got my income from other sources and then used that to make my films.
I think I would say so though that it is slightly more difficult to 'sell' the idea of an experimental film to the ordinary film-goer as they are not familiar with the genre (and nor was I as I mentioned earlier). I think that it is much easier to 'sell' the idea of a documentary or narrative film as people are more familiar with these genres. Experimental films maybe have the reputation of being a bit art-housy and this can put some people off wanting to watch them! However,this is the type of film that I make and I don't intend to change that!
Shoe Horn/Office deals with women, masculinity, male gaze and it is shot in a very avant-garde style. How did the project start and what was the inspiration behind working on these themes?
My third film,Shoe Horn/Office,was the first film of mine which was not originally a live dance work.For this reason,and as the scenes came into my head in shots,I feel that this film works well, cinematographically speaking. The inspiration behind the film was Brock Turner who was a Stanford University student.He was alleged to have raped a comatose girl on campus and was sentenced to six month in jail.It was remarks that his father made,at that time,that prompted me to make the film.He said something along the lines of that the sentence was a bit harsh 'for a little bit of action'. This sentence really shocked me and made me quite angry.I use that sentence as part of a rap song in the film.
The other inspiration for the film was Nicola Thorp who worked for a firm in the City of London.She turned up in flat shoes on her first day of work and was fired because she wouldn't wear high heel shoes. She took a court case against them and won.I thought then that maybe everything had been said about this but then decided that this angle was worth exploring.This led me to investigate the practice of Chinese foot binding,corset-wearing in the 19th century and the present day obsession with wearing sky-high shoes.I then blended the two topics together in the film.Audience members watching the film are free to take whatever they want from the film,of course.
What do you recommend to female filmmakers in the film industry when it comes to making films and being successful?
I have only been working in films for six years. All I can say to female filmmakers is only do it if you are absolutely passionate about it! It takes so much to get from the idea on paper to actually having the film in the can.If you are only say 95% behind it then it won't work. You have to be 150% behind it and have a laser-type focus.You must believe in your film and push on regardless.Nothing less will do! I was told by someone in authority that my last film 'failed to convince'(at the embryonic stage).My reaction was to push on regardless.The film has now been screened internationally and won several awards. The thing is no one else will believe in your project if you don't.You also need to have a good support team.I am very lucky in that I have the same Cinematographer (Luca Truffarelli) and it's like an artistic marriage made in heaven! We work so well together and have encountered many challenges with the shooting of my last three films (mainly torrential rain on all three shoots,including the one in Matera,in southern Italy!). I have worked with Michael Cooney in my last three films and he is like my third eye.I demand 150% from everyone involved in a project and particularly demand 200% when shooting the film. You can't have people pulling against you when you are trying to get the film made.
My other piece of advice for female filmmakers (or indeed any filmmakers!) is that if you are going into it for the money,you may be disappointed.You have to be in it for artistic reasons in my book.And you must try to enjoy all the stages of the journey and not just the outcome.
How is it like to write and direct a film at the same time? Many filmmakers like to write their own films. Do you consider yourself an author filmmaker? Would you ever make a film written by someone else?
Writing and directing a film at the same time is wonderful! It means you know exactly what you are looking for from the casting stage,through rehearsal to the shoot. Because I do both I am very particular about the details in the film.
I have never come across the phrase 'author filmmaker'- but I like it! Yes I would consider myself to be that.
(Just off the point,I got to have text/script in my work only after a workshop with the Portuguese dancer Claudia Dias several years ago.Her workshop was intensely challenging,and I nearly gave up,but I learnt so much from her.So be curious and open to learning all the time!).
Talking about making a film by someone else...I was approached recently by someone who wanted me to direct their film.My first reaction was a little bit of panic,but after considering it,I decided that it was not the project for me. To be honest,at the moment I prefer to write my own films!
What I do find difficult however is directing the film and performing in it at the same time. What I tend to do is to rush the bits that I am in but then be a bit dissatisfied with the result. We had a scene in Shoe Horn/Office where Millie Daniel Dempsey,myself and a mannequin were in a tree.Because I was in the tree,I couldn't see that the mannequin needed to be a little slightly more to the left (it was raining too and we were up against it timewise). That photo has been used to promote the film and it is a wonderful photo! However,every time I see it I think that the symmetry is a little bit off,in that the mannequin should be a fraction to the left!
How do you fund your films?
I fund the films myself. I have however got some support over the years in having a studio residency (Dance Ireland) in order to rehearse my films.I also had help with the last film with regard to location costs.I had applied for arts council funding and didn't receive it.However,the person that I was dealing with,who had been about to charge me 2,000 euro said she would waive the fee as I was so passionate about the project!
I have applied for a residency in France (with a bursary) for 2021 in order to do my next film.If I don't get it,the film will get made eventually but it just might take a little longer.
What is your next film project?
My next film project is about cosmetic surgery and the inordinate pressure on women,particularly young women,to have every part of their body absolutely perfect. I think this pressure is really crushing for them. They way around it is to build up their self esteem so that they are not so susceptible to this onslaught. The project is more or less ready to go.I am just waiting to see if I get the funding for it.But it will be made regardless!