Birds Eye View film festival is nearly 5. Which makes Birds Eye View itself about 7. Blimey! Time to stand back and remember…
The Personal Context: Quarter Life Crisis
Well, I was in that horribly middle-class but genuinely quite unpleasant quarter-life crisis stage. In 2000 I studied Gender and Development (and some religious stuff) at the African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town. South Africa is an incredible and complicated place to be, and studying in a class of 12 women, 9 of whom were from 9 different African countries brought many joys and challenges! My world turned topsy turvy while I was there, really. I challenged just about everything I’d lived for and nervously began to see the world in radically different ways. This was stressful on all counts. Career-wise, I guess I’d thought I’d probably work in international development, following on from some project work in East Africa before and during Uni. But I had a massive change of direction as I figured that wasn’t for me – I couldn’t really see what I offered these amazing women I was studying with that they didn’t have in bucket-loads themselves. I was still, however, passionate about doing something to make a difference to women – eager for change…
One thing studying in Africa (and studying Theology at Oxford) had taught me was that women’s position was, umm… complicated (euphemism) the world over. I thought maybe I would be more ‘useful’ as an awareness-raising type – possibly in the media. I knew that most of my peers back home didn’t think about ‘women’s issues’ at all – most of them actively poo-pooed any kind of ‘feminism’ as patronising, outdated and slightly embarrassingly hairy rubbish. I also had this massive draw towards working in the arts – visual/theatrical – for me it has always been visual expression that most affects and best explains the way I see the world. I longed for the two big drivers (creative & political/campaigny) to come together somehow…
Back in London: BEV is Born
So, returning to a horribly intimidating and lonely London, I worked a teensy bit as a production assistant/researcher/runner in TV (The History of Torture and Punishment for Channel 5 – don’t ask!!) before I quickly escaped to Brighton, waitressing, doing care-work at a residential home for elderly people with mental health problems, and taking a part-time film diploma. I soon met the wonderful Pinny Grylls (at Brief Encounters 2001). We bonded over a question about the lack of women cinematographers (Pinny had been interning with Nina Kellgren), and Pinny had the crazy thought to ask me to produce her short film Photographing Invisible Things. And so began Invisible Films, with Pinny and I making micro-budget short films (funded with a £750 loan from the guy who lived in the flat downstairs from me in Brighton) and spending dreamy days firing each other up with creative ambition.
We crewed up our first short Photographing Invisible Things with all women, as a sort of experiment, and because we were so fed up with the lack of female role models for us (most people we asked could barely name one woman film director!). That was a Very Fun time on set. When it was finished we hired the Curzon Soho at 6pm on Thursday 7th November 2002 for a premiere. But it seemed a bit daft really, showing a 7 minute film all alone like that, with no particular reason for anyone to come see it.
So, we decided to curate an event, and fill the hour with other short films from emerging women filmmakers. The lack of female role models in film seemed to us to mean that we had to do something for ourselves. We wanted to create a new platform for our peers. After a brainstorm in the café at Euston station, we came up with the name Bird’s Eye View (geddit) and got to work spreading the word. We posted on the then very primitive email list, Shooting People (thanks to Jess and Cath!) and put out a call for submissions, £5 per film to help us fund it all. I called up a gazillion companies asking them to advertise in the programme, and got Innocent Smoothies to give us product. Pin did the design. Here’s our very first flyer (featuring an old pic of Pin’s Mum dressing up Victorian stylee):
It was a sell out success! Queues around the block! And sure, there were plenty of our friends there, but there were also people from the UK Film Council, other filmmakers, producers, and even a couple of press. We were sky high with surprise, and shaking like leaves as we did our intro. Everyone seemed to love it. The films were great – we’d curated a fantastic mix of beautiful work – including Andrea Arnold‘s Dog, no less (little did we realise then how far she’d go!) and The Girl With the Red Dress starring Shirley Henderson, alongside a couple more arty turns including ours, of course!
The most exciting thing of all was that there was this immediate sense that there should be more of this. There was a need for it. No one else was specifically showcasing the work of women filmmakers at that time, and so I think at that point it was already clear that we might just have begun an Actual Thing. That might continue. And grow. And work.
Here’s an interview with me and Pinny from the very early days, with really embarrassingly posy pics.
And I’ll tell you all about WHAT HAPPENED NEXT next week!