The following is a transcript of actor Naomie Harris’s speech as she introduced Birds Eye View in Bristol at the Watershed, on March 9th, 2003. This was after Naomie’s huge success in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, but before her continued stardom in Pirates of the Caribbean. What I love about this speech is Naomie’s clearly genuine surprise and thrill at discovering the potential wonders of short film, and her heartfelt appeal to the film industry to listen to this ‘movement’ of women filmmakers…
“I have to start with a confession: I’m not an aficionado of short film. When I was asked by Rachel to present Birds Eye View, I said yes largely because I was interested in supporting women in film in general, rather than women in short film in particular. I also said yes because, in my first year after leaving drama school, no-one would really employ me. Pretty much my only experience in front of the camera was through short films. I saw shorts as a great way for people who ultimately wanted to make features to hone their skills… and that’s what I was going to be banging on about today.
But then! Before presenting Birds’ Eye View I went along to watch it in London. The experience has a quite profound effect on me. I was genuinely overwhelmed and incredibly impressed with the quality of the films that I saw. All of them touched me and made me think. One in particular actually made me feel quite tearful and affected me so much that I’m still digesting it today, 2 days later.
The experience of watching these short films moved me in ways that often full length features, with at least five times the budget and two hours of my time, haven’t. So I left the screen trying to decipher why.
To answer that question I reflected on what makes a good film. Predictably, I came up with the answer ‘theme and character’. A filmmaker has to have something to say, and the conviction and skill to use the central players in their film to say it. If we don’t care about the characters, if we don’t laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, the filmmaker fails, because the central message of the piece has no impact on us as an audience.
So why did these women with their short films succeed where so many features have failed? I think the answer lies with what has happened to the process of filmmaking over the last 50 years or so.
When I made “28 Days Later”, I questioned why Danny Boyle was making a comparatively low budget feature when he could be off in Hollywood making a bigger movie with names. I discovered the answer to that question as I learned about his experiences while making “The Beach”, which ultimately resulted in the final edit of the film being taken away from him and placed in the hands of studio executives. The picture that emerged of Danny’s experience is one that I think is representative of the experience of all filmmakers today, whether male or female. Making a film is not so much about creative expression anymore, as a Battleground between filmmakers attempting to defend their vision against the attacks of studio executives and the financiers who want to dilute and package that vision.
It’s precisely because of this reality that short films are so exciting, and have the power they do to move us. Because the restrictions on short filmmakers are comparatively fewer, so the women who made the films you’re about to see were able to give us as an audience a much purer reflection of their original vision. None of the films I saw felt like a compromise.
This realisation made me feel incredibly excited about being able to present these films today. I suddenly saw them not just as short films, but as part of a kind of movement, or collective plea to the film industry to basically allow filmmakers to get on with their job. To stop strangling them, because, as these films demonstrate, only when filmmakers are allowed to express themselves freely (and the filmmakers in return are brave enough to accept that challenge) do we get films that can’t help but to move, and provoke us to think. The kind of films we want to see. That’s because we, as an audience, respond to honesty.
I think this is particularly relevant and important where women filmmakers are concerned because, as the film industry has been male dominated for such a long time, it’s the female perspective and the female voice that has been most diluted and distorted within films.
In conclusion, I’d like to applaud Rachel and Pinny, both for setting up Invisible Films and for showcasing the talents of these women. By doing so, they lay down a gauntlet to the film industry which says: “Look! When women are allowed to freely express themselves they not only produce work of equal weight and quality to that produced by men, but it makes a far richer and more diverse range of films” – which, I’m sure after watching them you’ll agree, we desperately need, and want to see more of.”
To understand the context of this speech – ie where BEV was at at this stage, have a read of my posts on the BEV’s History (Naomie features in Part 2)