Interview With Birdseye Film Festival Director, Amy Mole

birdseyeFor those who don’t know, can you just explain what Birds Eye View is?

Birds Eye View is an organisation that celebrates and promotes women filmmakers. We present a festival in central London annually in March which showcases work from talented female directors and screenwriters from all over the world. The festival is our chance to celebrate the best from women and in turn inspire others to see a future for themselves in these roles. We want to shine a light on the best from womens cinema.

We are not just a festival though! Birds Eye View tackles the gender imbalance in the industry head on through training initiatives we run year round. At the festival we launch two of these initiatives: She Writes, a training course in partnership with The Script Factory for women screenwriters – the lucky participants will be launched by the fantastic Susanne Bier; and Re-animate our training lab in partnership with Warp Film which will bring together animators and screenwriters for creative collaboration.

How long have you been involved with the festival?

The festival is now 6 years old, and going from strength to strength. Last year was our most successful so far with a total audience of 11,000. I began working with Birds Eye View in September 2009, just in time to see the 2010 festival programme blossom into the rich array of features, documentaries, and stunning short films we have in store.

What can audiences expect from this year’s programme?

This year is a true celebration of the scope of women’s vision from all over the world. We have a fantastic selection of diverse films this year – definitely something for everyone! Our features programme includes Golden Lion nominee Lourdes by Jessica Hausner, Entre Nos, the tender and gripping true story of a single mother’s survival on the streets by Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza, and Drew Barrymore’s highly acclaimed directorial debut Whip It.

Our special guest filmmaker, joining us for a masterclass and mini-retrospective of her work is one of Europe’s finest: Danish writer-director Susanne Bier, who was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 and is the woman behind Brothers – the Hollywood remake of Bier’s Danish original, starring Natalie Portman. We will also be joined by fast emerging Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and her feature From A Whisper – an incredibly powerful film following a family’s anguish after the Kenyan terrorist bombings of 98 – which swept the boards at the African Academy Awards last year.

Documentaries include the ever-inspirational Kim Longinotto’s latest, Rough Aunties, in partnership with Branchage, and Jenna Rosher’s Junior, winner of the audience award at Sheffield Doc/Fest. This year our retrospective goes Blonde Crazy – celebrating stereotype-busting blonde beauties in cinema from the silent era through to the present day – featuring iconic stars such as Marion Davies, Marilyn Monroe, Phyllis Haver and Sharon Stone. And as has become a Birds Eye View tradition, this retrospective includes original live scores to silent film, commissioned by BEV, and this year composed and performed by the phenomenal jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert and the enthralling and sultry Patti Plinko.

We are also focusing on animation this year, with a screening of the first ever feature animation – The Adventures of Prince Achmed – made by groundbreaking artist Lotte Reineger in 1926 – together with the premiere of an original score from British Composer Award winner Mira Calix, with support from PRS. On top of this, we also bring training programmes from the best in the industry such as BAFTA, London Film Academy, and the National Film and Television School to name but a few. Not to mention Innovation workshops which delve into new forms of technology and the world of gaming, bringing fantastic new opportunities for women in the industry.

Why do you think it’s important to continue to emphasise the innovativeness and unique eye of the female filmmaker?

Audiences want diverse films. There are some myths which prevail about the average film goer being a 21 year old male (in the UK it’s actually a 30-something female). And there’s the ‘fact’ that your film is something like 70% more likely to succeed if it stars a male lead. The success of Mamma Mia or Sex in the City – despite seeming predictable to most, shock the major studio moguls/top producers, who have it in mind that women aren’t a great target audience for big films. This just means that the marketing budgets get thrown at male stories, which then do sell better, and on and on…

In terms of UK stats – in 2007 only 6% of the films made in the UK were directed by women, in 2008 this went up to 12% – hence this year being such a great year at the awards for women… but it’s a one-off spike at the moment, nothing like a trend. Very bleak. Screenwriters seem to have a slightly more female presence, but only very slightly! In 2007% only 12% of screenwriters in the UK are women, in 2008 this went up to 17%. I heard the other day that since the recession the percentage of women working in the film industry has dropped about 20%. Clearly there are still issues within the industry that need addressing and women who are succeeding that need celebrating, to encourage and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

How does it feel to have the festival supported by extraordinary female actors like Jane Horrocks and Drew Barrymore?

Birds Eye View is very privileged to have support from such outstanding and talented women within the industry. Luckily, we’ve had this support from the very first festival. The imbalance within the industry is recognised throughout, this support is completely invaluable to us. We want to be able to provide the talent filmmakers we celebrate with the best platform possible. We’ve been treated to so many wonderful guests showing their support, including Rosamund Pike, Jerry Hall, Sally Hawkins, Fiona Shaw who opened our 2010 festival private launch, Joanna Lumley, Gurinder Chadha, and Juliet Stevenson who will be taking part in her Screen Epiphany on 10th March as part of our festival at the BFI.

Now that the festival is in its fifth year, what have been the highs of the past five years and how to you see the festival growing in the future?

The festival continues to grow year on year. There have been some fantastic moments over the last five years, including Sally Hawkins opening the festival last year, sizzling debate about sex on screen, incredible audiences ranging from industry experts to fantastic actors and directors, Mary Haron flying over from the states to talk to our audience about filmmaking, cutting edge female musicians rescoring untapped gems from early cinema…the list goes on…

What’s your favourite female-fronted film

One of my personal favourite films in the last year is Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker – It’s a masterpiece for sure, and like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s a dark subject matter, but tackled by such an incredibly talented and innovative director. One of our festival screenings, Entre Nos is also a real gem – acted to perfection, the intensely engaging narrative is made all the more powerful once you realise the story is true, lovingly honed from the director’s memories of an extraordinary childhood. We are lucky enough to have the two Directors with us to provide us with a deeper insight. I was also personally swept away by one of our Documentaries this year, Junior which explores the generational divide between mother and son. The difference here, the son is 75 and the mother 98, both living under one roof. This documentary is delicately observed, and had me jumping between tears and laughter throughout.

With Kathryn Bigelow tipped for the Best Director Oscar, do you think we are finally seeing female filmmakers given their due?

I hope so. The BEV team were delighted with the result from the BAFTA’s – Kathryn Bigelow picked up Best Film & Best Director for The Hurt Locker, Andrea Arnold won Outstanding British Film for Fish Tank, Martina Amati was awarded for Best Short for I Do Air and Best Short Animation went to Emma Lazenby and Sally Arthur for Mother of Many. Kathryn Bigelow made history through her win as Best Director – we know she can do it again at the Oscar’s. This will be such a momentous occasion! Only 4 women have been nominated for this award, and no woman has ever won. Girls need role models who are like them in order to develop the self-belief that they could go the same route. You only think you can do things that you see someone like you doing. So hopefully the Bigelow, Sherfig, Arnold, Taylor-Wood, Campion profiles of this year raise a few more female aspirations. At the moment girls are encouraged to wear tutus while boys play with cars. This ‘gender apartheid’ with children is bad news for women feeling more confident in approaching traditionally male terrain.

What advice would you give to women who want to make their own films?

Be bold. Talk to others who have already been there, get feedback and advice. But most importantly be proactive and go for it.

Which famous film female would you most like to see attend the festival in future and why?

Kate Winslet is always a hit in the office. She is one of the biggest British stars, and has worked in such a variety of genres before. Helen Mirren is a personal favourite of mine, we’d love to have her.