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We are the weirdos, mister: Making horror more inclusive with the Final Girls

Posted Thursday 31 August 2017 by Ellen Reay in Cinema Careers, General

Final girls carrie event

The Final Girls Carrie anniversary prom party screening at ICA (photo credit: Juan Gil)

The Final Girls is a film collective exploring the intersection between horror film and feminism, led by Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe. Anna and Olivia share with us how they are making a new inclusive space for horror cinema fans and how an early morning Whatsapp conversation has taken them all the way to self-distribution.

The origin of The Final Girls couldn’t be less glamorous if we tried making it up. As WhatsApp is our main form of communication, it makes sense then that The Final Girls was born out of a manic 7am chat. We’d bonded over years of marathoning horror films and being really frustrated with some of the horror-themed events going on. We were fans, and hungry to see endless slashers, supernatural spookers and gorefests. Yet it felt like we weren’t 'the right audience' for these events, or made to feel like we were imposters for liking films that were not traditionally associated with a female audience. We love the community aspect of horror, but didn't always feel we could participate in that community.

trouble every day

The Final Girls' Trouble Every Day screening at Prince Charles Cinema

Within the span of minutes of rapidfire chatting, we had the name of the collective (The Final Girls), the film we wanted to play (Trouble Every Day), the date (Friday 13th May) and the general mission statement for what we wanted to do. This last point was important to us: to define what it is that we wanted to achieve outside of putting on a screening: exploring the intersections of horror film and feminism.

Between May 2016 until January 2017, we programmed, produced and hosted ten events including: a rare 35mm screening of Cindy Sherman’s only feature film Office Killer; a shorts screening and panel discussion on ‘the final girl’ trope at Film4 Summer Screen; an all-nighter dedicated to scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis; a preview of Prevenge in Manchester; an anniversary screening of Carrie followed by a panel discussion and a bloody prom party at the ICA. That’s probably still our favourite event (chiefly because it included a specially made yarn blood bucket and we covered the ICA floor in red glitter to simulate Carrie’s prom massacre).

The Final Girls Carrie prom night
The Final Girls Anna (left) and Olivia (right) at their Carrie anniversary prom night at ICA (photo credit: Juan Gil)

We probably did too much during those hectic first months. Aside from the preview of Prevenge, we had focused on repertory programming. We wanted to reclaim and re-contextualise genre films that been maligned or forgotten. We manouvered between arthouse horror like Trouble Every Day and Office Killer to full-blown slasher glory Inside. One of main approaches is to create an event, something that would make it more than a screening. The films were only half the job. We wanted for the audience to take away something from the screening. For Single White Female, we created Hedy/Ally facemask; for Carrie we commissioned a fortieth anniversary poster that we gave away to attendees and got Stephen King’s novel as giveaways from Hodder & Stoughton. From the very first screening, we have created dedicated zines that we give to all attendees. These are the place where we explore the film, explain what it is about it that drew us in, and play around with the film’s imagery, reappropriating and remixing it.

Slumber Party Massacre zine

The Final Girls zine for their double bill screening of The Slumber Party Massacre and The Slumber Party Massacre II at BFI

We’re not going to pretend like all of the events were raving successes.  We’ve had to face the empty cinema as much as every programmer has. However, every single event was a learning curve. We were building up steam for our next, and biggest project (so far): The Love Witch.

Aside from reappraising repertory cinema, our ambition with The Final Girls was always to build a supportive platform for new talent within the genre. With this in mind, our next logical step was to venture into the world of new releases. Before even seeing The Love Witch, we knew it was the film for us. Anna Biller is one of the most unique filmmakers out there today (and certainly one of the most hard-working). The Love Witch is a product of seven years of work from Biller, where she not only served as the director, but she also had a part in the writing, editing, costume design, musical composition and much, much more. A film like this doesn’t come around often and for something so special, we knew it needed championing.

The Love Witch Picturehouse Central

The Love Witch screening at Picturehouse Central

After speaking with Anna, we discovered the title had been picked up for UK distribution by Icon Distribution. Determined to not let this one go, we pitched our ideas to the distributor and reached an agreement. The collaboration with the distributor, Icon, was incredibly important. Without their support, this would not have been possible.

We organised a preview tour of the film, liaising directly with regional venues to pitch our ideas to them. Every single screening had to be an event. We travelled with the film to present it at the venues, and even though Anna was not able to travel for the UK release, we organised Skype Q&As with her, which we hosted. At Sheffield Showroom, we recreated the uber pink afternoon tea scene from the film in their cafe bar, serving scones and cocktails to the attendees of the screening. We created a special version of our usual ‘zines for the tour which doubled as a foldout poster and commissioned an artist (also working under the name Final Girls!) to create a set of tarot card-inspired postcards to promote the tour.

The Love Witch tea party at Sheffield Showroom

The Love Witch tea party at Sheffield Showroom

The Love Witch tour was bookended by two London screenings: the first one, at the Prince Charles Cinema, was sold out weeks in advance; and ended as part of Picturehouses’ Discover Tuesdays strand, which started off in a small screen and kept getting bumped up until we had 300 people in their biggest screen, and welcomed one of the actresses from the film, Laura Waddell, for an introduction. After The Love Witch tour was over, and with the film in cinemas, on Blu-ray/DVD and VOD, the interest in Anna’s work was bigger than ever. As a result, we put on an event in the newly opened The Castle Cinema screening her early short films on her own 16mm prints. We put on the event in partnership with MUBI, an online platform that has been hugely supportive of our mad ideas since the beginning, and at the time were playing Anna’s first feature Viva.

Single White Female masks

The Final Girls, incognito as Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda in Single White Female

And now we’re back at it again. Part of our vision for The Final Girls is championing new voices in genre filmmaking, so for Halloween this year we’ve planned a showcase tour of some of our favourite new horror shorts, all of which are directed by women. We opened a call for submissions in May, received over 1,000 short films from all over the world. From that process, and actively scouring festival programmes and the web for intriguing shorts, have curated a selection of ten short films that we’ve (quite tellingly) named: WE ARE THE WEIRDOS.

This programme is our first venture into self-distributing the work of filmmakers we love. It’s a mission statement, as we’re working to create a space for feminist horror, show the films we’re passionate about, and attempt to eliminate some of the arthouse snobbery around genre cinema.

The Final Girls programme of the most exciting new female voices in genre cinema We Are the Weirdos is coming to cinemas for Halloween. If you would like to screen We Are the Weirdos in your local cinema, get in touch with The Final Girls on hello@thefinalgirls.co.uk. To find out more about the project, click here. 

Film programming needs YOU (and why you should get started)

Posted Thursday 24 August 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General

Ahead of this September's Scalarama - the annual, month-long celebration of cinema across the UK - our Marketing and Communications Manager Duncan Carson (who got his start programming a Scalarama event five years ago) reflects on why you should get involved. He'll be presenting three British film noirs at The Horse Hospital in London for this year's edition under his programming banner Nobody Ordered Wolves.

If you're alive today and reading this, take solace in two things: despite the astronomical odds, you have known life while Prince was alive and since digital projection was made possible. If I were born not many decades ago, every time I watched a film that moved me, that made me want to take it from my sweaty palms and thrust it into yours, it would have stayed as a frustrated wish. That life-changing experience would stay as a gift offered, that I was unable to reciprocate. But now, things have changed.
hausu haxan
Posters for previously Nobody Ordered Wolves screenings by Charlotte Procter

One of the things that I like most about Scalarama is the number of people who show their first film as a result of the energy around the event (and the great workshops they've put on over the years). I screened my first film in public as a result – a double bill of Hausu and Häxan in a Victorian asylum – and I now work here at the Independent Cinema Office, daily fielding calls from people doing just the same. Behind all of the questions about film licensing and projectors, there’s that same larkiness I had: ‘Surely they’re not going to let me do it?!’

If you have sat in a screening or seen a film you desperately want to watch not coming anywhere near where you live, I want to say to you: there is literally no reason why it couldn’t be you. At the ICO we have tonnes of resources on the how of showing films in public for beginners (and you can always give us a call in the office if you want to talk it through), but here’s my thoughts on the why...  

hausu haxan screening
Hausu and Haxan, shown at the Caroline Gardens Asylum, Peckham

Think clearly about why you want to show films in front of an audience

Cinema is only two things: films and people. Maybe it’s some ineffable magnetism between souls, or perhaps it’s simply that it’s one of the few times when your attention is (hopefully) lured from your phone for five minutes, but being part of an audience is the thing that sets the cinematic experience apart. So think about why you want other people to engage in what you’re doing. Firstly, be aware that passion and enthusiasm are absolutely key. Even when I’ve been frustrated or perplexed by other people’s film choices, there’s an assurance about the best events that makes you wrestle with your response; that says, ‘If they care this much, there must be more to it.’ So find ways to assure people that there’s a reason you’ve gathered them all there, either as the face of the screening or by being an incredible unseen hand.

No one is saying you need to be P.T. Barnum. Some of my favourite programmers are natural introverts. But you should think about the fact that this is an outward thing to do. You need to be able to put energy into finding ways to connect with people, both in advance through marketing and in person at the event. If you just want to see your favourite film on the big screen, consider hiring a cinema for your birthday. Programming is about having an overwhelming belief that other people will connect with what you have gathered them there to watch.

Tin Tabernacle Kilburn
The Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn, a former church turned scout hut-cum-boat, where Nobody Ordered Wolves showed Finis Terrae

Don’t get bogged down in presentation

Look, we all wish we could be showing everything we’re screening from an archival print with a brand new Xenon bulb in Cinerama. Going to the cinema is about presentation. But presentation can mean more than having a spanking 4K DCP. If all that's available to you is a pub back room or a classroom data projector, then that's what you need to do! It’s down to you to demonstrate care in other ways: a handmade zine, elaborate programme notes, pre-show playlist, extended introduction, themed cocktails… Even if your screen isn’t much bigger than most people’s TVs, they will remember this feeling and that’s what counts.

So maybe there’s no 4K DCP of your favourite film. But increasing the number of screenings of certain films improves their visibility and encourages rights holders, distributors and archives to prioritise restoring these titles. Gathering an enthusiastic audience that cares about the films you show (more than the way you project them) is also a fast track for an independent cinema to want to work with you, if that’s the route you want to go. All that said, take time to know your equipment and look closely at what you can do maximise the viewing experience.

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Poster for Nobody Ordered Wolves Blitzed series by Daniella Shrier of Another Gaze

Do something ambitious

There’s no reason to exist if you’re not providing something more than your average cinema. Regular programming is about delivering the current releases; it’s the Gregg’s sandwich of experiences: great when you need it in the middle of the day. Make your event is the ridiculous feast that no one can make day in day out. Delight in the fact that you can spend a disproportionate amount of time on your programming, outside of a commercial need. If you want to spend five years searching for the rights to Point Break, you can do it (and win). If you’re already heading off the beaten track, why not go further? Being niche focuses you and will make your event a beacon for others. Is it about the audience you’re targeting, the films you’re focusing on, or the experience you’re providing beyond the film itself? Do something that no one else can do and then no one can take it away from you.

Duncan Carson programmes under the name Nobody Ordered Wolves. He is bringing three films about British men, masculinity and the 1950s to London’s The Horse Hospital for Scalarama this year. To find out more, click here.

Diversity on screen: what does that really mean?

Posted Thursday 29 June 2017 by Ellen Reay in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme

mikaela

We asked Mikaela Smith, one of this year's FEDS trainees, about how her host organisation Showroom Cinema is thinking about diversity in their programme and how they are trying to improve representation on their screens.

As many independent and community cinemas will know, funding deadlines for 2017 have been looming: in my first few months at the lovely Showroom Cinema, our little programming and development team were squirrelled away with funding bids aplenty: creating plans that will shape our cinema’s output for the next three years. Hefty stuff. Having worked for a non-profit in the past, I know a little of what a monumental task getting funding can be, and how important it is to not only have your goals and objectives set out, but to understand what your current output is. Who are you helping? Why? With the BFI’s focus on diversity, it is an important subject across the UK film industry, and it’s also not something that can be taken lightly. If any change is going to happen, people need to get serious.

It’s a topic I am willing to say I am pretty enthusiastic about. There are many personal reasons I won’t get into, but in short, I grew up mixed race in a very white area. Growing up is harder to do when there is no one that looks like you to help you understand yourself. It’s even harder when this is stretched across all the media that is available to you, and when all the media that is available to your peers portrays people that look like you in an unfavourable way. But enough with my life story: let’s get back to business.

Showroom Sheffield

Image: Showroom Cinema, Sheffield 

Joan, the Showroom's Senior Programmer, tasked me with analysing the last year of programming at the Showroom: every film that played on one of our screens over a twelve month period. She asked that I complete this small, simple task, so that we could really understand what our output was, and how we could use that understanding to set goals for diversity in our future programme. I was looking at writers, directors and protagonists: are they male or female? Are they BAMER? Are they LGBT+? (The latter was specifically looking at narratives/characters, rather than directors/writers, as I am not a wizard that can predict anyone’s sexuality).

Note: We chose to categorise ethnicity using the BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnicity and Refugee) tag, rather than BAME, which is a slight divergence from industry standard. For us, BAMER represents a progression, and we think it is important to recognize refugees as an important minority audience. BAMER is also the standard of our local audience: we work with the Sheffield equality hubs and try to connect with the needs and voices of the people that fill our city – we have a BAMER equality hub for Sheffield, and it made sense to align ourselves with them.

It was a mammoth task, but I was ready for it. I could see the importance in knowing this information, because if you don’t know where you are, how can you really make a conscious effort to move forward? Unfortunately, as soon as I got into the swing of things, I faltered. There were many films popping up that were representative of what I would call ‘diverse’ cultures, but that I struggled to categorise. Important films that teach us about traditions, religions and parts of the world we don’t always understand. Mustang, for example is a beautiful film about young women coming-of-age in a restrictive environment that is different from the one lots of you (and certainly I) grew up in, I would call it diverse, but are those young girls BAMER? Or are they white? How can you shoe-horn the melting pot of culture that is independent and foreign language film into a yes/no checkbox?

Mustang

Image: Mustang

I checked in with Joan. ‘Meaningful representation of diverse subject matter’: an extra column on my now far-too-wide Excel spreadsheet, but it did make all the difference. Now I could still recognise the importance of ‘diverse subject matter’, but not be forced to mix it in with non-white narratives. This may seem ridiculous but it’s important to recognise both: there are many meaningful stories including white-majority casts, but they do not serve a BAMER audience in the same way that a film featuring BAMER characters does. The only issue with that column is that in order to do it right, you need a pretty great understanding of the programme (it was around 500 films, and though I watch a lot of films, I do also enjoy going outdoors from time to time: Nosferatu I am not.). Thankfully, the Showroom programming team is made up of a selection of truly bad-ass ladies that have a collectively fantastic knowledge of film, they have also worked at the Showroom far longer than I have. Together, the task was tackled.

How Did We Fare?

Our statistics came out better than I had expected, which isn’t to say I don’t think the Showroom’s programme is fabulous and diverse; I do. But I don’t think I am the first to suggest the film industry is not the most diverse, and a film programme can only be as good as the films available to it, really.

When I crunched all the numbers into some sort of a sensible report, I did so comparatively against Creative Skillset statistics, BFI statistics and a number of other sizeable reports from development/production areas of the film industry. I will mention that I would have loved to have had data from more independent cinemas to see where we really sit: are we behind the times, or daring and progressive? We can only find out if we share our information, but that might be a debate for another day.

Doc Fest 2017

Image: Sheffield Doc|Fest

We fared better than the UK industry output - which is in part thanks to the Showroom’s commitment to foreign language film, and specialised festivals and seasons: our ever popular selection of East Asian cinema and annual Japan Season (thank you, Japan Foundation) helped with our BAMER representation statistics, which were significantly higher than the UK employment rates for BAMER directors and writers. Doc/Fest also provided an enthusiastic boost to the number of female directors employed on films we showed: our statistics for this jumped from 13% to 17% with the inclusion of festivals and seasons. Doc/Fest’s programme for films on our screens (I can’t speak for their entire programme) was around 39% female directed (high fives all round for Doc/Fest).

Overall, our on-screen statistics were considerably better than off-screen, with 36% of films with a notable protagonist having a female lead. Interestingly, when looking at the programme in terms of the F-Rating, 40% of our programme was F-rated - the closeness of these numbers suggests a correlation between films written/directed by women also being the strong players in terms of leading ladies. This is why it is so important to have more diversity off-screen: it’s really the only way to get these stories told, and have them told right. Similarly, 18% of the Showroom’s programme features a director of BAMER background and 17% of programmed films were from BAMER writers. This is in spite of the UK film production workforce only employing 3% of workers from BAMER backgrounds. In supporting a vast programme of foreign film, the Showroom actively encourages much broader representation both on and off screen, and more accurately reflects the multicultural nature of the UK.

What Does it All Mean?

As much as I would like to shout about these statistics - and I would like to: across the board, percentages for female and BAMER writers, directors and protagonists, and LGBT+ narratives were strong. But were they strong enough? Do the films on our screens serve the communities in our city and across the UK? I think as much as they can, yes. But there is certainly room for improvement.

I’ve started analysing this year’s programme more in-real-time (I figure month-by-month chunks are much easier than analysing 500 films at once). I’ve added two new columns to the ever-growing spreadsheet: admissions for each film, and how many shows they get. As soon as I started writing the report, this became information I wish I had. Moving forward, we’ll be able to see how heavily our programme supports on and off-screen diversity, both in terms of what is programmed, but also how much time we give those films to find their audience. Both factors are important for monitoring how well we serve diverse audiences. We’ll also be able to see what audiences get behind, and if audiences for more diverse content are growing.

Daughters of the Dust

Image: Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust

It’s going to be an exciting year for the Showroom: the newly-implemented F-Rating is a call to arms, not just for our programming team, but our audiences. F-rated and Triple-F-Rated films now proudly wear a stamp across our website, print and box office marketing: if people are really keen to support women in film, we’re making it as easy as possible for them to see where and how they can vote with their seats. We’ve also just implemented Cine26, a fabulous initiative offering cinema-goers 26 and under £4.50 cinema tickets, all day, every day. It is a perk of the job that I get free cinema tickets anyway (all my childhood dreams have come true), but believe me: it takes me half the time to convince my friends that they want to spend two of their precious hours watching a bizarre French cannibal-horror (Raw, I’m looking at you), or better yet, a dreamlike re-release title musing on Gullah culture (thank you, Daughters of the Dust), when they know it will only cost them £4.50. It opens up a wider range of films to a wider range of people, and though the scheme is aimed at young people across the board (us millennials have it tough), I think it is important to recognise that this is also a great offering for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (who are, statistically, more likely to also be young BAMER people). Combining a more accessible cinema pricing (we also offer benefit claimant tickets at concessionary prices), with more active and more open analysis of what our programme offering is and who it really serves, are solid first steps in chipping away at the daunting industry issue of diversity on and off-screen.

Have any of your organisations carried out a diversity audit on your programme? What did you discover? We'd love to hear about your strategies for ensuring a diverse programme.

Want to learn about what our other trainees have been up to? Rico Johnson-Sinclair recently let us in on the secrets to surviving a film festival.

Club des Femmes' decade of queer feminist film programming

Posted Friday 12 May 2017 by Duncan Carson in Cinema Careers, General

Club des Femmes blog montage
Films screened by Club des Femmes (L-R): Sepideh; De Cierta Manera; Carry Greenham Home 

Club des Femmes is a queer feminist collective that has now been showing films, running events and changing the shape of programming and culture for ten years. Founded in 2007 by programmer Selina Robertson and filmmaker Sarah Wood, then joined in 2009 by writer, curator and academic Sophie Mayer, it has proved an enduring and essential presence in the UK’s independent curation scene. With Sarah and Selina’s bond having been forged when they were both working at the Independent Cinema Office, we’re very happy to pay tribute to this programming force at this milestone.

This decade anniversary is marked by one of their most ambitious projects to date: a tribute and celebration of queer cinema royalty B. Ruby Rich at the Barbican in London. For those yet to be initiated into Club des Femmes’ modus operandi, the season is a strong indication: committed to showing work that has been underexposed, with a close eye both to the past and to the future, and with concerns that stretch way beyond the confines of film and cinema. Club des Femmes’ events have encompassed a powerful excavation of the Greenham Common Wimmin's Peace Camp, a highly oversubscribed night of feminist porn, a collective action on Wikipedia and much more. I spoke with Club des Femmes three core members and got their take on what is at the heart of the way they programme.

Programming is about sharing

CdF dykesploitation

The core of Club des Femmes work is to offer access to queer feminist film work and thought, bring a rich tapestry of new and neglected voices into the light, so they can be enjoyed, discussed and contextualised. 

Selina Robertson (SR): We are always generating new programming ideas between us. Sometimes we are invited to curate a season (as in the Barbican's Being Ruch Rich) or we decide to revisit a filmmaker whose body of work has been overlooked like Annette Kennerley's 16mm films - as with everything we do it's about showing films that have a critically and a feminist consciousness and rebel aesthetics (as B. Ruby Rich calls it).

Sarah Wood (SW): It's been central to what we do – to revive work, place it in a new context and see what resonances work for a contemporary audience. Women's work has often been marginalised. It takes a bit of extra work to find that work and put it back on screen but it’s always valuable when we do.

Sophie Mayer (SM): That's part of the impulse behind Being Ruby Rich: I certainly connected to feminist film through reading her accounts of films I thought I would never ever be able to see… Like The Gold Diggers not being on DVD or video until 2009! So there's something about translating the cultural and critical histories back ONTO the screen, with an audience – and panellists. It's never just a screening.

Sometimes it's even a bit like a seance: you need people present to create a presence. Of course zines and magazines do that too (and we make print artefacts), but screening a film that hasn't been screened for a decade or more – there's a frisson of presence to that.

Make sure everyone is included

One of the hallmarks of a Club des Femmes event is the collapsing of hierarchies between audiences and curators, experts and neophytes. Avoiding the typical relation between spectator and curator, a wide range of voices feel empowered to offer their perspective. If a great deal of the history of women’s movements has yet to be written, a Club des Femmes creates a space of active participation where that can happen. This helps avoid a digested, determined view of the work and open dialogues that have a lasting impact.

SW: There are many ways to think of cinema. For us it’s always been a space for ideas. It has to be. Our programming is a move away from questions of defining a single canon or authorship and towards a growing understanding of what women have brought to the screen in terms of politics, thought and aesthetics.

SM: Something that I've really noticed is that the CdF community/audience is very horizontal: someone who is an audience member at one screening might be a filmmaker we present later on; a panellist might give us a lead to our next project; a shy and nerdy viewer like me might become part of the team – so it is very much community-building around shared interests. A continuous flow of actions and conversations that don't assume anyone in the room has a fixed role.

Make the cinema a space for discussion

Carry Greenham Home

The cinema itself is often a harsh environment for honest and productive discussion amongst equals, especially given the ‘master and pupil’ dynamic of the traditional Q&A session. Showing radical work is inherently about opening up a space for new ideas, and so creating a space in which these ideas can circulate is something that Club des Femmes have taken care over (to the extent that their Carry Greenham Home event at the Rio in East London exploded into spontaneous song!).

SR: Our practice of collaboration is all that we have, and the queer feminist space that we actively create every time we come together...

SW: I agree. Because so much of culture is now mediated through screens, and viewing is so isolated there's nothing more exciting than humanising a screening event and enabling it to become properly about dialogue.

SM: I've learnt so much from audiences over the years. We've had great conversations because as a group we're not that interested in our own authority but what is possible through dialogue. We try to programme films that also have a welcoming stance (and to show that experimental and alternative cinema has its own forms of welcome and invitation), and to work with panellists who bring that off the screen.

Think practically and sustainably

Of course, there is a strong practical, as well as theoretical, element to producing an event. I was interested in how Club des Femmes have managed to stay sustainable and active across the ten years.

SW: Our projects have rarely been publicly funded but we have just about always managed to break even through box office splits with the venues we've worked with. The one good thing about this is that when you know you're relying only on the money you'll generate through ticket sales it keeps you on your toes about how you programme, how inclusive you can make it and how well you can communicate what you're doing to the widest possible audience. It's telling that we've taken risks with the films we've shown, risks that commercial cinemas would be wary to take but have proved that it's possible to screen unfamiliar work and still make a financial success of it. In a world where everything boils down to economics this is one of our quiet triumphs!

SM: We also try to keep ticket prices affordable, and (at the same time) to pay our guest speakers and filmmakers fairly, so that's always part of the consideration when we're budgeting an event and talking to a venue.

Club des femmes first event
Poster for Club des Femmes' inaugural season at Curzon Soho

SR: There's a lot of attention to detail, especially working with multiple formats and harder-to-find films!

For our first event at the Curzon, we were partly funded by them and supported the event through box office. We have been working like that ever since: covering our costs sometimes paying ourselves a little bit. Now we are being properly funded through Film Hub London, it's very exciting to be able to pay ourselves properly but it's still a VERY precarious job especially in London and we all work on a millions other projects to make it all work.

Celebrate history...

b ruby rich

Image source: IndieWire

With the Being Ruby Rich season, Club des Femmes are paying tribute to a figure who has proved emblematic of their project, celebrating not just ten years of their history but also twenty five years since Rich coined the term ‘New Queer Cinema’ in the pages of Sight & Sound.

SW: It symbolically honours all the women critics who shape film theory but often go unacknowledged. There's a wonderful legacy of thinking film and feminism. We are so lucky in this country to have Laura Mulvey and Elizabeth Cowie (just to name two of the amazing long list of women) helping us understand what cinema can be. I think this season and the acknowledgement of B. Ruby Rich's contribution to thought is genius. Club des Femmes has honoured women behind the camera, women experimenting with film, women on screen and now we honour the contribution made by women theorising cinema. It's going to be great.

SM: Ruby has been so connected to feminism and film in the UK since the 1970s, through Edinburgh Film Festival, Sight & Sound and New Queer Cinema that our intent is to tie those feminist history circles back together again for new audiences to appreciate and enjoy…

Thinking about ideas and moments often leads us to new films and filmmakers as well – there's often a sense of how much we need to learn to fill in gaps, or how excited we are when a new film like Wanuri Kahiu's Pumzi appears and we can programme it!

I've learned so much about how films actually travel through culture and memory by researching our events and putting things together.

...And look to the future

If one were looking for signs that Club des Femmes’ advocacy has made a difference over the last decade, it doesn’t take much to see.

SR: The margins/mainstream switch up all the time.... I guess the filmmakers that we showed our our launch event June 2007 at the Curzon were people like Lizzie Borden, Sadie Benning, Vivienne Dick. Last year Borden's Born in Flames was digitally restored and had a new 35mm print struck, which was very exciting to see this film finally recognized by mainstream film culture...

Edge

Image source: Sandra Lahire Edge 1986, film still. Courtesy LUX

SM: Feminist film in general has entered the mainstream conversation over the last ten years – as in the main-mainstream (national newspapers, BFI backed, etc), but it's in a way more exciting to see the kinds of experimental work that we've screened move into larger cultural spaces like Tate, like with Maud Jacquin's London Film-makers Co-op programme, which Sarah was part of.

SW: I think cinema itself has changed a lot in ten years and that what was once considered the margins is now a thriving alternative to mainstream commercial cinema, largely thanks to the activity of film clubs and festivals.

I asked Club des Femmes about what developments they were glad to see over the last ten years and which they could do without.

SR: Since we started there is now a really strong social network of queer feminist film curators, activists, programmers, pop ups, festivals in London – that links UK wide through alternative exhibitors  – e.g. Scalarama, SQIFF, Liverpool Small Cinema, Eyes Wide Open - whose rebel interventions within cultural cinema exhibition are significant and growing larger.

The development I am not happy seeing is the continuing exploitation by some cinemas of young feminist curators who are expected to give their skill and labour for free in return for supplying cinemas with ‘diverse’ content and audiences. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and we are talking within CdF about this a lot and how we can help change that. Watch this space!

SM: Online streaming and the emergence of boutique cinemas: these have both created opportunities and problems for making a breadth of films available.

I think the most important development is/was around digital projection enabling community cinema, especially with support from the BFI Neighbourhood Film Fund, which has created a massive growth in programming and curating (obviously supported by ICO training and distribution!), which can be local, responsive, communitarian, contextual, investigative and can offer real challenges to the status quo (like Liverpool Small Cinema’s 58% project); the second is theatrical release strategies for documentaries. As there are more women directing documentaries than fiction features, this has had a signal and dynamic effect, including raising filmmakers like Kim Longinotto to the deserved level of icons – although online streaming may mark the end of this brief golden era…

Have fun!

SR: We try to have as much fun as possible. Doing feminism is so much about that!

SW: Selina and I had both worked programming for different organisations but missed the freedom to follow our instincts and put film events together that could be more light of foot and responsive to what was happening in the world. We have always been creative and playful about the way we programme and that literally began with a conversation.

So, in the true spirit of Club des Femmes (and as a love of Tove Jannson and her creations was one of the original ways Sarah and Selina bonded at the ICO) I’m happy to share the official Moomins/Club des Femmes pairings as shared with me over the course of this interview:

Club Des Femmes Moomins2
(L-R: Little My AKA Selina Robinson; Moomintroll AKA Sarah Wood; Snufkin AKA Sophie Mayer)

Here’s to ten more years!

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