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Nuala O’Sullivan of Women Over 50 Film Festival

Festival / Interview / by Katie

  • Tell us about your festival

Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) champions and showcases the work of older women on screen and behind the camera with an annual short film festival and year-round events and film screenings and a Best of the Fest touring programme.

We aim to address the double whammy of ageism and sexism many older women face in the film industry by screening films which celebrate older women on both sides of the camera. We believe that inclusive spaces to watch films together and conversations between generations of women can help make older (and younger) women feel more connected and less isolated.

Every film we screen at WOFFF follows this one simple rule – every film has to have a woman over 50 at the heart of the film on screen or a woman over 50 in the core creative team (writer, producer or director).

  • What made you start your film festival?

When I was in my 50s, I wrote and produced a short film, Microscope, about a middle-aged woman examining her life and her marriage. With my producer’s hat on I started going to short film festivals to see where I thought the film might fit in.

At the film festivals I found I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me on the screen and, after screenings, in the crowd of people in the bar afterwards talking about the films we’d just watched, I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me either. I found I was often the oldest person in the room, and usually the oldest women. Not that many people were talking to me. I felt like people weren’t really seeing me; I felt lonely and isolated – which is the exact opposite of how I expected to feel in a roomful of people who had the same interest and passion in storytelling and film as me.

It got me thinking about questions like: Who’s not in the room? Who’s not running film festivals? Who’s not behind the camera? Who’s not on the screen?

Then, over a pint in the Marlborough Pub in Brighton one night I was talking to my pal Maggi about how Microscope didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and how I felt wasn’t fitting in at film festivals either and Maggi said ‘Well bugger that. Let’s just start our own film festival.”

The word I’d like to highlight from that story from back then, with the knowledge I have now is “just”.

 

  • What are you most looking forward to in your next edition?

Each year we try to add at least one new element and this year we’ve gone big and added two new elements that I’m really looking forward to. First, we’ve got an additional day so we’re now a 4 day festival. We launch with a feature film on Thursday 20 September at Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton and then from Friday to Sunday (21 – 23 September) we’re at Depot in Lewes for 3 days of short films, workshops, an all-female panel event, filmmaker Q&As, lectures and talks. The second new element for WOFFF18 is “Free Friday” which sees us hosting workshops and films specifically designed to appeal to elder women (women over 60) and people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. And as the name suggests, the Friday offerings will all be free to help make WOFFF welcoming to all, including those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

  • What have you learnt the most from being involved with a film festival?

That passion will take you far – and I mean that as a film festival founder and director but I see that too in filmmakers I’ve met and from the work I’ve seen at WOFFF over the years. I’ve also learned that putting the hard yards in beforehand reaps incredible benefits on the day. A film festival runs smoothly(ish) if you’ve all done the work in the months leading up to it.

I heard Clare Binns from Picturehouse answer a question recently at Sundance London from a new film festival director. He asked, “What advice would you give someone starting a film festival?” and I’d like to have answered your question with what Clare said. What she said rings true for me about what I’ve learned most form being involved in WOFFF. She said, “Smile, nod and do it anyway. Trust your instincts. And never Give Up. Never, never, never give up.”

  • How does your selection process work?

When I went to the Julien Dubuque Film Festival as a filmmaker in early 2015, when WOFFF was still just an idea, I was struck by how friendly and knowledgeable the Festival Director, Susan Gorrell, was – to every filmmaker, about every film. One of the things I learned about Susan was that she watched every film that was submitted, along with a team of selectors who each watched a smaller number of films. I remember thinking I liked the feel of the Julien Dubuque and I wanted our festival to be like that. Susan was as a role model for me for the kind of Festival Director I wanted to be.

So, all our submissions are watched by at least two people – one other selector and me. We have a team of selectors made up of filmmakers, academics, film programmers, cinema staff and WOFFF audience members. I think it’s important that our selection team reflects the WOFFF community which is made up of filmmakers, film critics, film lovers and occasional film watchers. Our selectors are all ages and all genders and I think that mix is important too.

We all work with the same score sheet, with questions like: How good is the story? (Is there one? Does it show not tell?); How original is the film idea?; How good is the  production design (costumes, sets, locations)?; Is it the right length? (in particular – is it too long?); Is it convincing for its genre/category? and How gripped are you by it?

 

  • What’s your protocol for sending out rejections?

Once submissions have closed and all films have been watched and scored, we send out our acceptances and give those filmmakers some time to get back to us to let us know if for some reason their film can’t be screened at WOFFF. Then, if some of the films we’d accepted have to come out, we move some other films from the ‘maybe’ stack into the ‘screening’ stack. Once that process is finalised, then we send out emails to the filmmakers whose work we’re not screening that year. We don’t give individual comments for films we aren’t screening at WOFFF unless a filmmaker specifically asks us.

  • Length of short film – discuss…

We have different lengths for each of our categories – and these lengths have changed over the years. For 2018 the maximum lengths are: documentary – 25 minutes; drama – 20 minutes; and experimental and animation – 15 minutes. We’ve shortened our film times over the years in part to be able to showcase more films in our festival programmes and in part to reflect the trend in faster-paced, shorter films, both at festivals and online. It’s also the case that most of our programmes are about 75 minutes long and we have don’t have more than one long (short) film in any one programme. So I’d say if you’re a betting filmmaker, your odds are longer if you submit a long (20 – 25 minutes) short to WOFFF.

 

  • Describe your festival in five words or three emojis

Age-positive, friendly, inspiring inclusive and fierce.

 

  • What’s a personal favourite film festival of yours?

I really look up to Underwire the women’s film festival that celebrates filmmakers across all the crafts. I love the way it highlights, celebrates and recognises all the key talent that’s needed to bring a film to the screen, not just the directors and the actors. Underwire is also a few years older than WOFFF so it’s a good one for us to look up to and to learn from. It’s got a great atmosphere, it’s really supportive of filmmakers and it champions women’s work. It’s brash, bold and not afraid to take chances. It’s also a BAFTA recognised festival, which is a WOFFF goal we’re aiming for.

 

  • What do you wish more filmmakers did, and didn’t do?

I wish they’d read the rules in more detail before submitting their film. We don’t have many rules but one about your film having to have a woman over 50 at the heart of the piece on screen or a woman over 50 in the core creative team (writer, producer or director) is really essential. I’d like to see fewer films where there’s an older woman in them but it’s not her story; she’s not driving the action. That’s what we mean where we say the woman over 50 is at the heart of the piece on screen. And one reason I wished filmmakers would read the rules in more detail is I know how expensive it is to submit films to multiple film festivals so reading the rules just makes sense from your point of view as a filmmaker – unless you’ve got money to burn.

  • What questions do you get asked the most by filmmakers?

Quite a lot of filmmakers ask about our bursary. We have a small one to help filmmakers with the submission fees. In the last few years we’ve helped filmmakers from Iran, Afghanistan, Korea and Egypt. Lots of filmmakers asked us, “Can I have a waiver please?” Our bursary is about trying to help filmmakers who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Often filmmakers from developing countries ask for help with submissions fees because it’s not only difficult to send money out of the country but many short filmmakers find it difficult to participate in film festivals because the submission fees are out of their budget range. WOFFF is committed to helping people who are socio-economically disadvantaged – as filmmakers and as audience members. So when a filmmaker asks, “Can I have a waiver please?” our answer is, “Drop us a line at info@wofff.co.uk and we’ll send you a short application form, including 100 words on why you need this bursary.”

Nuala O’Sullivan – FESTIVAL DIRECTOR
  • What’s your favourite film?

It changes all the time. Current favourite is The Tale by Jennifer Fox. It’s the most incredible, most shocking and most moving film I’ve seen in a very, very long time. All-time favourite is probably Fire by Deepa Mehta. Best feel good film Paper Moon by Peter Bogdanovich.

Best documentary Dreams of a Life by Carol Morley. Best musical Guys and Dolls by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Best horror for someone who doesn’t really like horror Get Out Jordan Peele. Best animation The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey. A lovely new category I learned about at This Way Up Festival in Leeds 2017 is “foreign language gateway film”. My foreign language gateway film was Babette’s Feast by Gabriel Axel. And my current foreign language favourite film is Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho

 

  • And drink of choice whilst the festival is underway…?

Earl Grey tea. In a proper cup.


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