Birds Eye View: International Women’s Day Gala

Birds Eye View welcomed a healthy amount of both men and women to its International Women’s Day Gala event. Now in its tenth year of operation, BEV was set up by Rachel Millward and Pinny Grylls (the former still stands as festival director and spoke about her pride in leading an event that strives to seek a balanced perspective upon our screens). Since 2002, BEV has gained a global profile and launched three specialised training labs bringing six commercial feature films into partnered development and commissioned live scores to hot genre-of-the-moment silent film, in celebration of renowned Hollywood movie presence Mary Pickford.

Despite a full and alert auditorium, more men would not have gone amiss: the pre-screening discussion revolved around this lack of female filmmakers, who make up a tiny 10% within the industry. Female screenwriters only make up 15%. Sally El Hosaini, writer/director of upcoming film My Brother the Devil (2012) discussed these statistic to a concerned audience of film lovers who know all too well this is still an industry led by men, defending her feature which is centred around two male characters. She highlighted the fact that it is her presence and her work that is important, not how many female roles she is creating – that is a whole other discussion for another day – “When writing these characters, I didn’t think about their gender.”

Interestingly, El Hosaini did discuss how generalised gender moulds how could work to an advantage in a non-sexually derogative way; her research funded spending time with male gang members, and she found this surprisingly accessible: “I was able to be exposed to their lives as a non-threat and study them and learn; perhaps they saw me as a mother or a sister figure.”

Fellow panel speaker Moira Buffini (who wrote the screen adaptations of Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe [2010] and Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre [2011]) discussed plainly her passion and ability for writing, talked less about gender and more about her work ethos, apart from one particularly memorable comment – “I would never have dreamt of working as a screenwriter when I was 23. Females are starting to realise there are no limits now.” For a writer who penned her first script at the age of 14, it seemed a touching and pivotal shift in attitude for Buffini to detail.

After ‘Mary Pickford’ cocktails at the drinks reception and preceeding the panel chat and screening came Bishi’s Dia Ti Maria, a multi-sensory performance where over fifty voices recorded and heard are all hers. The hotly-tipped British diva performed with a dazzling and dizzying kaleidoscopic backdrop of images and colour. The films that followed (introduced by actress Romola Garai) included a number of equally startling and beautiful material. The standout was Sheila Pye’s opening short The Red Virgin (2011), which re-imagines the true story of a stern mother in 1914 Madrid, who vows to raise her daughter as the first fully free woman.

Both girl and mother astonishing characters within an astounding piece of cinema; set in three dramatic acts and photographed sumptuously, the film (now being developed into a feature) was an affecting accomplishment from a filmmaker who is an ardent believer of film not having to be an esoteric medium: “I think a woman sees, thinks and feels differently than a man and the cinema needs both perspectives if it is to survive as an art form that can teach us something about life.”

The other films showcased at the gala spanned documentary, musical and drama – including a real-life story of a Tanazanian man who, with the aid of a petrol-fuelled projector, dreams of spurning a film industry in his country. What struck was the importance that the selected shorts featured both male and female relationships and studies; being girl-power-heavy is so far from what Birds Eye View is about, and no doubt they’ll continue for many years in this way.

Alexandra Hayward