This is a post I originally wrote in July 2015, but I thought I'd re-post it now that we can share the video as well as our excitement at winning Best Film in the First Cut Youth Film Festival 2016. Well done team!
Last week I completely side-stepped my comfort zone. I wasn't alone - I had a whole team of super motivated and creative folks around me - and it was planned, but it was totally intimidating nonetheless: The Female Gaze Project.
F-Gaze came into being thanks to Firefly Arts, and is something I've wanted to do for a while. The statistics about women in the film industry are, after all, a bit ridiculous. And I want to be part of changing them.
But this project started in 2012 when I went with dancer and choreographer Natali McCleary to a youth dance competition, where a group of boys she'd been working with were competing with a contemporary dance routine. No, not routine, dance piece. Dance piece. The group called themselves Dimensioin, and I made the short the video above about the day.
Now I had my expectations of what a youth dance competition might be like, and a lot of those were met. But I was intrigued by the idea of group of young dudes getting involved in it and the guts that must take. As soon as the music started and Natali's choreography began, the group had my full attention. And to be honest, the idea of making a film of their dance piece stuck with me from that day on. So that's 3 years of thinking about it.
Bring in the girls. Now as I mentioned above there are lots of depressing statistics out there about the number of women in the film industry, especially in technical roles (3% of cinematographers were female in 2013). There's also lots of chat about how kids don't know the meaning or value of playing outside these days. So it's probably fair to say we made big strides in the right direction for both of these issues with this project. From my experience in trying to push the female voice in the adventure film industry over the last few years, I've learned that the best way to start changing things is to just get on with it, so over at Firefly Arts we assembled a film crew of six teenage girls, while Natali recruited fifteen fresh young dancing faces. Over four pre-production sessions the two groups honed their skills and got ready to meet one another and make a film out of this rather neat piece of dance. Dance piece.
Logistically it was complex - we chose tricky locations, were ambitious with our schedule and were at total mercy to the weather. On set, we rotated roles within the crew to give everyone as much experience as possible in different positions. On day one we moved slowly and got muddy.
On day two we worked in an ice cold river where the water was red, the canyon walls were green, and our wellies quickly filled up with water.
This meant the pressure was on. We couldn’t afford to do many takes, and we had to set up quickly so no one got toooooo cold. Decisions were made fast, and we all had to get it right.
On day three we hiked uphill for 45 minutes to reach our final location -The Whangie, where once upon a time the Devil apparently brought his tail down so hard he create a funny little canyon. Most of our team members had never been hill walking before, so it was a gentle intro, being battered by wind and lashed with rain with no shelter to run to. Escaping bad forecasts for three days in a row would have too much to ask.
But you know what? Tired as everyone got, uncomfortable and soaking and cold as everyone got, we kept smiling and we kept going (literally as fast as we could by the end). I'm so proud of my crew, who grabbed this challenge with both hands and not only got on with it, but totally rose to the occasion and showed us just how much they’ve learned and how creative they are. And the dancers? Plastered in dirt one minute, submerged in cold water the next, being pumelled by wind and rain after that, but always up for it, professional, and most importantly a little bit cheeky.
By day three it we were all zonked, but it was like working with a group of colleagues, not members of a youth film club at all, and I was excited to have tried a completely new kind of filmmaking with them, survived, and made something awesome. After two days of editing workshops with the crew, I pieced together the final edit and we were done and dusted - I'm thrilled to be sharing the finished film with you below. Thanks Firefly Arts, Natali, Rosie, Geraldine, Claire and all of our young film crew and dancers. Even Tom Waits thinks we nailed it. Yeah!