Corrina Antrobus: What does a film have to achieve in order to screen at your festival?
Nuala O’Sullivan: All the films we screen at WOFFF follow the same simple rule we set out when we launched in 2015 – there must be a woman over 50 at the heart of the film or behind the camera as a writer, director or producer.
The beauty of that rule is that it makes WOFFF a really open and accessible festival because everyone’s welcome. A 17-year-old boy can make a doc about his 57-year-old grandma and that film is welcome. At our first festival in 2015 we screened Lovely Alice Poet by two young trans men (Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox) about the trans spoken word poet, Alice Denny. To me that sums up what WOFFF is about. Everyone’s welcome to submit a film or to come along. As long as you want to be part of the conversation about older women and you’re interested in what it means to be an older woman living in the world today, we want to see at you at WOFFF.
CA: What inspired you to set up the Women Over Fifty Film Festival?
NO: I’d been a writer and producer (mainly for radio and theatre) for a number of years when I wrote and produced a short film, Microscope, about a middle-aged woman examining her life and marriage, when I was in my early 50s myself.
With my producer’s hat on I started going to short film festivals to see where I thought the film might fit. At the film festivals, I found I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me on the screen and, after screenings, amongst the 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 was often the oldest person in the room, and usually the oldest woman. Not that many people talked to me; I felt pretty much on my own; 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 for 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 my short film didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and how I felt I wasn’t fitting in at festivals either and Maggi said ‘bugger that. Let’s just start our own film festival!”
The word I’d like to highlight from that story from back in 2014, with the knowledge I have now, is “just”!
CA: It’s coming up to your 4th annual festival in September what have you learned in your time so far about the representation of women over 50?
NO: I’ve learned that representations of older women are there; they’ve always been there. I just hadn’t been inventive or knowledgeable or tenacious enough to know how to see them and bring them into focus.
In our first year, with only a Twitter account and a website, we got 68 film submissions. When I saw the films coming in, I thought “The work is there; filmmakers are interested in getting their work shown; they just need the right space; we just need to put the right invitation out there.” I learned that is really is true – build it and they will come.
Surprisingly, I’ve learned that everyone is interested in seeing representations of women over 50. When we started out I was pretty sure older women would be interested in seeing themselves represented but I wasn’t sure other people would be too. One of the loveliest pieces of feedback we got in our first year was from someone in their 20s who wrote the thing they liked best about the festival was “the chance to hang out with cool older ladies”. When I read that, I knew we were onto something.
I’ve learned that representations of older women offer life lessons for us all. We’re all going to get old. That’s what happens every 12 months, we’re a year older. Pretty much all of us know a woman in our lives. So understanding how she navigates this world as she ages is an excellent life lesson. For everyone. Older women are proper role models – people whose experience we can learn from – and if they’re represented on screen and behind the camera, then their stories can be seen and heard and enjoyed.
CA: Which film/s do you think best portray the representation of women over 50 you want to see more of?
NO: Films that show us as we are! We’re human – same as anyone else. We love and hate and have affairs. We can be vicious and proud and generous. We work, we’re unemployed, we retire. We have holidays and arthritis and sex – sometimes all at the same time.
I love films like The Wife, which is screening as part of the Women’s Work programme, because it shows an older woman and the compromises she lives with, and the things she realizes she just won’t live with anymore. I think we can all relate to that no matter what age we are.
I love documentaries like Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami and Westwood; Punk, Icon – films that show older women living and participating in the world now.
CA: We’re super excited to screen your top pick shorts as part of Women’s Work, what do you hope our audience will get from the selection of films and what can we expect?
NO: I hope people will be as blown away by the depth and breadth of the work as I am.
One of the joys of a short film programme is there’s something for everyone. You can expect animation, drama, docs and experimental, and a great range of subjects too – films about talking furniture, migration and football mascots.
I mentioned earlier that men are welcome at WOFFF and I’d like to highlight a couple of films in this programme that are directed by men. Both tell great stories of older women – one a wife, the other a mother but both also so much more.
Mary Mother by Sadam Wahidi, stars Zubaida Sahar as a woman moving through the Afghanistan countryside looking for her son, her every gesture beneath her blue burqa telling us so much of what she’s thinking and feeling.
The Farmer’s Wife by Francis Lee stars Geraldine James as a woman whose surroundings are invaded by outsiders. She carries out her daily tasks in preparation for what will be her final day on her farm, the only land she has known. It’s an opportunity to see the work of director Francis Lee before he hit the big time with God’s Own Country. It’s fascinating to spot in this short the colours, themes, emotions and rolling Yorkshire countryside that are so memorable in his first feature film.
Find out more about the Women Over Fifty Film Festival at wofff.co.uk
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