Hackney Gets Female-Led Filmmaking Festival

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 24 months ago
Hackney Gets Female-Led Filmmaking Festival
A still from Roxanne up for best cinematographer. Photo: Director Paul Frankl

We met co-founder of Underwire festival Gabriella Apicella in the bustling bar of Hackney Picturehouse. It's the setting for one of the very few UK film festivals where you’ll find women at the helm — not just in front of the camera but directing, editing, writing, composing and producing.

Now in its sixth year, the inspiration for Underwire came after Apicella and her co-founder Gemma Mitchell realised traditional routes into the film industry were closed off to women, Apicella said: “In the vast majority of short film festivals the only person that ever gets recognition is the director, so as a writer and a producer, we were never going to get any recognition no matter where we entered.”  

Underwire sets out to change the overwhelmingly male face of the film industry by providing UK based women filmmakers with a platform the organisers felt was missing.

Filmmakers compete in 10 categories, with separate categories for under 25s and onscreen representation. “Obviously we don’t have a makeup category because it’s the only area in filmmaking where women aren’t underrepresented,” Apicella jokes but there's a tinge of exasperation.

Every cinema ticket is a vote for the future shape of the film industry.

Having worked within the short film form for many years Apicella is vocal about what needs to change. She reads us a line from one of her festival postcards: "Every cinema ticket is a vote for the future shape of the film industry."

Apicella goes on to explain "We as a paying audience aren’t aware enough of the power we have to shape what films are made. Anyone that goes to the cinema owns the film industry, its profits depends on our money"

"We need an attitude shift.”

Just 13% of women directed the top 700 films of 2014; this overwhelming absence of women in the industry is exacerbated because men who direct films tend to employ fewer women in behind-the-scenes roles.

For example, on films with female directors, women comprised 52% of writers. In contrast, on films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for just 8% of writers.  

Underwire is proof that there’s brilliant work out there, (check out the trailer below) and female talent is recognised with a range of prizes including training with VET, a post production house based in Hoxton; a year's access to Euroscript courses; and meet ups with industry experts organised by Women in Film and Television.

Just 13% of women directed the top 700 films of 2014

A number of the shorts take London as their inspiration, with the city proving a popular filming location. Festival goers should look out for Steamers in the Editing category, filmed in the Docklands; and Roxanne in the Cinematography category which depicts 'the seedy underworld of Soho via repressed memory and alternative states of mind.'

East London in particular has always held sway over Apicella: “There’s an inventiveness and a kind of unruliness and anarchy to the east side of London which — if it doesn’t succumb completely to gentrification —  is essentially rule breaking and subversive and dynamic, which is why for us — it’s always been the natural home for Underwire.”

Joining this year's lineup are screenings of three feature films by first-time filmmakers, including a special 20th anniversary screening of Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson’s first screen play, which she completed in 17 drafts, by hand.

The festival's aim from the outset has been to help women progress in their careers. Apicella says she wants these women to be the filmmakers of the future. As the festival postcard reads: "there's no room for shades of grey."

Underwire Festival Trailer 2015 from Underwire Festival on Vimeo.

Underwire Festival takes place at Hackney Picturehouse from the 20-22 November. Tickets can be purchased on the website £7.50/£5, Weekend Pass: £45/£35, where you'll also find the programme.

Last Updated 19 November 2015