Women Over 50 Film Festival celebrates the work of older women on both sides of the camera. They look to older women to drive our stories – as film-makers and performers – and are one of only two film festivals worldwide that are specifically geared towards older women.
Rosy Hunt spoke to festival director Nuala O’Sullivan about WOFFF in the lead up to this year’s event, which starts on 20th September at the Duke of York’s Cinema in Brighton.
I wasn’t seeing many people who looked like me on the screen…
What inspired you and the team to create WOFFF?
I was inspired to create WOFFF because 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. 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 found 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 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 my short film 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 in 2014, with the knowledge I have now, is “just”!
Are you aware of any precedent to this type of festival?
As far as I’m aware, there are only two film festivals worldwide that are specifically geared towards older women. There’s the Senior Women Making Waves Film Festival for Women over 60 in Japan and Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) which celebrates and showcases work by and about women over 50. That’s it! I mean, there are film festivals centred around women, like Underwire, and ones centered around older people like, Legacy Film Festival on Aging, but only a couple that I know of that specifically concentrate on the work of older women on both sides of the camera.
Are you developing the positive engagement you hoped for with male filmmakers and audiences?
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 piece on screen or a woman over 50 behind the camera in the core creative roles (writer, director or producer). For me, the beauty of that rule is that it makes WOFFF open and accessible to everyone – because, for example, at 17-year-old boy can make a doc about his 57-year-old grandma and that film is welcome at WOFFF. In our first festival in 2015 we screened LOVELY ALICE POET, a film made 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 is welcome to submit a film to WOFFF, everyone is welcome to come to WOFFF.
As long as you want to be part of the conversation about older women, as long as you’re interested in what it means to be an older women living in the world today, we want to see you at WOFFF! Each year we have more films and bigger audiences and each year the number of men and younger women engaging with WOFFF increases. And that’s something we’re very proud of.
Are you spoiled for choice when it comes to content – do you feel as though there is an undiscovered treasure trove of older female representation out there on screen and behind the camera?
Yes, totally spoiled by content of depth and quality. I was surprised when we launched in 2015 how quickly, 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. I do feel like there’s an undiscovered treasure trove of older female representations out there; they’ve always been there. But before WOFFF I just hadn’t been inventive or knowledgeable or tenacious enough to know how to find them, see them or bring them into focus.
WOFFF has been quickly expanding since it started in 2015, from the size of the programme to the introduction of an audience award. What developments can we look out for in 2018?
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 four day festival. We launch with a Sundance feature doc HALF THE PICTURE by Amy Adrion 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. We close the festival with FACES PLACES by Agnes Varda. 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 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 was your personal favourite short from last year?
Oh, I couldn’t possibly say! I have lots of favourites. A few I’d highlight are types of films that appeal to me that we screened last year (though I should say, it’s a selection team who picks what we screen, and a jury team who picks the winners, so my favourites don’t always make the cut or pick up the awards) THE OLD WOMAN AND THE SEA by Esme Hicks is a beautiful tale of a woman trying to learn to swim after her husband dies. I particularly liked the ending of the woman walking into the sea. I love films that don’t tell me everything; that leave me to make up my own mind. And this film’s ending is an example of that. Is she walking into the sea towards happiness and a new life or is she walking towards sadness and perhaps the end of her life?
BEAST by Christopher Sferrazza is about Sophie, whose life has shrunk to revolving around her grandson and her job at the local butcher’s shop. What I loved about this is the darkness of the story. I love films that show women, and particularly older women, in all our complexity. And this film had complexity and depth and betrayal and love in spades! VENICE by Venetia Taylor is a tale of woman in Sydney, her son in Venice and their whole relationship as seen through a three minute Skype call. It’s knowing and truthful, but what I love about it most is that it’s funny! Please, bring us more funnies! What I can tell you, after viewing hundreds of shorts for WOFFF, is truthful, comedies about older women’s real lives are pretty hard to come by. So if you’re a betting person, and you fancy some short odds, I’d say, get that comedy made and send it in to us!
WOFFF 2018 runs from 20 – 23 September 2018 at the Duke of York’s Cinema in Brighton and Depot, Lewes.
Buy a ticket for the opening night film, HALF THE PICTURE, here.