Last year, during a period of procrastination, I came across a blog post by Australian author Max Barry called Dogs and Smurfs. In it, Barry explains that as the father of two daughters, he had become acutely aware of a world in which the default gender of animals and fictional characters (in this case, dogs and Smurfs) was nearly always male. Within Smurf stories, Barry points out, "there was Handy Smurf and Chef Smurf and Dopey Smurf and Painter Smurf and ninety-four other male Smurfs and Smurfette. Smurfette's unique personality trait was femaleness. That was the thing she did better than anyone else. Be a girl". Fucking Smurfs.
This is an accurate (and depressing) fact of modern society (and before you say it, no, the feminist battle for gender equality is not yet won). However, the real essence of Barry's article is this: from day one, girls are asked to relate to a male perspective in stories - and, for some of the time, that's fine - but what about the reverse? How many boys engage with varied female protagonists? I would argue, few. And as Barry notes, this is not just about putting forward 'positive role models'. It's about presenting the 'angry girls, happy girls, mean girls. Lazy girls. Girls who lie and girls who hit people'. I, for one, like girls that hit people. And the lazy ones.
Storytelling is a fundamental part of human life. It impacts on how we view the world, and in turn, create it. I'm particularly interested in the way film, as a populist medium, can probe our minds and shape our narratives. I'm also excited by the art of short form filmmaking, which, like its opposite in literature, is often sidelined to the cultural margins. This is why I got involved with UnderWire, a women's short film festival based in London.
UnderWire was founded in 2010 by Gemma Mitchell and Gabriella Apicella, a producer and screenwriter, respectively. They wanted to champion not only women's stories, but also the craft skills behind the scenes - women working as editors, cinematographers and writers, to name a few. Building on foundations laid by festivals such as Birds Eye View, they created a festival which focussed on the short films being made by women in the UK, providing a space for exhibition, networking and support.
In its third year, UnderWire is rapidly expanding. Film submissions have trebled, ticket sales have shot up and German filmmakers know who we are (our barometer for success). The programme for this year's festival includes The Art of Science, a screening of weird and wonderful biomedical shorts, made by women, followed by a discussion and drinks with scientists; LOCO presents Live Wire, a night of live and filmed comedy, featuring up and coming talents Lady Garden, Hils Barker and Lou Sanders; Carol Morley (dir. Dreams of a Life) and guests look forward to a time when the question 'how does it feel to be a woman filmmaker?' is never asked again, and we've joined forces with international heavyweight, Sight & Sound, to launch our new competition for women film journalists.
I want to invite lovers of storytelling to join us over the festival's five days, to watch some of the superb films made by women, and to see some new perspectives on screen. Smurfs and Smurfettes welcome.
UnderWire Festival runs 20 - 24 November at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, London.