Kathryn Ferguson is part of a new wave of female directors challenging the archetypes and stereotypes of film making. Almost exactly two years ago, we interviewed another boundary-demolishing film maker, Kathryn’s friend Elisha Smith-Leverock about her ASVOFF Festival-winning film I Want Muscle, depicting female body-builder Kizzy Vaines. A month later, Smith-Leverock brought Kathryn into the All Walks fold as her guest at our screening of feminist documentary MissRepresentation at the Houses of Parliament.
Since then, Kathryn has filmed All Walks Co-founder Caryn Franklin for Four-Tell, a film commissioned by Selfridges to celebrate International Women’s Day. In Rear Guard, her most recent film for SHOWstudio’s Punk season, Kathryn channels the riot grrrl movement in a deliciously witty and arch take on the pop music video. Members of the All Walks team were so excited by the film that we screened it during our last team meeting. Our conclusion was unanimous: we must hear more from this wonderful woman!
Despite being busy in Moscow delivering film workshops with the British Council, Kathryn was generous enough to answer a few of our burning questions.
Hi Kathryn, we absolutely love Rear Guard! How did the idea come about?
That’s great news! The idea was a direct response to a brief set by photographer Nick Knight for SHOWstudio. He commissioned various creatives to make short films in response to the theme of Punk and what that meant to them. Protest and feminine identity has been at the forefront of my mind for the past few years and this felt like an appropriate project to explore these subjects more thoroughly. I had found an incredible picture of a feminist experiment set up by artist Judy Chicago in the 1970’s. The picture featured four female artists in pink with the letters C U N T emblazoned across their chests – it was one of the most Punk things I’d ever seen. I decided to make a film that re-appropriated this approach, but looking at the hyper-sexualisation of women in modern music and fashion imagery.
What did the dancers think of the concept? Was it fun to make?
The dancers were very involved in the concept and many of them had stories they wanted to share about their experience within the industry. They were very behind the idea. It was fun. We shot it in L.A. in the height of summer, a lot of the day was spent trying to hide from the blazing California sun – an issue I’m not used to whilst shooting in the UK!
You came to our screening of MissRepresentation at Parliament in February 2012. Did the film have any effect on you and your way of thinking? Has it had any influence on your practice?
The screening of MissRepresenation at Parliament was a hugely important evening for me and a bit of a game changer. My friend and fellow director Elisha Smith-Leverock brought me along as her guest and I wasn’t quite sure what the film was about. When we arrived, the atmosphere in the room was pretty electric as we were surrounded by extremely powerful women, from emerging creatives to well-known female politicians. The screening itself realigned my own thinking. I’d worked for Birds Eye View Film Festival for four years at that point, and I had previously approached my role as a programmer and advocate of female directors from an equality standpoint. I felt women needed to have the right to get to the position of director and have equal opportunities to do so. However, at that screening it dawned on me that whilst equality in the industry is important, what in fact is equally important is the role of the female director in story telling.
The statistics in film in the UK for the past six years have shown that as little as 6% of all directors are women and indeed far less throughout the rest of the world. What hit me that night is that few women are creating narratives by women about women, therefore the representation of women in cinema is unbelievably skewed. Cinema is one of the more popular entertainment platforms worldwide and if 94% of those stories told are through the male perspective then our perception of reality is also completely skewed. I realised that we need more stories told by women. It’s not about the job titles, it’s about getting the stories of women onto the big screen and into the global consciousness. It changed everything.
All Walks screens MissRepresentation at the Houses of Parliament, February 2012
The issue of the representation of women’s bodies has had a lot of press recently, especially in mainstream culture because of Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and Lily Allen. Do you think this media attention will bring about change, or does it just make exploitative imagery seem more edgy?
The videos above were released in quick succession and it just highlights an ongoing problem that we have had for decades: the representation of the female form in mainstream media. It is impossible to predict what influences change. Equally as significant or possibly more significant is the powerful combination of the digital revolution and what has been called ‘feminism’s fourth wave’. This combination has, I feel, the potential to produce change.
Should filmmakers and photographers take responsibility for the imagery they create, or are they just following clients’ instructions? Is it hard to make a stand if you think something is wrong?
Yes, they are creatives, not a cog in a regurgitative wheel. I’m aware of the concern people have about not wanting to rock the boat with clients but there comes a point when as a creative you have to express your own opinion. If the image makers and commissioners aren’t taking responsibility then how will anything ever shift? It’s now time for creatives to stick to their guns and to keep their integrity.
It’s a rallying cry. With film makers like Kathryn blazing the trail, we can be more assured than ever that others in the industry will find the confidence and the conviction to become vital, conscientious creators.
|Charlotte Gush is the Online Editor for All Walks.
Charlotte writes about fashion, music and culture for publications including Dazed Digital and Phoenix magazine, and she is the Web Coordinator at London College of Fashion.
Charlotte has a website CAVACOMA.com and can be found on Twitter @CavaCharlotte