Director Brooke Goldfinch heads up international female filmmaker collective Film Fatales’ Sydney branch. She’s studied at NYU, made a film with James Franco, won a Best Director Dendy for her short film Red Rover and is currently working on a psychological thriller set in Wollongong. Sarah interviewed Brooke about her work with Film Fatales for a recent feature for Catalogue magazine. Here’s their conversation in full.
How did you link up with Film Fatales?
I was a journalist and I decided I wouldn’t be able to make films unless I made a really big change in my life, because I was having too much fun. So I decided to go to NYU to study film, in the Masters programme. Film Fatales founder Leah Meyerhoff was probably three or four years ahead. I saw her at a party once, and she told me about it. This is when New York Film Fatales was just one small group, now it’s like, a thousand groups. Writing is so isolating, and I really enjoyed getting together with a network of filmmakers. I think men are much better at doing that in a more natural way. They go to beers and that sort of thing, hang out.
More of a bro way.
It’s a bro way. And it’s unintentionally exclusive, sometimes. So I just really enjoyed the peer support, and setting goals. It was really motivating. Then I moved to LA, just for a couple months, and went to Film Fatales there. I was new to the city, I was writing a lot, so I wasn’t having a lot of human interaction, and just really needed that. Then when I moved [back to Sydney] last June, Leah came over with her film Unicorns, and she got in touch. She said, Why don’t you start a chapter here? Having just arrived back in Australia and not having any local contacts I was like, That would be amazing. So, without knowing how successful it would be, I contacted a few people I knew, and I got a few friends to recommend people to me. We’re still in our early stages – we have about 25 women now on our email list.
When I tell people about the idea, the first thing they say is, That’s so great because women feel like they’re in competition here. That’s not my personal opinion, but it’s an interesting comment that keeps coming. And the thing Film Fatales does really breaks down that competition, really quickly. There’s a lot of stuff coming out now about the gender imbalance, but I think it’s become more present for us too, attending the group. It gets to be more of a thing of, How can we make it a more fair industry? It becomes less about you as an individual, and more like, Yeah – we can all do it together.
The gender thing can be so subtle, but so powerful.
That’s why I think this group is so important, because I think sexism is often incredibly subtle, and often not intended. But incredibly problematic. Like, when I go to a networking event, often I get asked on dates, more than I get I asked to hang out and meet up – and that sort of networking, just hanging out with people, is so important.
That’s how opportunities arise.
Exactly, because you’re just hanging out with your mates, and you tell them about something you heard about or whatever. You share information. Everything we do at Film Fatales is that. We share information, we share crew recommendations, we share stories about directing. Stuff that makes you a better director. It’s a really exciting time to be working on Film Fatales, because I think the industry is just starting to – I mean, I don’t know why, because these statistics have been around forever, but there is this push now, to see more equal representation. I think that’s really exciting, and I think we’re starting at the right moment. Intersectionality is a big focus of Film Fatales and we recognise that the prejudice we face as women is often amplified for our members that are women of colour, queer women and disabled women.
How long has Film Fatales been running in Sydney?
Since last December. It’s been really great. Ok, this is an example of how well it’s going. The St Kilda Film Festival, it’s only a small film festival, but three of our members went and they hadn’t met each other before Film Fatales. They said it was just great having a unit. They knew each other, they were all talking about Film Fatales. They were doing interviews together, and then two of them won big awards, and the other one was nominated. It felt like they had a community already. That’s what I’m always telling everyone – the great thing about Film Fatales is you can go overseas, or you can go to local festivals, and you’ll know that you’ll know someone. It’s a really great opportunity to instantly connect to an international community.
We’re so much more tapped into an international thing now. There are opportunities in the US that we can access. Film Fatales LA do workshops with NBC Universal, that sort of thing. If you’re in LA, and you happen to go at the right time, then you might be at that workshop at NBC Universal, and that will open doors.
The network has expanded a lot in such a short space of time. It sounds like it’s one of those wildfire things.
Yeah, definitely. Well, I think women are so supportive. It’s something we’re good at, something we like. What we need is to have a community. I think that a lot of women filmmakers have been starved of that. Or, [are used to] being the only girl in a room of dudes – which can also be fun. But it’s nice to have a network. I also think looking at alternative modes of distribution, and funding, is so important for filmmakers in general, but also because women are traditionally excluded from mainstream funding models. I think it will be particularly advantageous for us, as women to look at these new models and see where we could exploit new opportunities. I think it will be also really important just to see women talking about their craft. Being terrific filmmakers, not just having to wave the banner of gender equality.
Let’s move away from the stone-throwing and get on with it.
Yeah. Or – in just seeing you being an amazing filmmaker, that’s enough. Because it’s hard to picture ourselves as successful, accomplished filmmakers when we don’t really hear that much from women filmmakers about filmmaking. We hear from them about gender politics. We also hear from them about filmmaking, but I would love to sit down with some of them and – this might be complete patriotism, and also I’m going to steal some kiwis so get ready for it, but we have some of the most amazing female filmmakers in the world. We’ve got Jane Campion. Who’s also a kiwi.
Who is a kiwi.
She studied here! She lives here, right? And, Gillian Armstrong – anyway, in our region, we have really great female filmmakers, like Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong, and Rachel Ward. They’re just exceptionally good filmmakers. They’re not exceptionally good female filmmakers. They’re just great filmmakers. That’s really exciting, for us.
Roughly how many women are involved in Film Fatales at the moment in Australia?
I’m not sure about our Melbourne group, because that’s run by another person, Em Baker. It’s pretty small right now. I’d say there’s probably 30 to 40 people. Basically, you have to be writing a feature that will be in production in the next 12 months, or have done a feature. We also have shorts groups. But you have to have made a short in the last 12 months, or be making a short that you’ll shoot in the next 12 months.
So you have to be actively working?
Yeah. It’s not for junior filmmakers, it’s for women that are professional that want to make features or be in TV. We have about 30 women here, and in our producer group we probably have even more. They only started last month. I think the producer group’s going to go nuts, because there are so many women producers.
It does seem that women tend to end up in producer roles. Do you think that’s because they feel like they aren’t able to access director roles?
Anything I say would be a generalisation, but I think to be a director there is a sense of entitlement. To be a director you have to believe that you’re a creative force, that people should hear your voice. I struggle with that, but I’ve always thought, There’s so few women doing it. So I’ve always been like, It’s not Brooke Goldfinch doing it, I want to change statistics. That has been motivation, because I think a lot of women struggle with, I’m important, and my voice is important, and the world needs to hear this. That confidence. Whereas being a producer is a lot about supporting other people. I’m not saying that it’s just a support role – there are some badass producers. It’s an important role, it’s a role that you can make money out of.
I really do think it’s about entitlement. Women struggle with the idea of being like, This is my story and I’m going to do it and I’m going to direct it and I’m going to make it look beautiful. I’m going to get all these people together, and ask them to help me for free. That’s really hard, and uncomfortable. A lot of people in general wouldn’t want to do that. It’s kind of icky to ask heaps of people to work for you for free – you get really used to it – or give you equipment at a discount, stuff like that. I think maybe it’s a confidence or entitlement thing. But I want to qualify that by saying it’s a very complex issue.
You work 9-5 three days a week at the moment, while you’re writing. What are your thoughts on that?
Filmmakers need a wage, for when they’re making films. A lot opportunities in advertising that men get, women just don’t get. It’s the same in theatre. If you look at filmmakers getting funding from Screen Australia, most of them have a background in advertising and theatre. I think it puts women at a serious disadvantage that those industries are so closed to women still, because then we cannot make the leap into film. I think that’s a really important point, and I was so glad [to hear Gillian Armstrong] talk about that recently. Because I’ve been sort of banging on about it for a while. But if it’s a personal experience you always feel like, Is this a real thing, or am I just not good enough? I met a woman who I knew was signed onto a pretty big ad production company and I said that I loved her work. She said, Well they only let me do the tampon commercials. It was such a funny thing to say but I’ve heard it over and over again. Even if we do make it in the door, we’re still Peggy Olsons.
Well that’s that subtlety of the gender thing.
Yeah, and I think sometimes the complexities get us down. I was talking recently to a guy about quotas, and he was fucking freaking out about it. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate quotas in every situation. Quotas are such an extreme measure, they’re really broad strokes and they don’t reflect the complexity of the issue, however – for instance in law, where the majority of graduates at university are women and have been for the last 20 years, and then you look at the industry, and less than 20 percent of partners are women, you have to be like, Wait, what’s going on? My best friend’s a lawyer and she was telling me that everyone in her team got invited to go to a soccer game except for her, just ‘cause she’s a chick. She was like, I would have really enjoyed soccer. And I said, Yeah, and I bet you knew more about soccer than the other dudes. She’s pretty clued up about sport.
It’s weird when it actually happens. Especially if you’re working around guys, and you think, It’s not an issue, I’m not affected by that. Then all of a sudden something happens and it’s like – That’s the thing! That’s it right there. The thing is happening.
When I was in high school feminism was such a ‘bad’ word and – I went to an all-girls school – and I remember telling everyone I was a feminist, and how offended all my friends were. Then now, because everyone’s had a bit of a taste of what the world is like, and how our opportunities are still being limited and how pervasive sexism is – my dear friends that I went to high school with, that I’m still really good friends with, they’ve fully embraced feminism. It’s all we talk about. Because they want those opportunities, and they can see in how many subtle ways we’re not having access to things that we should. But yeah, sometimes it’s insidious because it’s not intentional, and it’s not clear cut. And then you’re always left thinking, Maybe it’s just me. That’s why Film Fatales is so important, because then you can see it’s not just you. If you’re good at what you do you should have access to opportunities in an equal way. It’s as simple as that.
And like you say, about shifting things so they get to a point where you’re not even having to waste time on that conversation in your head. You’re just doing your thing.
Yeah exactly. Opportunities are being denied us for whatever reason, whether it’s intentional or not. Film Fatales is a great way of creating opportunities for us. We’re creating our own collaborations. We’re creating our own sources of funding. We’re not sitting around navel-gazing that the industry’s against us – we don’t spend a lot of time talking about that. When we meet we’re actually just talking about us as filmmakers.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.