Catching a fleeting moment of November sunshine outside the Yard Theatre, hovering between damp wooden benches in a misty concrete courtyard with the sound of gulls screeching somewhere in the distance – I came to realise what was so unique about UnderWire Festival.
Film festival are entertaining, they can be inspiring, educational and provide opportunities to showcase the more daring elements of film programming. They are a platform for fanatics to come together. But UnderWire goes above and beyond; it is not only a place for enthusiasts, but also an occasion to break down the boundaries between creators and consumers and open up communication. It’s in its transparency and openness that UnderWire gains its strength.
Gabriella Apicella and Gemma Mitchell launched UnderWire in 2010, in the belief that women working in the UK film industry needed more encouragement. Supporting a gender-balanced production could readjust the skewed perspective shaped by a male dominated industry.
Taking place over five days with 65 short films by 69 female filmmakers, grouped into 10 award categories, UnderWire pushes to expose and praise every angle of filmmaking. The programme covers the basic from best Director to Actor, Producer to lesser-appreciated Sound Designer. The Under-25s ‘Quarterbacks’ category is a ground to recognise emerging talent, this year giving the award to Ceara McEvoy for Bear Trap, an eccentric love story between two quirky teenagers – with elements akin to Woody Allen and Wes Anderson.
The most significant award at UnderWire, the XX Award, praises filmmakers for their focus on strong, realistic female protagonists. It’s here that we meet, among others, a J-Pop maverick from the 80’s (Frank Chickens – The Movie by Ollie Verschoyle & Rob Makin), an eccentric launderette resident (Recommended Washing Powder by Chloe White) and a Midwife who rides the dangerous roads of rural Ghana on a motorbike (Motorbike Midwife by Masumi Higashi).
Stretching further afield, the wide span of industry events saw discussions between inspirational women – from East End Film Festival’s Alison Poltock and ICO’s Kate Taylor on ‘Why Are So Many Film Festival Directors Women?’ to Gabriella Apicella (Producer, “Honest Lies”) examining; The Representation of Prostitution in Cinema’ as part of the Little White Lies ‘Girls on Film’ events.
It’s not often that you experience film in an environment like that of UnderWire. Far from the familiar red carpets and flashing cameras – over the week we were snuggled up in scarves and wooly hats, gathered in front of heaters and discussing the show of talent on offer over a hot bowl of chorizo stew. Never has a film festival felt so refreshing, so raw and so, so real.