Claire Oakley has returned to the director's chair with her brand new short film Tracks, which saw her pick up the Best Director at the Underwire Festival.
We caught up with the filmmaker to chat about her new film as well as the difficulties that are facing female filmmakers in the movie industry today.
- You have returned to the director's chair with your new short film Tracks, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
I was interested in making a film about a character who wants to do something that they feel is wrong. Tracks is about the pressure of family traditions and expectations. It details the relationship between a father and son during a hunting trip where the son, Ed, makes his first kill.
Ed is a sensitive 15-year-old who is very in touch with his environment and on this trip, he does something that goes against his value system - he kills a deer. We see the repercussions of this play out over the course of the film.
- As well as being in the director's chair, you have also penned the screenplay, so where did the idea for the movie come from?
My father is a big hunter and I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years hanging around with him and my Uncle whilst they shot pheasants, grouse, and deer. I enjoyed being outside amongst nature but I always knew I never wanted to kill anything, I never had a problem with anyone else doing it but it just didn't sit well with me.
My family was entirely accepting of my decision and never put any pressure on me however, I noticed, some years later, that when I took my boyfriend along for one of these trips, there was an entirely different attitude towards him.
There was an expectation that, as a man, he should be part of this tradition. I was fascinated by this difference in attitude and years later, it still bothered me so I felt that it would be a good subject to write about.
- John Bell and Gordon Brown both give terrific performances in the central roles. What were you looking for in your actors when you were casting the role of Ed and his father?
I wanted to work with people who enjoyed the subtlety of the story I was trying to tell and who understood the intricacies of the father-son relationship. I work with a brilliant casting director, Olivia Scott-Webb, who put me in touch with Gordon Brown.
We sat down and had such deeply honest talk about family that I had to walk around the park afterwards to decompress! He is extremely emotionally intelligent and immediately understood that the father in this story is not a macho, domineering man but someone who is really looking forward to passing on the family traditions to his son, and who is heartbroken when it doesn't go as planned.
Olivia also found John Bell who had just come back from New Zealand where he was filming The Hobbit. He was open and enthusiastic and such a pleasure to work with and he quickly built a very strong relationship with Gordon, which you can feel on screen. I couldn't have been happier.
- Congratulations on winning Best Director at the Underwire Festival for Tracks, you must be thrilled that your work and the movie has been recognised in this way?
I am a huge admirer of the work that Chloe Trayner and Underwire do to celebrate female HODs across the crafts. Underwire were also the first festival to play anything I'd made so I have a personal history with them.
That first screening of Beautiful Enough back in 2010 was a huge encouragement for me to continue making things so I was very proud to accept the award this year, it meant a lot.
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is to make movies in the UK at the moment, how much would you agree with that? How difficult an industry is it to break into as a woman?
It's always difficult to make movies, and especially difficult for a first time filmmaker! But what I love about being a woman is that there is a lot of support out there. It may not be financial support and it may not be commissioning support (we have a lot of work to do there), but I am a member of this brilliant group called 'Film Fatales' which is a great example of women supporting women. We are all directors and we meet once a month in London, but there are also chapters in New York, LA and even Australia.
We have been featured in 'Women and Hollywood', 'Little White Lies', 'Filmmaker Magazine' and 'Marie Claire' which is helping to create an awareness of female directors within the industry, which is vital in creating a higher profile for us. When someone is hiring and there isn't a female director on the shortlist, we want them to look to us to find candidates.
- 2014 really has seemed to be a year for women in the film industry to be speaking out about gender inequality that still exists. Younger actresses are saying there are not the same great roles for them as there are for men, while older actresses say that the great roles dry up after a certain age. How closely have you been looking at what has been said this year? And are there still discrepancies in gender behind the camera?
There are huge discrepancies. I actually did a talk about it in New York for Antonia Marsh's curatorial body 'Girls Only' (website coming soon). I was shocked to discover that out of the main box office releases last year only 15% of protagonists were female.
The bias continues behind the camera where women accounted for only 13% of the editors, 10% of the writers, and just 5% of the directors. I strongly believe that art and culture should represent all parts of a community.
50% of the population are women and only when this figure is reflected both on and off screen can film be seen to meet our cultural needs. There are even bigger discrepancies in the representation of ethnic diversities, which need to be addressed.
- Why do you think there are these gender inequalities inside such a huge industry?
Gosh, that's a big question! I think the answers run deep into the need for education, for reimagining our cultural expectations and for eliminating social prejudices. And I don't think it's just the film industry that suffers, in fact my sister Sophie Oakley, who works in the Art world, has a very inspiring answer to these kinds of gender imbalances: 'don't let it be you'.
Don't let being a woman in a man's world be an obstacle for achieving your goals. At the end of the day it's not about gender, it's about being good at what you do.
- We have seen female led movies such as Gravity, Maleficent, and Maleficent in recent years and yet these films still seem to be in a minority. They have been a success and there is clearly an audience for them, so why are they not a regular feature on the big screen?
They will be! It's fantastic that films like Frozen and Brave did such good business at the box office because execs can't argue with statistics like that. I think they will pave the way for plenty more female led movies; it's actually a very exciting time.
- What changes would you like to see made in the UK and Hollywood to address this gender inequality and give more female filmmakers a chance?
The change that is needed is remarkably simple and very achievable: finance more films by women. If we are given the green light then I have no doubt the rest will fall into place, given time.
- There will be some teenage girls who will want to try to forge a directing career for themselves going forward, what advice would you give them?
Work hard, and don't waste time worrying about whether you are talented or not. Drive and determination create talent; it doesn't exist on its own. All you have to do is make sure you keep doing what you are doing and you don't give up.
- Everyone seems to be talking about Angelina Jolie and her move to the director's chair - she looks set to return from acting and focus on directing - how important is it to have such iconic female figures behind the camera?
Everyone has their own icons and the more the better. Mine is Joanna Hogg. She is my ultimate heroine because she is doing something very courageous in that she challenging the taste-makers of the British film industry in a distinctive and, in my opinion, very successful way.
And I am also a big admirer of Sophie Feinnes, Celine Sciamma, Kelly Reichart, Sarah Polley, Clio Barnard and Sarah Gavron as well as plenty of others!
- Do you think that men and women will ever be on an equal par in the film industry behind the camera? And why do you think that female filmmakers are not given the same chances to take on big budget blockbusters and superhero movies like the men?
The blockbusters and superhero movies highlight the issue that there seems to be some kind of fundamental fear of giving large amounts of money to women to make films. But it's an entirely irrational and unfounded fear and I strongly believe that it is something that will change.
- You have written and directed a series of short films so do you have any plans to make the transition into feature film? Where would you like to see your career go over the next few years?
I have just finished a feature screenplay that I plan to direct. It is called The Swan and is set amid the pristine landscape of Britain's newest town. It's an intimate drama that charts the mysterious unravelling of a marriage after a swan crashes into a car on the motorway. It's an adaptation of Tessa Hadley's short story 'The Swan', which was published in the New Yorker in 2007.
I have been writing it with Torino Adaptlab under the tutelage of Razvan Radulescu, which has been a truly fantastic experience, and last week I pitched the project to 200 producers from across Europe at the Turin Film Festival. Emily Morgan is producing and we are looking to shoot next summer.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I have a few other feature projects that I am developing, and I am producing a short film for my friend Tom Lock-Griffiths through our collective 'Debatable Space' which promotes discussion and thinking about the links between geographical and psychological space.
Tom's is a beautiful essay film about grief that is shot entirely underwater by DoP Nick Cooke. The rushes are stunning and will be exhibiting the film as part of a sound and photographic installation in spring next year so keep your ears out for that!