Birds Eye View: The story so far…

Friday March 11th 2011

You might remember a few weeks back when I went to the press launch of the Birds Eyes View film festival, a showcase of films dedicated to removing gender bias from the film industry as vigorously as they remove the necessary apostrophe from their title. Well on Tuesday night I hopped across to the BFI for the proper launch night and enjoyed yet another night of talented filmmakers and troublingly reductive attitudes.

There were a number of speeches before the inaugural program of short films, and I think I speak for everyone in the audience when I say we were mainly excited about Zoë Wanamaker.

It was nice to see a lot of talk about the Birds Eye View ‘Labs’: development schemes set up to help women filmmakers get the resources they need to get their films off the ground. It strikes me that the gender divide in the film industry isn’t a result of films by women not being seen (most of the films in this year’s program have already been major successes at festivals around the world) but that they’re simply not being made.

Unfortunately, there was also a slightly discomforting focus on the ‘You Go Girls!’ attitude that seems to be a core part of the festival’s ethos. Patronising doesn’t begin to describe some of the outrageous sentiments that came out of the mouth of creative director Rachel Millward, and more than once during the night, the audience LITERALLY CLAPPED people for being female. ‘A vagina and filmmaking talent? Haven’t you done well!’

Meanwhile, men in the audience sat around desperately trying to out-feminist one another, terrified of offering anything in the way of an opinion on the work featured lest they be immediately branded a misogynist bastard and ceremonially castrated in the Benugo bar.

The innate contradictions of the festival can be pretty aptly summarised in their choice of promotional quotes. Emblazoned across every poster and trailer for Birds Eye View is the following:

‘A glamourous bunch with impeccable taste in movies.’ – The Times

‘Smart, sexy and subversive.’ The Guardian

There you have it: sexy, glamourous equality at work.

Kopparberg were the drinks sponsor so there was plenty of free cider at the after party. I don’t think I’d ever had Kopparberg before, otherwise I might have remembered that it is TOTAL FILTH. I drank half a bottle of the strawberry one and felt like I’d just ingested fifty Chupa Chups in concentrated liquid form and then snorted a line of sherbet.

They were also handing out stickers from the organisation that brought you that slightly confused PSA with Daniel Craig in a dress. Mine asked whose fault it was that women hate their bodies. Amazingly, some of the women I was with that night claimed not to hate their bodies. I quickly set them straight on the matter.

No, they’re dogs.

The following night I returned to the BFI for a special preview of Meek’s Cutoff, the new film from Kelly Reichardt of Wendy and Lucy fame. This time there was an introduction from Shirley Henderson. Again, I was excited.

The film is torturously slow but strangely affecting once you manage to tune in to its wavelength. It’s part of the same punishment-cinema trend as stuff like Enter the Void, practically taunting you with its sedate pace and uneventful narrative but rewarding you with the satisfaction of a fully-realised cinematic ‘experience’ once you’ve actually made your way to the end of it.

It’s a great film by one of the best woman directors of recent years and separated from the troubling hypocrisy of the festival at large, it’s a reminder of why showcases like this are so important.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and clap at Kelly Reichardt until she stops hating her body.