Written by Malin Evita
*This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
It is the third day of Global Girl Media UK’s first ever film festival, and the energy is soaring. From invigorating short films from all over the world, to empowering conversations and workshops on how to start your career in this modern media world, the festival has certainly tapped into the stream of inspiration traditional festivals carry – despite having to move online because of COVID-restrictions. Earlier today, I had the pleasure of sitting down with founder trustee of GGM UK, organiser of the festival, and director of the exclusively shown documentary film I Am Belmaya, Sue Carpenter.
I Am Belmaya follows a young Nepalese woman on her journey to learn documentary filmmaking and use it as a way of expressing her experiences and thoughts; it is a stunningly beautiful and unbelievably important movie, that also really encapsulates what GGM is really about. Global Girl Media was originally set up in the U.S., and when Sue saw that the founder, Amie Williams, had put up an advert for a meet-up in the U.K., she jumped on the opportunity. “I was beginning my Belmaya mission, and I just thought [GGM] aligned so much with what I was going to be doing with Belmaya who was just starting out learning documentary filmmaking to give herself a voice.” Sue says, “The combination of those two things made me want to get involved with whatever Global Girl Media was about. And then in 2016, we set up the U.K. chapter. It has been quite a journey!”
GGM’s primary mission is to provide training in filmmaking, specifically documentarian, to marginalised women. This is done through mentorships, a summer training academy, and more. It is all about giving them the education and equipment they need, and guiding them through those tough early stages of a career in this industry. The charity’s focus is to create an equal balance in the media when it comes to who’s stories are being heard and who they are being told by. About this, Sue had this to say about the damage the lack of representation of women causes:
“One thing I kind of felt, even myself starting off, was that I didn’t understand the depth and breadth of the problems we all face. That the messages have been skewed for so long, that we almost think Oh, getting women into media? Is that worth paying for? What sort of charitable thing is that? What about people who are beaten, or really frontline issues that are urgent?
But why are women beaten? Because men think it’s okay; because men have the power. If people are getting their messages through skewed reports, it is really really important to be at the root and change those messages, and to get out different voices, representing different people… Everybody is unique – let’s hear all those voices, and at least have 50% of them be women.”
“We just want to give a voice to those issues women have [and that] never get discussed because [the media] is flawed because the mainstream media and film keeps them out.”
It wasn’t until after watching the documentary This Changes Everything (2019, dir. Tom Donahue), in which top women in Hollywood discuss sexism within the entertainment industry, that she fully grasped the ways this discriminatory behaviour affects our lives. “It was only really after watching that quite recently, about a year ago, that I kind of really saw the depth and breadth of this problem. That ever since I was young, I have been fed this male-skewed story. I never saw myself [on screen].
And I used to think the “if you can see it you can be it” was a bit jingoistic, but actually, it is kind of true. I didn’t see myself; nothing that reflected my inner landscape – I mean I probably saw myself externally but [the actors] were playing in Basic Instinct and films like that – sort of tall white blondes. But they didn’t have any depth or reality. They weren’t true women’s stories, they were men’s ideas, fantasies, of what women were like. So to rebalance all of that and tell things from women’s point of view is just essential and really fascinating.”
The Global Girl Media UK Film Festival, which was originally supposed to be in person, is currently taking place through the 18th-21st of March online at GGMFilmFestival.com. It is presenting several dozen short films from all over the world, ranging between a couple of minutes up to twenty, covering all sorts of topics – from immigration, to mental health and sexual assault. On one of the selected shorts – a Spanish drama about a group of women hunting predators, directed by Gala Díaz Fernandez called Run Amok – Sue marvelled at the direction and message.
“It is about taking the power into your hands. Because it is so often [that] you feel powerless as a woman; you are put down by institutions, by bosses, by society. Even in the West, aren’t we? Well, this is saying to hell with all that, we are going to do it our way and get our own back.”
Fernandez, alongside three other filmmakers whose work also surrounded sexual assault and abuse; Urmi Banerjee (Afloat), Celine Floyd (The Museum), and Mariella Santibanez Koref (The Procedure), sat down for a live Filmmaker Q&A on sexual harrasment and violence; it was unbelievable powerful and insightful – there’s no doubt these young women will continue to touch and impact lives through their stories for many years.
Beyond that, the festival also features several other live filmmaker Q&As, keynotes, and a great range of workshops to really get your stories and career strategy honed down. One of the workshop hosts is content strategist Tamara Jacobs, who will teach you how to find your voice and develop your story. “She [Tamara] is just so good at teasing out your story and your messages and honing it down. You can spend weeks thinking “but what am I really trying to say, what is my main point?” and she will bounce off ideas back and forth and within five minutes you have nailed it.” Sue says. Catch Tamara’s second interactive workshop tomorrow the 21st at 4PM – get your workshop pass here for just £5.
At its core, GGM is about providing the foundation for a career in the media. And in these COVID times, that is even harder. One of the most challenging things young people are facing now, Sue says, is the isolation and lack of connectivity with others. This especially goes for students who would usually be expected to meet new people and network. But when you’re in lockdown or quarantine, when events where you would usually do this doesn’t happen anymore and you might not even meet classmates in person, it becomes incredibly tough.
“We had a networking session earlier which was lovely, and one of the filmmakers who’s also a nominee for the awards, she is called Urmi Banerjee, and she has made a wonderful animation called Afloat which is about abuse against women, done in this really creative way with a poem by Charles Bukowski read. She said that she really values this way you can connect now, and this particular event for connecting because she had been feeling very isolated,” Sue reflects, noting that because technology now allows us to do so many things on our own, we often end up isolating ourselves even further.
“It has been incredibly heartening and wonderful. With anything when you organise it, you don’t know until people turn up whether they are going to turn up.”Sue Carpenter
With several volunteers, and an amazing team consisting of Sue, programme director Dami Omole, trustee Amifel Cliff-Eribo, and so many more, it is sure to say that Global Girl Media UK’s first ever film festival has been a big success. Even the shift to hosting it online has come with unexpected benefits where viewers and filmmakers have been able to connect – regardless of where they are in the world. You can catch the awards ceremony, Tamara’s workshop, and a talk with television presenter Zara Janjua tomorrow, as well as gain access to all of their short films for only £15 total. You can also support the charity by donating and getting involved with their cause, more on that here.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the co-host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.