Be the Change: Filmmaker Caris Rianne on the Male-Dominated Industry, Representation, and Her Film Festival ‘Women X’

Evita sat down with Caris Rianne; a British filmmaker and the founder of Rianne Pictures, an organisation producing shorts, features, web series, as well as mentorships and the festival Women X – an event dedicated to amplifying the voices of women and non-binary filmmakers. Visit their website, and follow them on all social media platforms @RiannePictures. Listen to the full podcast interview available now on all major podcast platforms.

Caris Rianne grew up in an English working-class family, and while no-one was in the film industry, she always loved to watch videos on repeat as a child. “I was the kind of kid who’d just keep rewinding the tape all night and re-watch it for as long as it took to fall asleep,” she reminisces. As she got into her tween years, she started loving all the classic American high school chick flicks—from Clueless (1995) to Mean Girls (2004). And then at around age fifteen, she started craving something more from the media she was consuming. Darker stories with more depth. “It was a way of travelling,” she says, describing the new insights to other countries, cultures, and people. Creating those connections across demographics and backgrounds appealed to her lot, and she wanted to be part of that.

Growing up, she also loved the stories written by author Jacqueline Wilson, someone Caris considers to be a strong role model in her life both privately and as a writer. “Her stories were about girls like me. Working-class girls who didn’t have the perfect family, didn’t have the perfect home, didn’t feel perfect in any way, shape, or form. But there was a space where you could relate to something and not feel alone,” she tells me, with power in her voice. “Everyone deserves that connection.” This is something that has played a large role in terms of character development and the narratives she is creating on screen.

“A space where you could relate to something and not feel alone,” 

The need for representation and diverse stories is especially prominent in the early developmental years, but it is certainly not something that fades either. As she has gotten towards her thirties, Caris says that she has gotten a new appreciation for different stories in the media. For women especially, there are a lot of topics such as mental health, relationships, and our bodies that can be conversationally taboo. So she loves to find the movies and shows that explores those topics and that, as the says, “allows people to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

A Different Road to Film School

She didn’t initially get into university. “I’m not gonna lie, I just big fat failed at the A-levels!” she says as she tells me about a very busy year where revising just wasn’t a major priority for her. “Thinking back now, there’s no way I would have been able to just leave my family, and just go move to another place and have a whole new life.” That same year, her sister had given birth, her mother was ill, and father not around. “The path was never really clear,” she says, “when you come from a poor background like mine, you don’t have that experience of your parents driving you to the university campus to check it out, you don’t have someone else in your family that has been to university to give you advice.”

So instead, she went straight into work. But after two years at her first job, she was made redundant. Fortunately though, she got a nice settlement. “Kind of like sorry! You’ve lost your job, but here is some money. Bye-bye!” she laughs. This settlement money went to good use, as she was now able to take classes at a private film school. She continued to work from 8-6, but after her shift was done she would drive straight down to London and study into the night.

Caris loved the fact that she could remain financially independent and earn her own money while still exploring and learning more about what she loves.. But it wasn’t always the nicest experience. It was a very male-dominated space, and she often talks with her female filmmaker friends about some of the shared (mis)treatment they were at the receiving end of from misogynistic Film Bros—a common plague in film schools.

But from speaking at various film schools, she has noticed that a more even gender equality between students is blooming. She finds knowing that so many girls and women who will pursue the same journey as her won’t be exposed to the same amount of mistreatment as her very exciting. “I love that, I wish I had that,” she says, thinking about the many girl gangs forming now in those classrooms.

The Making of Rianne Pictures

It was on the heels of film school that the idea of Rianne Pictures began to come together. She was weighing between spending more money on more classes, or just make a short film. Not surprisingly, Caris wanted to get some dirt on her hands and start filming.

But she had been on sets before and absolutely hated how the male-dominated environment impacted her experience. “I hated how uncomfortable I was made to feel because I was the token girl, or the girl with blonde hair, or the girl who decided to wear pink,” she says. So while chatting with her friends, she realised that she really just wanted to create a space where people could come and help out regardless of how much experience they had. “That’s basically where it got born from. I wanted to create film sets that were accessible, and not based on who you know and that you’ve got ten years of experience for an entry-level position.” she tells me. Whether the film was going to end up successful or not, the goal was to just come together and have fun.

A Cold Day on a Rianne Pictures Set, by courtesy of Caris Rianne.

Rianne Pictures productions are always at least 50% women—whether that be on screen, on set, or in post. 

After making their first feature film Demi (2016)—a story about a bisexual woman’s journey of self-discovery—they wanted to get it into the festival circuits. So Caris went to Tumblr and posted that she was looking for someone who would like to help volunteer on their festival campaign as an assistant. She didn’t expect a lot of people to be interested, but low and behold, forty people applied.

And that is really the foundation of this organisation. It is build on remote accessibility, volunteer work, and passion for filmmaking and supporting women and non-binary filmmakers. Any money that comes in, goes straight back into keeping everything afloat. “There’s no salary or secret stash of money—if there was, I’d be in Hawaii!” she laughs.

Women X—Celebrating Women and Non-binary Filmmakers

Courtesy of Caris Rianne

Caris and her team wanted to create a safe space where women and non-binary people could have their work shown and celebrated, while also network and collaborate with other filmmakers. Besides screenings and their awards ceremony, the festival also features creative panels, workshops, networking opportunities, and mindful self-care spaces. Having that focus on educating and empowering, especially younger, filmmakers and attendees was really important to them as they started putting it together.

Another element that played a role in this festival was location. There simply aren’t really any festivals like this in the North East of England, and not everyone can afford to go to bigger cities like London and then additionally pay for passes. “The North deserves to have that space too,” was the sentiment amongst her team. But as always, accessibility is high on Rianne Pictures’ list of priorities, so they make sure to run their festival as a hybrid—with online screenings available to those who aren’t able to attend in person.

The festival is run by volunteers, and they accept submissions from short films under twenty minutes where at least one accredited writer, director, or producer identifies as a woman or as non-binary. Their final deadline for submissions is June 30th—so if you have a film that meets these requirements, why not shoot your shot? Their submissions costs are also 70% lower than the average U.K. film festival! Submit your short film here.

Women X is an accessible film festival build on passion for change and love for film. Stay updated on ticket sale, or reach out and get involved with them on and all social media platforms @RiannePictures.

If you want to hear Caris’ full inspiring career journey, brilliant advice, and her thoughts on queer and female representation in the media, you can listen to “Be the Change You Want to See” now available on all major podcast platforms.

Written by Malin Evita

Evita is the 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.

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