Sophie Mathisen

- FFS Festival -

Film | March 31 2017

Sophie Mathisen is For Film’s Sake’s Festival Director. Here we chat to her about the ways that change can be cultivated in the film industry, her favourite female filmmakers, and what we can expect from the festival.

Hi Sophie! How did you first get involved in the film industry and has film always been an interest of yours?

Film has always been an obsession of mine, as is reading and writing. Stories are our lifeblood and I feel most centred being able to engage with things that cement or challenge my perspective or experience. I went to the VCA where I studied acting after high school and got pretty involved in theatre and dramaturgy and eventually I was drawn to the creative license filmmaking affords. I always enjoyed rehearsal much more than performance and so I find the filmmaking process incredibly enjoyable because it’s all about trial, error and ultimately, collaboration.

FFS’s objective is to curate a diverse selection of films made by women, thus shifting the conversation from the worthiness of female filmmakers to a focus on their innovation in the face of disparity. How does FFS encourage audiences to engage with female film makers and understand the lack of diversity that exists within the film industry?

When looking at what needs to happen to develop audiences, I thought first about how to create a diverse range of experiences for people with vastly different tastes. And then I thought about what you couldn’t get from being in your lounge room. My favourite festivals are the ones that create participatory engagement and so a lot of the program is about what you do, as much as what you see. I’m asking audiences to actually get involved in this Festival beyond just buying a ticket. I’m hoping that at each one of the films, a lot which have never made it to Australian shores before, people will come away with something intangible, a sense of community built through shared spaces, places and activities.

Inequality and a severe lack of opportunities for women are rampant in the film industry, particularly behind-the-scenes, where research shows that there’s only one female film director for every 15.24 male ones and that male producers, on average, have creative teams that are 70 percent male. Why do you think this is the case and how does FFS seek to change this?

It’s important that we start joining the dots and look at the ways in which the systems or institutions perpetuate the cycles of exclusion. The program artwork for this year is the network analysis of the Australian film industry, done by Professor Deb Verhoeven who catalogues the ways in which men employ or don’t employ women in the film industry. What you notice is that men tend to hire men and women work on the fringes, which is an unfortunate but obvious conclusion. What I’m trying to do is encourage more women to work in spite of this, to create new networks that over time will become stronger and stronger because I think it’s by more and more examples of female filmmakers that we will start to see shifts. I have always been interested in supporting other women’s work as well as creating my own because, as the platitude goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

What was the process of selecting the films for FFS like? 

It’s always a long process but ultimately it’s exciting to see what people have made in the last twelve or more months, what stories matter to filmmakers here and abroad and to notice certain repetitions in theme and content. A lot of the content this year deals with women fighting for or against something and I think that speaks strongly to what we collectively are experiencing.

What female filmmakers/writers/producers/actresses are currently creating work that you find exciting and inspiring? 

I’m always excited by people who take on exceptional challenges, either in ambition or production so I’m drawn towards people who take on content despite not having a long background in the film industry. I never went to film school and whilst I understand the importance of dedicated study, I think it’s also important to just get out there and do. I love the work of filmmakers like Sarah Polley, Miranda July, Dee Rees, Ava Duvernay, women who work between space, either in terms of formats (Polley/July), or in terms of exhibition and distribution (Rees/Duvernay). I think it’s a myth that filmmakers will be able to do one thing and one thing only anymore, we must needs do everything, so I love that we are showcasing a huge number of works by Australian and international women who decided not to wait but to create.

What’s your personal highlight of the For Film’s Sake program? 

There are way too many. Every single one of these events is unbelievably spectacular, but for me, there are some clear standouts – our Opening Night will be the first Australian appearance and Keynote by Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner which will be an incredible insight into how change can be made. She’s fearless and wonderfully articulate and through her commitment to transparency, Sweden is the first and only country to reach parity in funding and development for female filmmakers. We are holding the Keynote in Sydney Town Hall and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the newly rebranded and refocused Festival. As well as that, the films are all stellar – we have four International Premieres, including Bitch direct from Sundance, playing at Alaska Projects in an all-female horror marathon.

I can’t say too much about our Closing Night just yet, but that too is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience showing exactly what women can do when challenged and trusted to achieve. We’re really taking the idea of a film Festival and pushing it to the next level to bring together artists and audiences in a meaningful and purposeful way.

Hi Sophie! How did you first get involved in the film industry and has film always been an interest of yours?

Film has always been an obsession of mine, as is reading and writing. Stories are our lifeblood and I feel most centred being able to engage with things that cement or challenge my perspective or experience. I went to the VCA where I studied acting after high school and got pretty involved in theatre and dramaturgy and eventually I was drawn to the creative license filmmaking affords. I always enjoyed rehearsal much more than performance and so I find the filmmaking process incredibly enjoyable because it’s all about trial, error and ultimately, collaboration.

FFS’s objective is to curate a diverse selection of films made by women, thus shifting the conversation from the worthiness of female filmmakers to a focus on their innovation in the face of disparity. How does FFS encourage audiences to engage with female film makers and understand the lack of diversity that exists within the film industry?

When looking at what needs to happen to develop audiences, I thought first about how to create a diverse range of experiences for people with vastly different tastes. And then I thought about what you couldn’t get from being in your lounge room. My favourite festivals are the ones that create participatory engagement and so a lot of the program is about what you do, as much as what you see. I’m asking audiences to actually get involved in this Festival beyond just buying a ticket. I’m hoping that at each one of the films, a lot which have never made it to Australian shores before, people will come away with something intangible, a sense of community built through shared spaces, places and activities.

Inequality and a severe lack of opportunities for women are rampant in the film industry, particularly behind-the-scenes, where research shows that there’s only one female film director for every 15.24 male ones and that male producers, on average, have creative teams that are 70 percent male. Why do you think this is the case and how does FFS seek to change this?

It’s important that we start joining the dots and look at the ways in which the systems or institutions perpetuate the cycles of exclusion. The program artwork for this year is the network analysis of the Australian film industry, done by Professor Deb Verhoeven who catalogues the ways in which men employ or don’t employ women in the film industry. What you notice is that men tend to hire men and women work on the fringes, which is an unfortunate but obvious conclusion. What I’m trying to do is encourage more women to work in spite of this, to create new networks that over time will become stronger and stronger because I think it’s by more and more examples of female filmmakers that we will start to see shifts. I have always been interested in supporting other women’s work as well as creating my own because, as the platitude goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

What was the process of selecting the films for FFS like? 

It’s always a long process but ultimately it’s exciting to see what people have made in the last twelve or more months, what stories matter to filmmakers here and abroad and to notice certain repetitions in theme and content. A lot of the content this year deals with women fighting for or against something and I think that speaks strongly to what we collectively are experiencing.

What female filmmakers/writers/producers/actresses are currently creating work that you find exciting and inspiring? 

I’m always excited by people who take on exceptional challenges, either in ambition or production so I’m drawn towards people who take on content despite not having a long background in the film industry. I never went to film school and whilst I understand the importance of dedicated study, I think it’s also important to just get out there and do. I love the work of filmmakers like Sarah Polley, Miranda July, Dee Rees, Ava Duvernay, women who work between space, either in terms of formats (Polley/July), or in terms of exhibition and distribution (Rees/Duvernay). I think it’s a myth that filmmakers will be able to do one thing and one thing only anymore, we must needs do everything, so I love that we are showcasing a huge number of works by Australian and international women who decided not to wait but to create.

What’s your personal highlight of the For Film’s Sake program? 

There are way too many. Every single one of these events is unbelievably spectacular, but for me, there are some clear standouts – our Opening Night will be the first Australian appearance and Keynote by Swedish Film Institute CEO Anna Serner which will be an incredible insight into how change can be made. She’s fearless and wonderfully articulate and through her commitment to transparency, Sweden is the first and only country to reach parity in funding and development for female filmmakers. We are holding the Keynote in Sydney Town Hall and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the newly rebranded and refocused Festival. As well as that, the films are all stellar – we have four International Premieres, including Bitch direct from Sundance, playing at Alaska Projects in an all-female horror marathon.

I can’t say too much about our Closing Night just yet, but that too is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience showing exactly what women can do when challenged and trusted to achieve. We’re really taking the idea of a film Festival and pushing it to the next level to bring together artists and audiences in a meaningful and purposeful way.


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