Women of the Lens is a four day festival of film, broadcast and digital programming, celebrating the achievements of black women and women of colour in the UK’s creative industries. Launched on November 10, 2017, in our own quarters at Goldsmiths Curzon Cinema, its opening night screened no other than Spike Lee’s acclaimed film, Girl 6, followed by a powerful and vibrant panel discussion on female sexuality, black history and fighting racism through film.
Guest speakers included writer and film critic of Sight & Sound Magazine, Jana Sante, creator and writer of sex, relationship and lifestyle blog Vex in the City, Delia-Rene Donaldson, pole dance instructor Kelechi Okafor, and Yvonne Connikie as the host panelist.
Though the festival launched last week, the remainder of it will be happening next weekend from the 24 – 26 November at the Cinema Museum.
The Cinema Museum is a historical site, former workhouse to where Charlie Chaplin spent some of his time as a child. Moreover, the Cinema Museum is home to artifacts, memorabilia and equipment, collected from 1890 to present times, in hopes of preserving the history and spirit of cinema.
Unfortunately, after nearly 19 years in residence, the museum is being threatened by its landlords to have its building put up for sale. This may be your last chance to be a part of something truly wonderful in a place of such a beautiful magnitude.
Each day of the festival is divided to show films in themes ranging from mental health, lost civilisations, the trouble with women, free form artists, and sugar and spice and all things black girl.
I sit down with festival founder and director, Jennifer G. Robinson, to hear why she decided to create this festival and what she hopes to achieve.
A: You picked Goldsmiths’ Curzon for the launch of your festival, why is that?
J: I did an MA in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths before the media campus had its new-fangled building. I had a great time during my MA at Goldsmiths; I was lectured by incredibly talented, passionate people. One I remember was David Morley who lectured on audience theory, such were his lectures that it was often standing room only when he was on campus like some kind of rock-star. I became emotionally attached to Goldsmiths because of the good time I had doing my MA so it seemed fitting that I launched the Festival at Curzon Goldsmiths with our event called ‘Can She Get Her Sexy Back?!’ and a screening of Spike Lee’s Girl 6.
So, how did you start?
I have an education background, teaching film and media for over ten years from GCSE up to undergrad. After personal circumstances presented opportunity, I went back into working in the media and along the way met up with filmmaker Menelik Shabazz (Burning An Illusion) to become his Festival Coordinator for the Black Filmmaker International Film Festival in 2015. This opened the door for me to go on to create Women Of The Lens Film Digital Broadcast Festival.
Why did you decide to create Women of the Lens?
I created the Festival to fulfill some personal goals, which includes being my own boss. I’m not good employee material I’m afraid. I also love teaching, I’m very passionate about it. I believe it really is a doorway for locating one’s talents.
What do you mean by that?
One of the things, which used to really frustrate me as a teacher, was being surrounded by talented students with so few opportunities to manifest their talents. The media industry and education are notoriously known for missing each other in terms of making constructive links that provide opportunity for students. I founded the Festival to help plug some of that gap; to support, share and nurture talent. The festival was created to support the talents of black women and women of colour firstly in the UK because despite ‘efforts’ they’re still underrepresented in the industry. I got tired of hearing and experiencing the perception that there are no black women or women of colour in the industry who can direct, write, manage or produce film. I trip over them every day!
Women of the Lens founder and director, Jennifer G. Robinson
What’s your biggest criticism of the media industry?
One of the criticisms I’d lob at institutions is that they don’t seem to want to get their hands dirty by working with grass-roots organisations which can reach the so-called ‘diversity’ the institutions say they want to represent. They write reams of policy to ‘tackle’ ‘diversity’ but don’t follow up with multi-faceted action. It appears to be the same tired methods used to reach out to existing talent which then languishing by the wayside.
What do you hope Women Of the Lens will achieve?
I want Women of the Lens to achieve longevity. I want the Festival to leave the right impression for audiences and industry alike. Women of the Lens is not destined to be a fly-by-night; it’s not a one-trick-pony; it’s not a one-hit-wonder. I’ve got more stuff up my proverbial sleeves. Manifesting the stuff up my sleeves is going to take a lot of work long after everyone else has gone home, after the lights are out, after the curtains are drawn.
What are your hopes for the future of the festival?
I’m planning for the Festival to be a Cannes, or a TIFF, or a BFI only in that it’s still going strong 70 years from now. I want to leave legacy, which contributes to fulfilling the hopes, aspirations and dreams of those who participate in the Festival.
Finally, what do you love to do?
There’s nothing I like more than to curl up on the sofa, under a duvet with wine, chocolates and cake in easy reach as I (re)watch a film in my favourite genre: science fiction. I do enjoy the other means of consuming film too. So, a bunch of mates, popcorn, fizzy-pop and a good laugh from some nonsensical film provides just as much enjoyment for me. The film Girls Trip was the latest source of such merriment! I’m not snobbish about films either. I’ll watch throwaway, forgettable film as much as I’ll watch so-called, ‘high-brow’, challenging, indie, art-house film. Such is my love of film, that I will go and visit the cinema to see something…da, da dahhhh…on my own! Even if my friends can’t be arsed to come with me to watch something they consider ‘weird’ (hell, I just don’t care).
Women of the Lens is a unique gathering of brilliant and intelligent women supporting their own talent and other women of colour within the creative industries as well as negotiating their place and their work as women of colour in today’s society.
View the festival programme here.
Words, Anna McNutt
All photos courtesy of Women Of The Lens