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Collaboration is the key; Festival Director Anna Bogutskaya talks about Underwire’s programme and process behind the festival

Film never sleeps. There are always screenings of all the weird and wonderful, blockbuster to indie, shorts to features films taking place. But one festival always has something new and special to screen for us. Underwire is the UK’s only film festival that celebrates women in film across the crafts. We spoke to Festival Director Anna Bogutskaya about what to expect from the programme this year, collaborations across film exhibition and what the future may hold for the festival.

Katie Hogan: Congratulations on your third year as Festival Director for Underwire. Before you became the director, you managed the programming. What was it that first drew you to be apart of Underwire?

Anna Bogutskaya: I had worked at some festivals already, ranging from very large-scale events to very community-based grassroots projects, and had fallen deep in love with exhibition. I wanted to learn more about programming and programme management, and I was interested in seeing the diversity of work that women were creating. Underwire was the only festival that was doing that sort of work, and they welcomed help from keen strangers like me!

Katie: With Underwire underway in just a few weeks, can you tell us how the festival is pieced together, from submissions to screening dates.

Anna: Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, spreadsheets! I put together the overall vision for the festival, and discuss big picture ideas with our Advisory Board.

Katie: As Underwire is the UK’s only film festival celebrating female filmmaking talent across the crafts, do you think more could be done to celebrate women in film?

Anna: More collaboration is necessary between all the different activists, collectives, distributors, writers, etc. I think there should be an emphasis on a distribution level on reaching and promoting female-centered films and content, but not only to women. We should be aiming to reframe the canon for all audiences, particularly for future audiences and image-makers.

Katie: With the latest programme for the festival there is an event focused on women of colour and their relationship with their hair. This is a very specific topic and its being presented by Bechdel Test Fest, was this a conscious decision to create this strand or was this in response to the stories and films submitted this year?

Anna: I had consciously wanted to create more collaborations with some of the amazing film programmers, collectives and organisations who are championing women in film. Bechdel Test Fest have been doing amazing curatorial work for some years now, and it made absolute sense for us to collaborate in the frame of this year's Underwire. The event is entirely curated by them, and it's going to be a timely and fascinating conversation. I invited them to curate an event for Underwire long before the programme was finalized, and it seems to be kismet that there was also an abundance of films that explore the female body, women's and society's relationship to it - we're screening these films in a programme called The Body Beautiful.

Katie: Following on from the previous question, the involvement of the Bechdel Test Fest with Underwire makes perfect sense, as both the festival and the collective share similar values, is this a look to future collaborations with other programmers and collectives?

Anna: Absolutely! This year we're also collaborating with The Final Girls for a midnight screening of The Night of the Comet, and also online platforms Short of the Week and Vimeo to bring an international flavour to the Underwire programme.

Katie: It's exciting see topical events such as 'Art in the Time of #MeToo' and 'Damaged Female Character' comparing to 'strong female character', do you think with the current climate filmmakers are responding to the shifting culture around them or are the films more story and character driven across festival?

Anna: They are two very different programmes, with different thinking behind them: Art in the time of #Metoo is a curated programme of shorts that directly respond to the shifting climate and the conversations that have been opened up in the last years. Damaged Female Character is a programme of shorts from the official Underwire selection that all feature lead female characters that are complex and layered. I have always had issues with the trope of the "strong female character" and am much more interested in complexity than a forced sense of empowerment through presenting women as perfect beings. So the title of the programme is supposed to be a reference to that trope, and also to the somewhat negative trope of a "damaged" female character, which might be the more mainstream way of referring to more complicated characters.

Katie: Where do think and hope the festival will be in the coming years?

Anna: I hope the festival grows into a powerful platform that can really help the careers of women in the film crafts and elevate their profile. There are practical ambitions, like being able to spotlight talented makers, connecting them to each other, and creating a talent pool that industry decision makers or people hiring can use as a filter of quality. There are other, more hands on ideas that I would love to put in place with the right support! And creatively, I'd like Underwire to continue growing it's programming voice, respond creatively to live cultural conversations around women in film, unearth forgotten films, be able to show more new work, showcase international voices and foster those connections with UK talent.

Anna Bogutskaya
@annabdemented

Underwire Film Festival
16-25 November 2018
Various locations, London
underwirefestival.com