Second in our series of female director interviews this summer is the incredible Rita Osei, director of the upcoming feature film BLISS! which premiered at the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival in the Best of British strand. It went onto screen at Seville European Film Festival, and was nominated for the Europa Junior Award. Starring newcomer Freya Parks, and an ensemble cast that includes Montserrat Lombard, Lauren Johns, Natasha Haws, Gitte Wit, David Leon, Reece Noi, Joshua Osei and Lars Arentz-Hansen. Here she talks with us about gender equality in the industry and everything to do with her debut feature which is out this Friday!
Interview by Cagla Demirbas
Thinking both as a filmmaker and as a film-goer, are you optimistic about what female directors have accomplished so far?
Absolutely, Yes! There’s much to be optimistic about. Inspiring films. Great filmmakers. From Jane Campion to Ava Duvernay. Kathryn Bigelow to Miranda July, and so many more. I'm particularly optimistic about working toward an all inclusive comradery amongst women.
What were the turning points and milestones for the industry for you?
A fundamental turning point in recent times has been the acknowledgement that there are very low numbers of employed female directors. In particular at the higher budget end of filmmaking. #BAFTAsLucky225 highlighted that there are at least 225 female directors, with varied experience, available for work. Some Luckies are Emmy nominated, BAFTA winning and some are emerging new talent. There is a huge pool of talent here. With some Luckies wanting to focus on being part of an industry wide effort to create greater opportunities for female directors. The beginning of action to create opportunities, I believe, is essential to build on, to maintain a sustainable industry. Patty Jenkins’s film, Wonder Woman, being inspirational and so successful at the box office is a pivotal milestone.
During your journey in filmmaking as a woman, which misconceptions and myths about it turned out to be true?
I always saw myself as an artist and filmmaker, and until recent times. Fundamental issues, such as gender inequality. Racism and/or lack of inclusion, can mean being a filmmaker, who is also female and black, can come with a certain amount of responsibility. While I didn't have many preconceived ideas about what it would be like to be a filmmaker. I was aware of the following myths.
Myth: Gender imbalance has improved over time.
Fact: Statistically, there has been hardly any improvement in six decades.
Myth: Given the choice, women watch more movies directed by men.
Fact: Most women support female directors equally.
Did you ever feel being a woman of colour effected how people perceived your work?
Perhaps a pre conceived idea is devised about what the work should and will be. There have definitely been moments when surprise is expressed, in what I've directed in BLISS! I’m still figuring out what that means. (smiles). A recent article in *The Guardian stated: "Only 3% of the film production workforce is from a minority ethnic background, compared with 12.5% nationally." The reasons are complex, and do need to be overcome. Shooting in the north east of England, our experience was that there is an obvious shortage of local crew from minority ethnic backgrounds. The numbers for inclusive representation are currently better on screen. Behind the scenes there is much work to be done.
Can you tell us more about your latest project "Bliss!"? It's your first feature film!
12 years in the making, BLISS! is a modern day rites-of-passage adventure, set between South Shields, U.K. and Norway. Tasha, 16, cruelly discovers that her mum’s partner is not in fact her real father. Using inner strength she never knew she had, she rides the waves aboard a large ferry destined for Norway. Naively believing that she can track down her unknown "Viking" father. I'm thrilled that our crew included women in roles such as Best Boy, or Best Girl, as it says on our credits. Composer and 1st AC. We were fortunate to bond quickly as a unit on set. I believe having a gender balanced set created that environment. For me personally, the main differences in the production stages of shorts and features, were the length of time/number of days to shoot and fees.
Bliss! is an adaptation of Writer's Guild Award Winning Writer Alex Ferguson's play of the same title. How did you first hear about the play and decided to adapt it? According to you, what are the the essentials in adapting a work into the seventh art?
I was approached and asked to produce a filmed replica of the play, an offer I turned down. Instead proposing that the development of the play into a screenplay suitable for the big screen, was something I did want to do. I then raised funds, from Northern Film & Media, for the initial development process, back in 2003. Having a clear vision. Seeing significant seeds/ideas for the film visually unfolding in your imagination, as soon as on the first read of the source material. This, for me personally, is essential.
Do you have any advice for aspiring female filmmakers?
Tell a story that only you can tell. Believe in your own abilities to do this. Spend copious amounts of time building the right support network of artists to help you to achieve this. It's as important as the fundamental blueprint that is the screenplay.
If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of film would you make?
In my imagination there is no budget. So to a certain extent I approach all stories as if I have an unlimited budget. Once it's written, I work out what we can make happen financially.
Can you give us some clues about the upcoming projects you're working on?
I’m developing stories that are primarily about the dreams of women. WARRIOR QUEEN is the story of “The last war led by an African Queen”. It focuses on Nana Yaa Asantewaa’s battle to protect the legacy of the Asante Kingdom in Ghana, during the early 1900’s. It is an ambitious project in development.
BLISS! opens on July 21st at The Customs House in South Shields. There are additional screenings upcoming with Our Screen. Check out the trailer below! You can also visit the films website here: www.blissthemovie.co.uk