Female Directors Season: Jacqueline Pepall

Kickstarting our season of interviews with female film directors, we spoke with Jacqueline Pepall. When she's not directing fiction and commercials with leading female roles, she's running things at Great Lake Films, her award winning production company. Here she talks to us about women in film, building a team and problems in advertising.

Interview by Cagla Demirbas

Your films mostly revolve around uncommon female heroes. Where do you draw inspiration from for these characters?

I always want to tell stories about characters who feel honest and true, so inspiration often comes from the women in my life. Lately I’ve found myself trying to create the type of characters or heroes really that I would have wanted to see as a teenage girl. In my film Ophelia’s End, for example, I wanted to re-imagine the women of Hamlet as daring and brave. In a way Ophelia’s End was a gift to my teenage self.

You carry your distinctive style with strong female leads into your commercial work. What are your opinions about the portrayal of women in advertising?

We’re just starting to see some positive changes in how women and women's bodies are represented in this space, but there’s certainly a long way to go. I’d love to be part of a movement to push this change forward. While I’ve never experienced any overt sexism, there are some systemic challenges that need to be overcome. For example, we need to see more women directing commercial content that isn’t necessarily directed at women. All the commercial work I’ve done has been for products aimed at women.

Wishing

Wishing

What were the turning points and milestones for you in the industry?

It took me quite a long time to introduce myself as a director. After I realised I wanted to direct, I couldn’t quite find the courage to say it out loud, and later, after I started directing full-time, I still had trouble ‘owning’ it as my occupation. Overcoming this was a great milestone. 

A second turning point for me occurred when I found a team (Producer, DOP, Production Designer, Editor) that I loved to work with. With a great team in place I suddenly felt I could tackle any subject matter, for example a Shakespearian period drama, that I never would have had the courage to attempt without these trusted collaborators and friends. 

If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of film would you make?

A feminist WWII epic. Specifically, I’d love to adapt my husband’s novel What the Raven Brings - it’s about the female pilots in the ATA during WWII, and the myriad obstacles they had to overcome in order to fly.

Then Dance

Then Dance

Thinking both as a filmmaker and as a film-goer, are you optimistic about what female directors have accomplished so far? 

I’m very optimistic about the film industry at the moment. There is a lot of discussion surrounding the need for more female filmmakers and how the industry can change to accommodate women over the course of their careers. The organisation Raising Films is doing great work in this space. Perhaps in a few years every film set will have a crèche.

At the risk of sounding a bit cliche, as a film-goer, I was incredibly inspired by Wonder Woman - it’s amazing how revolutionary it felt to have a blockbuster style film with a true female hero and one who wasn’t objectified. We need more films like that. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring female filmmakers? 

You have to find a way to start making your own films. Often this means finding a team of friends you can work with,  aspiring producers, DOPs, actors. It wasn’t until I found a gang I could make films with that I started to feel comfortable calling myself a director. Even then, it took a little while for me to start showing people my films

Ophelia's End

Ophelia's End

What's your next project?

I’m just about to start pre-production on a project with two of my favourite actors Taylor Napier and Lucy Hawkins, written by the amazing Rafe Judkins. It’s certainly the darkest project I’ve ever directed, which is both scary and exciting. 

You can view all of Jacqueline's work at her website here.