Sunderland Shorts: Female Directors - Documentary

In the lead up to the Sunderland Short Film Festival where our film Foxhole will be screened, we're highlighting the other female film directors whose work will be at the event. In this article we speak to two of the directors who will be showing their documentary films. 

Aimie Vallat, director of Little Rebel, is from Washington in the U.S but now lives and works in Seattle. She's been directing films under her production company Reel Witness since 2009. Whereas Ruby Blake, director of Pigeongrove, is from Bradford, Yorkshire but is now a Film and TV Production student at Northumbria University in Newcastle where she started directing films last year.

Here they speak to us about their films, the upcoming festival and their favourite female directors.

What made you want to tell this story?

Aimie: In January 2017 our US President issued a Muslim Travel Ban and I was so outraged by this action that I felt compelled to create a film that celebrated our refugee and asylum community. I wanted to share the story of someone who was contributing to our community through their wisdom and gifts and who also just happened to be Muslim. 

Ruby: When I was young I attended the Skinningrove bonfire with my grandparents. When the opportunity arose to make a documentary with my university, it seemed like the perfect event.
I felt the story needed to be told because it’s a great example of upholding positive British traditions. Additionally, the contrast between the secluded village of Skinningrove and the incredible event that’s held there really shows how a community can create something spectacular. So, to document that process really was a great opportunity.

Still from Pigeongrove

Still from Pigeongrove

What was your biggest obstacle during the making of the film?

Ruby; As is probably the case for most documentaries, finding a clear narrative wasn’t easy. Every time we visited Skinningrove we didn’t know who we would meet, or what would happen. There was a huge element of uncertainty when filming so we had to approach each day with a very opportunistic attitude. But, even though this was the biggest obstacle, it was also a great advantage as it allowed us to be creative throughout the process. 
Luckily, access wasn’t difficult because the town were so welcoming and enthusiastic! As you can tell from the documentary, they’re all very proud of what the village creates every year, and so it’s no surprise they want to share that.

Aimie: Our biggest obstacle in creating Little Rebel was actually keeping it to the short documentary length of around 10 minutes. Istaou is a phenomenal woman and we had too much content about her story that we couldn't add in the time we had allowed for the film. We have actually continued to film her story since we finished the short film and are planning a longer format piece about her in the future. We will continue to document her journey to get the first Disability Act passed in her home country of The Gambia as well as her continued success to advocate on behalf of the disabled, women and other asylee's.

Will you be attending the festival in Sunderland?

Aimie: I won't be able to attend this years festival as I am in production on another short documentary about another brave and inspiring refugee in our Seattle community.

Ruby: Yes, all five of our crew will be attending. I’m most excited to watch the other films in the festival and meet their creators. But I can’t say I’m not excited to see how our film, Pigeongrove, is received, hopefully the audience enjoys it and gives us some honest feedback.

Behind the scenes of Little Rebel

Behind the scenes of Little Rebel

How have you found the process of sending your film to festivals?

Ruby: So far, good. We’re hoping to submit to more festivals later in the year. The success of being accepted into Sunderland Short Film Festival was more than we had anticipated! As you can imagine it’s a surprising but great opportunity for five second year students.

Aimie: I have used Film Freeway and WithoutABox to submit to festivals and have found the process pretty straight forward. I am looking forward to deepening our scope of festival entries with our next film.

Who is your favourite female film director at the moment?

Aimie: I have a few different directors that I like so not one favorite. I really admire the depth of exploration and research in Laura Poitras documentary work.  For narrative directors, I really like Susanne Bier, the Danish director.  I also was first inspired to create my initial short documentary, Present Moment, by the Polish director Aneta Kopacz in her film, Joanna. Her evocative use of nature with these spare and elegant shots contrasted beautifully with her personal story of illness. Lastly, we are also blessed here in Seattle to have three very strong narrative directors, Megan Griffiths, Lynn Shelton and SJ Chiro, who have all made fantastic independent films with strong female leads. I love their work!

Ruby: I feel there are many women across the film industry who inspire me. However, if I was going to pick a favourite it would have to be the editor, Sally Menke. Her work on Quentin Tarantino’s films is so varied yet so consistently well done.

Aimie and Ruby's films will be screened on Friday 4th May, for tickets and more information go to the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival

You can follow the directors on their social media accounts below

Aimie: Personal Instagram / Film Instagram

Ruby: Instagram / Youtube