Sunderland Shorts: Female Directors - Sci-Fi/Horror/Experimental

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 three of the directors who will be showing their films in the Sci-Fi, Horror and Experimental categories.

Shayna Connelly, director of Quiver, is from Chicago, USA and has been directing films for many years. Co-directing team Lucie Rigby and Elsa Hunter-Weston, behind the short Adam.exe, are both from Liverpool and made their film through Random Acts North. Bella Spencer, director of Staccato, is from Newcastle and has been directing since she was 13 years of age.

Here they speak to us about their films, rejection from festivals and their favourite female film directors.


Bella: I wanted to create a film that removed the horror associated with school-science videos to convey the beauty and complexity of the brain to a broad audience. I had recently read about Ian Curtis’ experience with epilepsy and depression, and hoped that use of the iconic figure would remove the stigma of science.

Lucie: With Adam.Exe, we wanted to create a very visual and visceral exploration of the value of human life and the influence of an omnipresent media and the rising domination of technology on said value. In the end Adam.exe became a culmination of Elsa and I's shared frustrations at mostly politics, the media and the way that they can (and do) influence society. At the time we were particularly influenced by the refugee crisis as we felt that the media and certain politicians were inhumanely dehumanising these people.

Shayna: My work explores the ways in which we are haunted and hauntings by grief feature prominently in my prior films. Desire is often the first feeling strong enough to penetrate the haze grief builds around us. I became obsessed with the idea that the object of desire could be the very thing that haunts us. 

Still from Adam.exe

Still from Adam.exe


Lucie: Okay so Elsa told me that *I* was the biggest obstacle in making this film. Personally I guess the hardest thing was communication with our producers. As we made Adam.Exe through the North Random Act's project, after our initial meetings with the producers, it was difficult to communicate our intentions and morph them into reality through simply email and phone correspondence. It was a case of turning up on the day to direct and hoping everything was perfect. Of course, no film can truly be exactly everything you envisioned in the writing stage, but we were definitely pleased with what we had on the day of filming and the final product.

Shayna: This is the largest and most complicated production I've directed. We built sets, created alternate worlds and I worked with VFX for the first time. Coming from a more experimental, DIY workflow made the scale and scope of this production challenging, but also fun.

Bella: Time and distance. The animators and sound designer were based in Gateshead, while I was living on the other side of the border, in Edinburgh. I was working a 9-5 in a research position and I stole every second between experiments to send emails back and forth. Luckily for me the crew were amazing and, by some miracle, managed to convert my science mumbo-jumbo into beautiful graphics and powerful audio.

Still from Staccato

Still from Staccato


Shayna: Yes! I'll be at the entire festival. My favorite things about festivals are meeting other directors, seeing new work and getting to talk about the film. 

Bella: Sadly not, I am in the last year of my neuroscience degree and I am chained to the library. 

Lucie: Yes! The last film festival I went to was Encounters in Bristol and I met a ton of people there who were all majorly passionate about film so I'm definitely looking forward to meeting new people. Also we're both excited as hell to see Adam.Exe screened for the first time at a festival


Bella: Exciting but frustrating! You have to be tactical and dedicated. Keep your eyes peeled for free festivals. Most festivals charge a pretty penny, so research is key. Hunt for those that suit your film the most, to give yourself the best chance of being accepted. 

Shayna: It's important to research places where your film might be a good fit. It's important for filmmakers to consider what they want from a festival, too. 

Lucie: One word: hard. You have to have a lot of patience and prepare for a lot of rejection, but it's so worth it.

Still from Quiver

Still from Quiver


Shayna: Chantal Akerman is my all-time favorite filmmaker, though Lynne Ramsay and Lucrecia Martel are tied for favorite living filmmaker and I'm eager to see their most recent films. 

Bella: A tricky question, I am a big fan of Greta Gerwig and Beeban Kidron. But, I think my FAVOURITE female director is yet to come, and only when there is equality in the film industry will she be able to rise.  

Elsa: Sofia Coppola, because she’s so good and is one of those rare directors who you watch and it makes you think ‘what’s the point of making films because they’ll never be as good as this’. I love them. Also loved lady bird so I have a feeling Greta Gerwig will be up there soon enough.

Lucie: Completely agree with Sofia Coppola, the first time I watched The Virgin Suicides was honestly a religious experience. I think I based my life 14-17 completely off of that film. Andrea Arnold is also absolutely incredible, American Honey was a masterpiece of emotion.

Shayna, Lucie, Elsa and Bella's films will be screened on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th May, for tickets and more information go to the Sunderland Shorts Film Festival website.

You can follow the directors on social media, using the links below.

Bella - Instagram

Lucie - Instagram / Vimeo

Shayna - Website / Instagram