Q&A with Gemma Mitchell, Co-founder of Underwire Festival for Women

International Women’s Day globally recognises the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. To celebrate this extraordinary day, which takes place on 8 March, we speak to Gemma Mitchell, co-founder of Underwire Festival. Through a unique programme of events and screenings showcasing the innovative output of female film creatives from across the UK, Underwire has established itself as an important part of the short film circuit. Set-up in 2010 by Mitchell and Gabriella Apicella, the festival is a dedicated platform for women working across a range of crafts, from director to cinematographer; screenwriter to editor.

ASFF: Underwire Festival celebrates short films by women. What inspired you to launch a festival for women?
GM: Two key concerns collided for Gabriella and I in the founding of Underwire back in 2010. Firstly, the undeniable truth that women’s voices are underrepresented in cinema culture and a strong belief that more women behind the camera, regardless of their role on the project, leads to more diverse voices on screen. Secondly, we both come from craft – Gabriella is a screenwriter and I am a producer, and we both know what it feels like when you’ve put in all your blood, sweat and tears for a film project to have film festivals only spotlight directors when it came to awards and credit! These two issues came together in our ambition to found a film festival that both supported women in the industry and to shine a spotlight on creative people doing staggeringly brilliant work across all the crafts involved in filmmaking.

ASFF: Can you talk about the overall aims of the festival?
GM: To showcase remarkable female talent working across the different crafts of filmmaking and provide opportunities for that talent to progress in their career, and to create a network of creative individuals with a warm and welcoming arena to celebrate other peoples work and enjoy meeting new collaborators.

ASFF: How has Underwire grown since its inception in 2010?
GM: Gosh, well we started in a small room above a pub so we’ve come quite a long way. We have certainly seen growing audience numbers and over the years we’ve added more and more programmes, enjoying working with a diverse range of partners from LOCO Comedy Film Festival to CoppaFeel, from the Wellcome Trust to BAFTA. For me, what is most exciting is watching our list of Alumni grow and to see creative connections made at the festival come to fruition. In fact, Orlando Von Einsiedel is an Underwire Alunmi from our first year, so technically we’ve seen one of our Underwire team make it all the way to the Oscars!

ASFF: What were your best moments and top films from last year’s festival?
GM: This year was a very special year for us in that we hosted an Underwire Alumnae reunion which allowed us to catch up with filmmakers from previous festivals and hear about what they’d been working on. Our Friday night LiveWire event, in partnership with LOCO, was another sell-out – it’s such a fun night. We had Ellen Tejle, founder of the A-Rate join us all the way from Sweden for our Girls on Film event. Moment to Move by Georgia Parris was a particular favourite of mine this year, winning in the XX Category for its inspiring depiction of an older woman reclaiming her sense of self. Oh, there’s so many good films it feels wrong to name only a few! We were delighted for the team behind The Bigger Picture, winning with us in the Best Under-25 category before going on to win the Best Short Animated Film at BAFTA and being Oscar nominated.

ASFF: In your opinion, why are festivals important to the short film industry?
GM: I believe that festivals are important to the short film industry because really what is a film without an audience? There are not many platforms out there in the UK supporting the exhibition of short films and so festivals are vital to the life of a project. Even more vital is somewhere to foster that sense of community. Filmmaking is collaborative but once the shoot is over it can be pretty isolating for the editor still awake at 2am trying to get something finished. Festivals deliver a space for celebration and a coming together of a community, creating the creative relationships of the future.

ASFF: How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day this year?
GM: By the best way we know how – opening for 2015 film submissions! We open our submissions this weekend and I can’t wait to start the screening process for this year’s festival.

To find out more about Underwire Festival, visit www.underwirefestival.com.

Additional details on International Women’s Day can be found at www.internationalwomensday.com.

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1. Still from Georgia Parris’ Moment to Move.