Designed to champion and spotlight films by women despite the closure of cinemas, the Birds’ Eye View’s Reclaim The Frame team have recalibrated their offering to support new digital and home entertainment releases. Bird’s Eye View’s director-at large Mia Bays explains how.
Humanity is really feeling its divisions and its solidarities right now and it makes activists and film allies like Birds’ Eye View really consider our positions, our privilege and why and how we work. For the better. Since we set up the National Lottery-funded #ReclaimTheFrame mission in May 2018, we’ve been focused on spotlighting films by women wherever they are shown, because we are ‘platform agnostic’; our intention to “bring ever-greater audiences to films by women” means that wherever they are seen, we are happy. But largely, we are theatrically led. So, when our beloved cinemas were forced to close due to the pandemic from mid-March, we moved fast to recalibrate and reframe our promotional and event structure for the online space.
I’m not sure why we moved so fast – I suspect it was because we were in the midst of touring Misbehaviour and Toni Morrison: Pieces I Am, and we’d just held a buzzy preview of Rocks with Sarah Gavron and Anu Henriques at Everyman Broadgate when everything shut down. So we channelled the despair at being stopped in our tracks into offering something virtually instead. We felt it was essential to do something. To keep moving, when EVERYTHING had stopped.
The right tools for the right job
Timing was on our side – we had just signed a new deal with the BFI Audience Fund for another two years of support so it has meant we haven’t had to furlough anyone and are operating at our usual capacity. We’ve also been steered by Substance, our digital agency, on how best to work virtually – what platforms are best for events, how to reach the biggest audiences, how to crosspost on partners pages for maximum impact etc. We have used the privilege this affords and resources we can still access to keep up a steady offering of activities to our influencer network (1800 members in 12 cities) and to our 15 cinema partners and their audiences in this difficult time.
The first event we did was around Mother’s Day as we were supposed to be doing an event at the Rio Cinema in London N1 which got cancelled 4 days before, and so we scrambled to find something thematically right to do online instead – finding by chance Ngozi Onwurah’s spectacular and moving 1990s film The Body Beautiful on BFI Player, tracking her down in LA via Facebook and hosting an event with about 50 people on Zoom with just a few days to organise/promote. It was wonderful. Very special. A real balm, we were all still in shock.
It was essential to support Misbehaviour more, as its release was severely impacted – so we did an online with director Philippa Lowthorpe and two the real Women’s Libbers on whom the story was based. A career highlight for me was our conversation with feminist film Theorist Laura Mulvey plus and an in-depth interview with Lynn Shelton – which, sadly, ended up being one of her last. We still cannot believe Lynn died so suddenly and unexpectedly. We are still so shaken by her untimely death and loss to the world and to cinema.
We’ve got a stack of events around Mark Cousins’ fourteen-hour documentary: Women Make Film series, which will include live performance interventions from Drag King, Cesar Jently, who joined us on our Portrait of a Lady on Fire tour. Cousins’ documentary is a real gift for us, and we are doing a lot around it because it’s so essential to the work we do. We will speak to Nisha Ganatra soon about her film THE HIGH NOTE and we’ve a lot more to follow.
Adapting and re-fining
We are finessing what we offer online constantly, and considering how the teachings can be taken into the physical space too – like we know we will not always need special guests in the room to do great events on the big screen, we can do much more virtually. This is both good for the environment, more cost effective, and it also means that those who have limited access to cinemas can participate more, which is essential to us. I think this situation is teaching us to take even more of a central co-ordinating / facilitation role. We are passionate about bringing cinemas into the revenue stream of the digital distribution space too – we are working on a virtual theatrical with a 50/50 revenue share with cinemas on a new film called Clemency – which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2019 and is knockout. We will announce that soon: it is an exciting proposition commercially and culturally. Props to Eve Gabereau at Modern Films and Kino Lorber in the U.S for pioneering this model, we are right behind you.
We will find fresh ways to collaborate and connect, to get ourselves and our allies through the enormous economic, practical and emotional challenges ahead. Once everything opens fully, there is going to be a huge outpouring of grief – this must be a unifying force to build a new world with. It is teaching us what matters and what does not. Let us all learn the lessons from this. Something we cannot ignore about the pandemic is the glaring inequalities of who is suffering the most. Film represents the world, as we know, and so although we are not doing frontline work, art and film still play an important role in reflecting the world back at us, and in challenging us, educating us, taking us on emotional and metaphysical journeys when actual ones are impossible. It is incumbent on organisations like ours to keep up the work challenging the status quo and the dominant narratives through thick and thin, and not being scared of difficult conversations nor ever forgetting that we must work to ensure our spaces and presentations are as intersectional as possible. We look forward to finding more collaborators and holding the line together. Films by women are for everyone and everyone is welcome.
Mia Bays is an Oscar-winning film producer (Six Shooter, 2005 – Martin McDonagh) and Carl Foreman BAFTA nominee (Scott Walker – 30th Century Man), a distribution and exhibition specialist and now director-at-large of Birds’ Eye View, the charity which has been celebrating the work of women filmmakers and tackling gender inequality in film since 2003. They spotlight new and classic films created by women through the BFI-Audience-Fund National Lottery backed #ReclaimTheFrame project, and support women working in film through advocacy, mentoring and events. BEV have donated their fee for writing this to www.resourcingracialjustice.org