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Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.
Stories, Weekly Interviews, things to see and footnotes.

November 5, 2018


La Femme 25 minute read

Emily Mortimer
Fred Armisen (on right) and Andrew Logan
Leith Clark and Astrid Hatt
Tabitha Denholm (on left) and Leith Clark
Lily Cole
Natasha Lyonne
Location at Port Eliot Festival
Nimco Ali
During one of the talks at the event
Lorna Tucker
Desiree Akhavan
Emma Forrest
Alison Owen and Dawn French (seated)

It takes four and a half hours by train to get from London to the parish of St Germans in Cornwall. It’s a winding route down to the coast—ever better, ever bigger views of sea and horizon line visible from the windows as each hour rolls by. The destination? Port Eliot Festival, where the salt swell of estuary runs along one edge of the site and revellers have woods to dance in, hundreds of talks and performances to choose from, and a Norman church as one of the music venues.

Our specific destination is the Cinematheque Tent: reached by leaving the train station, meandering across the village and through the festival gates, then taking a sharp left via the arch cut into the tall, green hedge. There, you’ll find a tent decked out in pink velvet and colourful sprays of fake flowers...

This year Violet created, curated and hosted a special space at Port Eliot we called Cinematheque - partnering with our friends Women under the Influence (WUTI) - a female lead platform supporting female filmmakers.

All of the speakers and films were handpicked by our editor Leith Clark and WUTI’s Tabitha Denholm. From Natasha Lyonne discussing the impressive span of her career to Desiree Akhavan outlining the film she’d love to make but never could; to the incredible artist Alex Prager and her short film for Hermès to Emily Mortimer screening a short film focused on a particularly extraordinary narrative of kindness.

Sometimes storm-lashed, sometimes sun-lit, we weathered unpredictable skies while our speakers tackled desire, storytelling, activism, queerness, ambition, belonging (and not belonging), creative drive, clothes, politics, the refugee crisis, the varied trials, thrills and practicalities of navigating the film industry, and so much more…

Here, an assortment of our speakers talk to Violet about movies, books, work, and their time at the festival.

Please listen to the podcasts, watch the films, and experience Cinematheque here with us.

Rosalind Jana

Interview Rosalind Jana

Photography Susannah Baker-Smith

Entrepreneur, filmmaker and model Lily Cole came together with social activist Nimco Ali for the screening of two short films. Cole’s film Lights in Dark Places focused on one Greek island’s response to the refugee crisis, while a clip from Jaha’s Promise captured the incredible efforts and achievements of Gambian anti-FGM activist Jaha Dukureh. Their discussion with Tabitha Denholm ranged over the difficult path to progress, practical ways of responding to crises, the capacity of film to shift attitudes, and the ways in which we should all push for change.

RYour short film you made with Vice has just been screened. Could you explain to those who might not have seen it what it’s about?

LThe film is mostly about the volunteer grass-roots response to the refugee crisis on the island of Samos.

And what was it like as a process, to make it?

I went with my friend Chris Sharp and my partner Kwame, and the three of us went for a few days. Chris had volunteered a lot over the last few years in Samos and was quite well-connected in the volunteer network there. So we set up interviews with different people who’ve been really involved in the crisis. Some of them were locals, living on the island and responding to it, and then other international people who’ve flown in to help.

And do you feel like there are any other particular stories that you want to pursue in the future? Places or narratives that you’re looking towards?

I just made a fiction film this year, which is going to be playing at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, [England,] screening from the beginning of August… And I really, really love that process of being in control, from the greater perspective of the imagery. This Samos film was more of a guerrilla form of filmmaking. I wasn’t looking at it as an art project. I was looking at it as a documentary to try to help tell some of these peoples’ stories. In the future there might be other documentary stuff we do—like, my partner just started working on a film looking at the biggest refugee encampment in the world, which is in Africa, and I may help him with that. Otherwise, I’m more interested in features.

I actually want to talk about the Brontë film, which sounds wonderful—especially in interrogating [Wuthering Heights character] Heathcliff and the particular narratives surrounding him, and how we might first encounter them as teenagers…

The film isn’t really focused on that aspect. It’s more focused on him as a baby—the origin story. To research it, we looked at… foundling stories of families from the 18th and 19th centuries. We’re telling true stories of women who gave up their children.

And is Emily Brontë someone who was an important writer to you, or are there other female writers you’ve been influenced by?

I don’t tend, to be honest, to think of female writers versus male writers. There are lots of writers that are important to me. Some of them are female and some of them are male.

RNimco, what was your first encounter with Violet?

NSo my first encounter with Violet was via Leith. I met her through the Women’s Equality Party [of the UK], and I didn’t have any idea that she ran this amazing magazine, which is so beautiful… and powerful and filled with so many incredible women’s stories. So that’s how I really got connected.

Fantastic. Could you give a brief overview of this film that you’ve been working on?

I basically didn’t work on it. I just helped because I knew Jaha [Dukureh]. I think film is a really powerful tool to use in terms of having a conversation around positive change and FGM globally. It’s called Jaha’s Promise. Essentially, it’s her promise to her unborn sister—and to her daughter as well—to say that they won’t be cut. It was initially meant to be called ‘The Road of the Cleric’… but I think that very significant point of a year and a half into her journey, her sister was born. Her [then] having a conversation with her father showed the power of real change; so, yeah, it’s now called Jaha’s Promise.

And can you talk further about film being such a useful way to very quickly bring across a message?

Yeah, it’s a great one. I think it’s a very powerful way of documenting history… We constantly reinvent things, and especially if women have done it, it’s easier for somebody else—a man—to say it louder and say it bigger… There’s a lot of things that have been done by women but claimed by men, and this thing was the fact that it was Jaha. It was Jaha’s conversation. It was Jaha’s journey to the Gambia that really changed the law about FGM. So this film catches that and celebrates her as an activist.

And can you tell me a bit more about your current aims and aspirations? Is it right you said that you wanted to see FGM eradicated by 2030?

Yes. Ended by 2030. I’m not so sure about reality. Progress is not inevitable, but it’s possible. We have to keep pushing, and if you think that because great work has been done like in Gambia and other places… Then what happens is other places like Sudan and Egypt start to go backwards. It’s really about keeping that conversation running. We haven’t ended FGM. We have been successful with a lot of stuff, but we haven’t ended it.

I think film is a really powerful tool to use in terms of having a conversation around positive change and FGM [female genital mutilation] globally. It’s called Jaha’s Promise. Essentially, it’s her promise to her unborn sister—and to her daughter as well—to say that they won’t be cut.

Nimco Ali

And then on a more broad note, we’re talking at the festival about female creators, female-led films…  Do you have any kind of particular female authors or writers that you admire?

So in my darkest times, Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman… just really saved me. I think when women write about trauma in such a relatable way, that’s something where I’d always be like, ‘I admire you’, because I’ve always used humour to diffuse a whole other issue.

Yes. On stage, you talked about ways that the rest of us can contribute to change. What can we do beyond watching and shouting about the film?

Give more to women-led actions. I think that’s the key thing. These movements are African-led, and African women-led. The more we give to them, then the more we’re able to achieve and really do things on a global level. So actually, giving them the best equipment, and funding women, is something that I’m really passionate about.

Finally, is there anything else here at Port Eliot that you’re particularly looking forward to?

I’m really excited about seeing the Vivienne Westwood film. She’s an incredible individual—someone that [commands] a lot of respect…

Lorna Tucker is having a bumper 2018. Her documentary Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist following the life, legacy and social action of legendary fashion figure Vivienne Westwood came out earlier this year, while Amá—soon to be released—uncovers the dark story of North America’s state-sanctioned enforced sterilisation of Native American women. On stage, she discussed the ethics and mechanics of documentary-making, while here she talks to Violet about Westwood, defiant women, and optimism for the film industry.

RWhat did you want to achieve with your Vivienne Westwood documentary?

LI met Vivienne in 2008 because I was working in the music industry, making on-tour videos and shooting bands. The first time I filmed her that day, we got talking and she really blew my mind with her activism—with what she was trying to do and how she was trying to incorporate it into her fashion. And she also gave me these tidbits about her life that were inspiring to me at the time because I didn’t come from education—I left school very young, I was a single mum, I had no money. And she gave me this little pep talk… I just found her—as a woman who was older—so inspiring and so sexy… Us women, we get to a certain age and we’re meant to disappear, we’re not supposed to be powerful… But what I found more inspiring was this constant struggle she’d been through over many years to get to the top. I guess when I started making the film, what I was trying to blow out of the water was that women can be sexy when they’re older, they can be a contradiction, they can be powerful, they can be business owners—it might just take twice as long to get there, and you might have to fight twice as long to stay there… She had these stories that I felt could cross countries, cross boundaries, and explore the truth of how difficult it is to get from A to B—how long that can take... But also, at her age, she still works seven days a week trying to make her company into what she’s wanted… I felt we needed a woman hero. A super hero. Not like, ‘she got bitten by a spider and next day she’s Spider Man’. No—she really, really wanted something and so she worked for a very long time defiantly, against all odds, against people publically humiliating her, and no one giving her money. But she believed in herself and she got there. I think that’s what I wanted to say, and had to figure out a way of saying it.

And how do you feel about the film industry at the moment? Does it feel like things are changing at all?

What I find really amazing is that ten years ago when I was trying to get funding for another film, which I then had to put on the shelf… I remember going into meetings and people being like, ‘You know what? We’re going to have to pair you up with a male co-director because you’re young and you’ve got a child, and what if your kid gets ill and you need to shoot?’ And I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been filming with a baby strapped to me for two years on tour buses. I can do this!’ So there was a lot of the pressure. The only way they’d feel comfortable having me as a director, because I hadn’t been to film school, was if I had a male co-director… And I remember being so frustrated. I’d be so angry. Whereas now, I think I’ve made it clear via any of the press I’ve done off the back of Westwood—and I’m having to start doing it now again for Amá—that no one can ever fucking say that again, because I will tell the whole world…

I’ve seen this change happen [since then], and I’m meeting so many other incredible women that love film and are really pushing the boundaries. That was the most amazing process for me—finally having these feature films come out and going to film festivals… and you find your tribe. You’re in a room with hundreds of film-makers and there’s three of them that you’re just drawn to. Film-makers like Sandi Tan, who did Shirkers. Me and her have had many whisky drinking sessions now… We’re like sisters... She’s like ten years older than me but she’s so badass... That’s really exciting. Meeting all of these amazing female film-makers who are younger, older. And I feel like we’re about to have this new generation. Like, every 20 years, there’s an explosion onto a scene of art, of music and film, and just in this last six months… I’ve just met the most incredible women doing the most incredible things, and I feel like something special is happening… Things are fucking changing, and all of these women have been bubbling under, ready to go, and now we’re getting the chance.

I’m meeting so many other incredible women that love film and are really pushing the boundaries. That was the most amazing process for me—finally having these feature films come out and going to film festivals… and you find your tribe.

Lorna Tucker

Are there any other women working in the film world who you really admire?

What I really love is when you watch a film and it really strikes you that, wow, this really breaks public opinion—or did at the time—about what a woman film-maker would make… For example, when I saw Mary Harron did American Psycho, I remember going, ‘God, that was made by a woman—but it’s so violent and aggressive’—but then you’re like, ‘Now I understand.’ Also, Kathryn Bigelow, when she did Hurt Locker. It’s this male, macho subject: war. But when you take a female perspective on it, it’s the delicacies behind war. I think that’s what women do best. I’m not saying we do it better than men… I love Sofia Coppola. There is this beautiful female gaze there about energy, about growing up, and I think she’s really mastered that. The most inspiring female film-makers to me are people like Lynne Ramsay who just embodies social situations and realism… and Andrea Arnold as well. They’ve really influenced my writing a lot and the films I’ll be making that are fictional, because I went through this very extreme life, and everything I’m writing now, whether it’s a feature or a short, whether it’s about a millionaire or a homeless person, it’s still bringing the same experiences I’ve had… And I think that’s what those guys have done so well.

What Judy Blume talked about was shit my parents and friends were not talking to me about. It was really honest and it was really true to the experience of being a young girl.

Desiree Akhavan

Film-maker, director, writer and producer Desiree Akhavan is currently in a whirl of projects. With her film The Miseducation of Cameron Post—starring Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenager sent to a gay conversion therapy centre—winning the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama in January, and her TV series The Bisexual coming to Channel 4 later this year, it’s an exciting—if exhausting—time. Talking on stage with Hanna Hanra about cinema, sexuality, her 2014 debut film Appropriate Behavior, and whether moving to London has changed how she works, we caught up with her later that day to ask about coming-of-age narratives and whether she was feeling festival appropriate…

RSo. Port Eliot. How’s your day been?

DUh, cold! Surprisingly cold. I did not pack accordingly. I never know how to do a festival. I feel like I am not made for this life.

Yeah. I mean, white trainers is an audacious choice…

No! It was stupid. I came straight from the editing room. So, I’m ill-prepared in every way. Mentally. Physically. Clothing-wise.

So let’s discuss your latest film. One of the things that really struck me about what you said on stage earlier while discussing making The Miseducation of Cameron Post is how you said you wanted to make a teen coming-of-age movie. But it seems like all of your projects seem to be about people in totally transitional points, or coming of age in different ways… Even the TV series [The Bisexual].

Yes, for sure… I guess they’ve just been the most interesting dramatic arcs at this moment in time. I think very little gravity is given to women’s stories and stories of… being honest. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Coming of age doesn’t necessarily mean being a teenager. I love teen films and that’s where Cameron Post came from. But with The Bisexual, it’s when this woman allows herself to indulge her sexual curiosity—and that doesn’t happen until her thirties.

Tell me more about Cameron Post. Is it right that the book was sent to you?

Yeah. I got the book just as an inspiration point. I wanted to write an adult novel, and a publisher sent it to me. I really loved it. It just felt so true to what it was to grow up… And it was about this girl who lost her parents, who was raised on film and television, and was then caught sleeping with her best friend and sent to a gay conversion therapy centre. It was my girlfriend at the time who said, ‘This would make such a good movie. You have to make this movie.’ And I was like, ‘Oh… It’s way too challenging.’ But we played that game of, ‘Okay, if it was a movie, what would you focus on?’ And I was like, ‘You know, I would only focus on her time at God’s Promise.’ I think the other half of the book is my personal favourite part, but it made more sense to me dramatically to have it take place at God’s Promise—the gay conversion therapy centre—because it was a condensed period of time. It’s such a balancing act, adapting someone else’s work. I think you need to respect the medium you’re in. Cinema’s so different from literature. So it was about going, okay I have 90 minutes of someone’s time, I want to tell one story. It was about boiling down—what in the book did I want to communicate? What did I love about the book that I felt needed to be on screen? And it wasn’t the actual story—it was the tone. I co-wrote it with Cecilia [Frugiuele] and we both kept looking at what it was that we thought could communicate well, and it was that dance between comedy and tragedy: that moment when you realise the adults in your life don’t know what you’re talking about and that there’s no right or wrong—just the tensions and the grey between—and that every person, for themselves, needs to determine what’s right and wrong. And that something prescriptive like religion isn’t necessarily going to answer your questions. Just the same way that if you’re not religious, following exactly what your parents tell is just not necessarily what’s right for you… And about going, ‘Where’s your moral compass?’

What about the creators who’ve been important to you? Are there any female book-writers you love?

Mmm, well Emily Danforth who wrote The Miseducation of Cameron Post. And right now? Elena Ferrante.

I still need to read her! I’ve got the first on my shelf.

Oh my god, you need to read the Neapolitan series… Those books really touched me. This year, Naomi Alderman’s The Power has been incredible.

What about when you were growing up?

Growing up, I read a lot of really shitty stuff, like Sweet Valley High books… But also Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I grew up obsessed with Judy Blume. I really loved her work. She was my icon. What Judy Blume talked about was shit my parents and friends were not talking to me about. It was really honest and it was really true to the experience of being a young girl. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is just the best. And Deenie. I mean, love those books...

I’m half-English, half-American, so I have this desire for European art house but also, you know, wordy New York smart ass Jewesses…

Emma Forrest

Writer and film-maker Emma Forrest began her career in journalism aged just 16. Several decades on, she’s released her screen debut. Written and directed by Forrest, Untogether follows the lives and loves of two sisters (played by real life siblings Jemima and Lola Kirke), their often tangled romantic and sexual encounters played out against the Los Angeles hills. Here we talked after her first ever UK screening. The location? Port Eliot’s Round Room—
an incredible space dominated by a vivid Robert Lenkiewicz mural.

RSo firstly, how have you found Port Eliot?

EOh, it’s so good. Even just today, Natasha Lyonne was brilliant. I can’t believe she’s not a stand-up comedian. She’s so funny. And Nina Stibbe, I saw this morning doing something that could only happen here, which is literary tarot questions. They were pulling tarot cards to ask her questions… I’ve never been here before. It’s strange and wonderful.

You screened your film here for the first time in the UK last night too. How was that?

I just had to take a leap of faith because it’s not as organised a situation as a conventional screening. I had no idea where we were doing it—indoors? Outdoors?—but then to be so beautifully surprised that we were in this round room with the most amazing mural you’ve ever seen… Now I’m concerned [that] to ever screen in a normal situation again would be like downgrading back to coach after having flown business class. But it’s a good start.

Even the film’s title—Untogether—is such a great word to describe the messiness and complexities of how we interact with people. What was it, for you, that was important about telling that particular narrative?

I had started writing it when I got together with my then-husband, ’cause I was trying to process this feeling of being so incredibly drawn to someone that I was determined should be a one night stand. And that’s the arc you follow with Jamie [Dornan] and Jemima [Kirke] in the movie. The audience knows long before they do that it isn’t a one night stand. This is love.

Are there any particular themes you return to again and again in your work?

Unlikable women. And I say that in air quotes because I don’t think I’m unlikable… I think that they’re complicated and real. But they’re not necessarily strong in a conventional sense. I think that would be the defining thread, probably. Difficult women.

That’s a good thread to follow. Are there any other female directors that you particularly admire?

Well know I’m really interested in Natasha Lyonne. I haven’t seen her film yet, but I will. Um… I love Nicole Holofcener. I love Claire Denis. They’re obviously two really, really different directors but they are sort of two parts of me, because I’m half-English, half-American, so I have this desire for European art house but also, you know, wordy New York smart ass Jewesses… Those are probably the ones where I’ll always run out and see all of their things.

Then are there any female authors you admire?

Oh my god, I’m absolutely obsessed with Deborah Levy.

Oh, she’s amazing. Hot Milk is such a weird, hallucinatory, gorgeous novel.

It’s unbelievable. I would love to direct that as a film.

How would you even turn that into a film?

I know how.

But I’d also just be happy to just see it as a film. Her writing is very cinematic. She’s my favourite. She’s the person where l’ll be really stressed out when I get to the very last book of hers that exists... somebody who’s living, you know, devastatingly in Trump’s America every day, you can see the constant crippling injustice—and rather than being flattened by it, and [too] overwhelmed or devastated to function or make things… In fact, I really want to stand up to it all and actually say, ‘I wanna have a voice, too. I wanna get to make things and contribute in the ways I can…’

Natasha Lyonne

Natasha Lyonne has been in showbiz for a long time, beginning her acting career aged just six. Perhaps now best known as the brash, kind, complicated, recovering addict, Nicky, in Orange is the New Black, Lyonne has recently been making forays into writing and directing, too—with Netflix series Russian Doll now in the works. At the festival, we saw a clip from one of Lyonne’s cult teenage roles—Megan in But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)—as well as her directorial debut for Kenzo: a surrealist short, titled, Cabiria, Charity, Chastity. Appearing on stage replete with a sparkly red cape, she then sat down with Tabitha Denholm to discuss the span of her work, influences ranging from Bob Fosse to Fellini, and the process of learning to occupy space. Here, she also touches on just how she’d manage to liberate the entire contents of the Port Eliot house, if she could…

RHow are you finding Port Eliot?

NI think it’s great. We’re staying in a house that, I guess, is one of the oldest habitable places in the UK, from what they told me. From the Dark Ages. That’s been really very fun to walk around. I wanna steal a lot of the things, but that’s not good manners... So I’m not going to.

Not smuggling out any paintings? None of the velvet drapes?

No, but I would like to. I think I would need a very large… I would need almost a sort of Viking ship, if I was gonna get out as much as I’d like.

I love the idea of that! Sailing down the estuary...

And I don’t have a Viking ship. Yeah. That would be a great way to go back to New York with, like, the full castle contents.

God, that’d be fantastic!

I don’t think it’s on the cards, but it would be.

We can imagine it. On stage you were discussing the course of your career—and there were two very different clips screened. How did it feel to have that juxtaposition between your younger teenage self and something that you’ve directed as an adult woman? Did it feel like an interesting contrast?

Yeah, I mean, [it was] satisfying and life-affirming in a way to realise how much time I’ve been spanning… in show business. And, I guess, because they’re such cherry-picked highlights, it feels very warm, you know? It also feels very meaningful also because I’m still so close with Tamara Jenkins, the director of Slums of Beverly Hills, and I still see Marisa Tomei and Kevin Corrigan all the time. And, you know, I’m still so close with Jamie Babbit, the director of But I’m a Cheerleader, and Clea DuVall is still my best friend all these years later and, you know, even RuPaul is still in my life… Melanie Lynskey from that movie, too. And then, of course I’m here with my boyfriend Fred Armisen, who’s also in the Kenzo film I made, and I’m still close with Maya Rudolph. So it’s very nice that it’s kinda all in the family... Greta Lee, who is in the short film I directed [Cabiria, Charity, Chastity], is also in the new television show I created: Russian Doll. [And] Macaulay Culkin, who’s in my short film, who I’m close with… It’s really life-affirming to see the fruits of all these relationships. Like, what they look like 20 years later. I mean, Maya and Fred and Macaulay and Waris Ahluwalia, who’s in my short also. Those are people I’ve known for over 20 years, since Slums of Beverly Hills or But I’m a Cheerleader…

It sounds like an amazing crystallisation. And what is it that particularly drives you creatively now?

I think there’s a wiring that tells us to be ashamed of living in our truth, to a certain extent—that maybe there’s something broken or wrong with us. And more and more, the older I get, the more I realise that, in a way, it’s that cloak of shame which ruins our ability to be truly creative and inspired and exist as individuals who are comfortable, even, saying, ‘Hey, there’s something wrong with the way the world is working, there’s something wrong with this business.’ It’s what we’re seeing in this Time’s Up Movement.
And, certainly, as somebody who’s living, you know, devastatingly in Trump’s America every day, you can see the constant crippling injustice—and rather than being flattened by it, and [too] overwhelmed or devastated to function or make things… In fact, I really want to stand up to it all and actually say, ‘I wanna have a voice, too. I wanna get to make things and contribute in the ways I can…’ You know, demonstrating, even if only through film, the way I want the world to be. Or what I see that’s broken about it.

And who are the female writers who’ve been particularly important to you?

Well, I mean, some female film-makers that I love… Lina Wertmüller and Agnès Varda. And I love Tamara Jenkins. I think she’s such a great film-maker. I think it’s been really exciting to see what Reed Morano is doing. Ava DuVernay’s 13th just devastated me. I thought it was an incredible documentary.

An assorted list of great creators there.

Yeah, and I would certainly say that Amy Poehler and Nora Ephron I would consider great writers… And I would also put Toni Morrison in there. A friend was showing me some clips of hers and, I mean, she really can articulate the absurdity and underlying brokenness of what’s being considered the human experience, you know? Like no other.

I loved George Eliot [pen name of Mary Anne Evans]. I guess she was… at the vanguard of what it was to be a woman in a man’s world—so much so that she had to be ‘George’.

Emily Mortimer

Actor, screenwriter and producer Emily Mortimer had the international premier of her short film One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure at Port Eliot. Part of Refinery29 and TNT’s Shatterbox series of female-directed films, it depicts the true-life story of writer and director A.M. Lukas’s Czech refugee mother, telling a condensed tale of empathy and action. Violet caught up with Mortimer for a few moments during the screening to talk festivals, fucked-up politics, and the brilliance of Sally Potter, before Mortimer returned to the stage for a discussion with Lukas and producer Lizzie Nastro.

RHow are you finding your time at Port Eliot?

EIt’s marvellous. I only just got here. I’ve never been here before and it’s just like a strange, magical mystery tour. I arrived and somehow managed to find where I was going, but it took quite a long time to locate the place [laughs] and the house, and my friends—but now I’ve found all of it, and it’s beautiful and wonderful. It does make me think we should’ve been here every year for the last 20 years…

Tell me a little bit about the film that’s currently being screened?

It’s a short film about a woman who took in refugees from Cambodia. She was a Czechoslovakian refugee herself and brought in people once she got relocated to Fargo, North Dakota, in the 70s. To pay back, [she] brought this refugee family to her little town and organised it. It’s a true story based on the life of the mother of the writer and director [A.M. Lukas]. And it’s really cool because she just wrote this film about what her mother did, and her mother’s life, and it turned out to be very timely, because it’s about a time in America where bringing in refugees from other countries was part of the defining principle of what it was to be American—and now it’s become more fucked up.

Which is horrendous.

Horrendous. So it turns out to be very political without meaning to be.

And are there any women working in film at the moment that you especially admire?

Well, yes, so many. I just did a movie with Sally Potter called The Party. She’s amazing. She’s been working for the last 50 years as a film-maker and has managed to be a woman working in a man’s world very successfully. She’s inspiring, and cool, and has real old-fashioned, left-wing traditional values and principles that she’s stuck to her whole life. It’s wonderful being around her as the times are changing and seeing her respond to it and take it all in—and have a take on it, you know, as an old hand.

I remember watching Orlando for the first time and thinking, oh my god, this is amazing.

She’s a real radical—but kinda quietly so, and a really wonderful person as well. I love her.

Amazing. And what about female authors? Are there any who were particularly important to you when you were growing up?

I loved George Eliot [pen name of Mary Anne Evans]. I guess she was… at the vanguard of what it was to be a woman in a man’s world—so much so that she had to be ‘George’. I loved reading her books, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s. They’re so, sort of, romantic and brilliant. And Emily Brontë! Basically the 19th century novel was my time, and I really have hardly… read anything past the 1900s. But all those women of that era were brilliant: wise and knowing and funny and passionate, but sexy, too.


And then I’m trying to, as a producer, produce a novel by a woman called Ann Patchett. Have you read her?

I haven’t read any but it’s on my list…

So there’s a book called State of Wonder that’s an amazing novel set on the Amazon… about these research centres finding this fertility drug, which keeps women being able to have babies into their 90s… And women in this Amazonian tribe at the end of the Amazon are eating the bark off the trees there and being pregnant. It’s really gothic and weird and kind of a bit like Apocalypse Now, but for women.

Finally, what was your first encounter with Violet?

I just knew Leith from forever. She’s been such a friend and supporter, and I’ve always supported her when I can, too. I just think she’s an amazing woman. She loved Doll & Em, and put me and Dolly [Wells] in Violet for that… I feel like it’s just a very friendly forum for fashion and literature and art and everything to do with finding out what’s going on in a way that feels accessible, but also really smart and informative—and not pretentious, and cool… What you guys do is awesome.

I think just to write it [female desire], because I think it’s something that doesn’t get recognised, or doesn’t get given legitimacy enough. I feel like those are the stories that are written off as frivolous. And they’re not frivolous. Female desire can be a catalyst… as dramatic as they come. It’s not like this small female energy. It’s a really big, important thing.

Sophie Mackintosh

Author Sophie Mackintosh’s debut novel The Water Cure is an unsettling, sultry tale of women, isolation, and intrusion. On stage, she was joined by director Ruth Novaczek to speak about representations of desire in film. Here, she discusses the Man Booker longlist and the importance of women’s stories.

RHow’s your time been at Port Eliot?

SIt’s been really fun and inspiring. It’s just a very nice atmosphere. Everyone is so friendly. It’s amazing to hang out with lots of brilliant women and share ideas.

All the good things. Is there anything that you specifically want to do when writing about female desire? Anything that you want to achieve in the way that you approach it?

I think just to write it, because I think it’s something that doesn’t get recognised, or doesn’t get given legitimacy enough. I feel like those are the stories that are written off as frivolous. And they’re not frivolous. Female desire can be a catalyst… as dramatic as they come. It’s not like this small female energy. It’s a really big, important thing. Even something like having a crush. In the book [The Water Cure], one of the characters has a crush on a man, and that… sparks off so many things and goes beyond what we think of as a silly ‘first love’ thing.

Given that you made the Booker longlist, do you think that we’re in a rich time for female writing?

I think so. I really like that there are three young women on the longlist. And I think our preoccupations… Well, me, Daisy [Johnson] and Sally [Rooney] are writing female characters who are thinking about other women, and thinking about their relationships. It’s really unusual, I think. And unusual statistically for the Booker to have books that are written by women… thinking of other women.

Yeah. And can you talk about any other female authors you’ve read and loved recently?

Sharlene Teo. Her book Ponti deals with female friendship in a way that’s really just incredible.