Last week, the creators of Jackal Films, Alice Lowe and Jacqueline Wright, opened the first night of the Film Directing For Women festival at The Lost Theatre, Stockwell.
Members of The Velvet Onion crew were on hand to witness the screening of several Jackal classics and a Q&A with the dynamic duo. This, then, is their report – with images courtesy of FDFW.
It’s with some trepidation that we approach the somewhat appropriately named Lost Theatre in the obscure heart of Stockwell, ready to share an audience with Jackal Films and their creators. This is, after all, the first time we have managed to align our physical selves into the same building since our two projects started almost simultaneously in January. Whilst we were sure of a friendly response from two of the loveliest people we’ve ever met, we were probably far more nervous than they were about how their work would go down in front of an audience.
In hindsight, it was a whimsical notion to assume the films would do anything but entertain and amuse the gathered crowd, some of whom were willing participants in the films, whilst others were seeing the results for the first time. Previous Jackal Films events, such as the one in Belfast earlier this year, will no doubt have assured Alice Lowe and Jacqueline Wright’s belief that these short films are exactly that: these are no viral videos made to score a cheap hit on YouTube, but fully developed, well considered shorts that have a life of their own that craves to be watched by crowds.
After a brief introduction from the duo and their friend (and Love Song star) Rachel Stubbings, we are reintroduced to the eight films Lowe & Wright have made together as part of their Calendar project. Admittedly, Queen B gets a muted reception – the audience not quite sure of the journey they are being taken on just yet… but February’s short, Roots goes down a storm – a notion which is made all the more satisfying knowing that Hot Brew’s very own Antony Elvin is in the audience. The film seems to come alive on the big screen, and the little touches and deft one-liners get a riotous reception.
So too, does Birdhandler – Alice’s frankly hilarious bird impressions reducing several people to hysterics for the first half of the film. April’s short, Love Song, was the one that Jacqueline confessed to being most nervous about on the night – perhaps because the event was in celebration of women in film and it details the early stages of a lesbian affair between two chavtastic friends that, given the wrong audience, could have been seen in a negative light. Yet she needn’t have worried, as by this stage the crowd is in their hands, so much so that even the hastily put together Making It With Pam with its reliance on smutty innuendoes is greeted to full on guffaws.
If A Dead Cat and Green Man get a more muted reception, its only because most of the room is in awe by now of the obvious talents of the pair… Lowe transforming herself first into a pitch perfect Bette Davis impersonation before becoming both male and female lead vocalists on a song parody so perfectly pitched there must surely have been a few people watching who wondered why it wasn’t on their favourite New Wave hits compilation… and Jacqueline’s well crafted 40s drama angles in the former giving way to the Visage inspired pop video pastiche of the latter in glorious HD.
Finally, for the time being at least, we were treated to what the pair themselves admitted was the least theatrical of the shorts – the recent Celeberama! with Robert Popper. Whilst its deliberately low-budget, amateur look doesn’t really suit the big screen quite like the other films, but nevertheless, the popularity of Popper’s Baal character and the sheer insanity of Lowe’s character of Wendy, mean that the main screening ends on a very positive high.
Taking to the stage shortly afterwards, Alice & Jacqueline were grilled by Stubbings, before facing questions from the gathered audience. With this being part of a women’s film festival, there were naturally a lot of questions about how the trio felt as women in the industry, and Lowe in particular was quite frank (and entirely correct) about her outlook on the current stance of female comics – most of whom are never really given the same crack of the whip that their male counterparts receive. Stubbings recalled an incident in which she was told a venue already had one female comic on the bill, so didn’t require her services… which really hammered home the point that, in this industry at least, women still have some catching up to do.
Yet the overriding point that Alice & Jacqueline continued to make was perhaps the most important aspect. Yes, by all means, celebrate female innovation in the industry, but never, ever make a film because of your gender. The pair made it quite clear to the gathered audience that they do what they do because they like to challenge themselves and make the films they want to make as people, not as women, and perhaps the most liberating knowledge of all was that they do most of this work for free.
Enlightening an audience primarily made up of film students, Wright explained that none of the films so far have cost the pair more than £100 to make, as they have relied on the talent pool of their friends and relatives, as well as the number of experienced professionals struggling to find work in the current climate, and more than happy to add an additional credit to their showreel in return for their services. Whilst they’ve had their struggles along the way, they have garnered enough experience from the project that when, in the case of May’s planned film, illness and other issues prompted the last minute cancellation of the set-up, they managed to quickly and almost effortlessly create Make It With Pam which has proven to be one of their most popular shorts to date.
And with a few tantalising notions for the future to consider – including discussion of their plans to make a film together next year and further appearances by established characters at the end of the project, Alice & Jacqueline treated the crowds to a real exclusive – a follow up to Celeberama! featuring further advice from Baal & Wendy, which understandably, brings the house down.
Discussing the evening later, the twosome seem buoyed by its success, and are more than ready to tackle their next challenge, knowing that they have the resources, the friends, the confidence and above all else, the pure raw talent to succeed, as well as an admirable satisfaction for what they’ve already achieved so that, should the elusive big break never come along, they’re more than happy to keep doing what they do, simply because they love the freedom it brings. The realisation that, by the end of the project, Jackal Films will have around 90 minutes of footage under its belt within a year makes their combined hopes to move into a theatrical production seem all the more achievable, as long as they can convince those with the power to commission that they have what it takes. And by believing in people, through and through, Alice & Jacqueline have created a series of shorts to be immensely proud of, and if anyone decides to refuse them the budget for a feature, then that person is clearly in the wrong job – as this is a coupling that deserves to succeed, whatever it takes. What could possibly be a more positive message for budding filmmakers, female and male, than that?