To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, we asked female filmmakers in the Genero community to pitch ideas for a short film around this year’s theme, #PressforProgress.
We were thrilled to commission documentary filmmakers Gloria Kurnik and Leila Hussain and their piece, ‘The forest will set her free’. The inspiring film introduces Piplantri, a village in India that embarked on a unique project to give girls an equal start in life and set in motion a wave of ‘eco-feminism’.
Based in London, Gloria and Leila worked to an incredibly tight schedule to turn the film around. Within two weeks they had prepared for the shoot, met with us, flown to India to film the story and edited the piece for distribution on International Women’s Day!
It was such a joy to work with such talented women on this piece, and so we wanted to share a few more details about the project. We spoke to Gloria and Leila about their approach to global storytelling, shooting in remote locations and their experiences as female filmmakers.
For this project, Gloria worked as DOP and Leila as Producer.
Tell us about your background in filmmaking, how did you get started?
Gloria: I started in filmmaking over 6 years ago. I am completely self-taught as it all started with a job offer in Malaysia, where I had to learn everything on the go. I quickly fell in love with the craft and became a freelancer, working on my own independent short projects and collaborating with other filmmakers over the 5+ years I spent in South-East Asia.
Leila: I took an MA in Documentary Film which laid the groundwork for filmmaking. Since then I have built up experience working with small production companies and big broadcasters.
The shoot in Piplantri must have been an experience! Tell us how it all went.
Leila – Our fixer hails from a “dynasty” of film fixers – his father is a successful fixer in Rajasthan too. He visited the village ahead of time and sent us details and photographs of the location which was a big help. Everyone in the village made us feel incredibly welcome. We ate a home-cooked lunch there every day and spent time with the local children. Along with 111 trees being planted, each baby girl in Piplantri also receives a small trust fund (around 300 US dollars), and so we contributed to this fund before we left.
Gloria – This shoot was one of the most efficient I’ve been on! Our deadline didn’t allow much room for improvisation. Of course we braced for the unexpected, but everything ran very smoothly. Everybody in the village was super accommodating, and our fixer and assistant were super professional and had everything covered. We really enjoyed this brief glimpse of India!
What’s your approach to global storytelling and overcoming any challenges that might come along with that?
Leila – Having a solid, realistic plan is essential. Even if things don’t go according to that plan it’s a good base and gives you confidence. A great fixer or local guide is also essential in certain locations, not only to help with logistics, but their knowledge can help you connect better with the places and people you are filming.
Gloria – Just remember that nothing will really go as intended. It’s great if it does, but most of the time I come back with at least a slightly different story than what I had in mind. Despite all the preparation, you have to be flexible and try to make the best out of all you encounter once on location.
When you’re out filming in remote or international locations, what are your tips in terms of gear and preparation to getting the job done?
Gloria – When shooting on a shoestring, I always allocate extra time for the location scout and pre-production on the spot, that’s when I try to make local connections that will enrich the story. I also usually bring my own kit. The kit rentals in other countries may be cheaper (and often are not!) but it’s an extra thing that may go wrong. As I have to trust the gear, with remote shoots renting locally would never be my choice.
Leila – Access to a portable WI-FI hotspot is also brilliant.
The idea of trees being planted every time a baby girl is born is so moving and thoughtful, so we wanted this to be reflected in the visual style.
What made you choose the visual style and approach to this story that you did?
Leila – It was really important for us that this story was told by one of the women in the village. We also wanted the story to be as beautiful as possible. The idea of trees being planted every time a baby girl is born is so moving and thoughtful, so we wanted this to be reflected in the visual style. I think the piece has a dreamy quality which was possible because of Gloria’s style of filming and making the most of early and golden hours.
Gloria – We wanted something that would look really cinematic, and it was Leila who came up with the use of slow motion and the dreamy opening sequence. We didn’t have much time for trial and error, as our production schedule was super tight, so we needed something that would work straight away.
One thing that really stood out to us was how well you worked together. What do you think are the best approaches to collaboration?
Gloria – Having individual roles is really important, as it allows you to focus and make the best of the situation. I think that was crucial in our case, especially due to such a short turnaround. Having a small team definitely helps as well, as it meant we could communicate and react quickly.
Leila – The tight turnaround was actually a great constraint – we had to make decisions quickly and we each focused on our own area of expertise. Having a clear plan of action before we arrived meant that we could be focused and unified on location and enjoy our time in the village. The people of Piplantri were so pleased to welcome an all-female crew.
Is it important to you to try and work with other female filmmakers?
Gloria – On the majority of my personal projects I still work as a one-woman-team, but when I collaborate with other people, more often than not the crew is majority female. That may be because the stories we’re telling attract women creatives. But generally, I try to collaborate with people whose work resonates with me, no matter their gender.
I definitely want to see more female directors, as I think we often find angles that are quite unexpected.
Leila – Diversity is so important. Gloria is the first female DOP I have worked with and I wish that it wasn’t such a novelty.
How was your overall experience working on this film?
Leila – This was a whirlwind and inspirational adventure.
Gloria – It was a great adventure both professionally, and personally.
Do you have any advice for young female filmmakers starting out in the industry?
Leila – Team up with people you feel really comfortable with. It’s always useful if your strengths lie in different areas too. Remember that it’s never acceptable to be treated or paid differently because you are a woman. Sometimes it’s hard to speak up when this happens, so don’t be afraid to seek out someone who can help you if it ever does.
Gloria – Believe in yourself and focus on developing your craft.
If you’re a brand interested in working with a talented and diverse pool of female creators, get in touch for more information.