Not only are there a lot of men directors in our industry, but there are a lot of men directors over the age of 50. White men over 50 are dictating the kind of stories we see on our cinema screens but there is a plethora of young and diverse storytellers that need to be heard in order to better reflect society as a whole.
Age is often identified with experience and knowledge. The longer you’ve been on the planet the more you know right? But I think this is a fundamental hurdle of progress in our society that ends up boxing people into categories that they may not fit. Florence Winter Hill is 19 years old and is already an award winning filmmaker. Passion, potential and a willingness to learn speak volumes above age, as Florence has proven multiple times already in her relatively short career.
Selected by the National Film & Television School, BFI and BAFTA as one of ‘the most talented young filmmakers in the country’ when she was just 16, she was then chosen to direct the dark comedy short film ‘Afterlife,’ supported by the BFI (British Film Institute) and BAFTA. Her current short film Elle has been selected for the Oscar-qualifying San Francisco International Film Festival, where it received the Jury Special Mention prize, as well as Chicago International Film Festival CineYouth, London Independent Film Festival, Los Angeles CineFest, and Cannes Film Festival Court Metráge.
With so much experience under her belt already I asked Florence what the spark was that got it all started. “I always loved stories and books and pictures, but I was weirdly obsessed with films… When I was about 3 years old, I used to love this musical animation called ‘Cats Don’t Dance’, it’s about a group of cats trying to break into ‘30s Hollywood. My parents tell me that I would watch it on repeat, almost like I was studying it, and I would only stop for food or sleep.” she said, “I loved entertaining people and telling stories, especially gathering other people and putting something together. I’ve been doing it ever since and luckily, I’ve found a way to do it on a bigger scale!”
She currently works as Treatment Designer at MindsEye, but previously has worked for Industrial Light & Magic on ‘Star Wars VII: The Last Jedi’, the visual effects company responsible for the effects in films like ‘Jungle Book’ (2018), and the recently released ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ directed by Ava DuVernay, and Double Negative before that. But these big film credits, and the success of her own films, has only fuelled the fire for Florence, and she is simply bursting at the seams with enthusiasm. “I feel so lucky and happy to have had the success I have had so far, especially at such a young age in this industry – it is very inspiring.” She says, “But I am very much at the early stages of my career and I just want to soak up every bit of experience I can get like a sponge and keep growing as a filmmaker. I’m learning a lot about the kind of films I want to make and the stories I want to tell. After every film I complete, I want to make another and do better.”
To diversify the storytelling of todays entertainment industry more young people need to be getting stuck into making movies. But for many who want to get started it can be quite a daunting prospect, especially for women who are already stigmatised compared to their male counterparts. When you look at her body of work at only 19, even Florence’s career thus far could appear intimidating for a fresh filmmaker. But from another perspective it is also quite inspiring. “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Seek opportunities yourself – don’t sit back and wait for them to come to you. And create your own opportunities!” Florence says, “If you want to make a film – grab a camera, a couple of friends, and go out and make it!”
Her other words of advice for new people wanting to start out in the industry is to pick a specialisation early on. “I find that a lot of young people struggle early on in the industry when they don’t know exactly what they want to be doing – and that is fine, it’s not always easy to work out – but it is an advantage if you have worked out what you are best at early or what you want to be best at, so that you can strive towards working in that area.”
But unfortunately even with going after opportunities there is still sexism present within the industry and Florence has had to experience it first hand. “For me, the most damaging things I have experienced have just been lack of trust and disbelief for no reason other than assumptions. I have been in situations where I have been making a decision on set about VFX or the lighting of a scene, and have been condescended in that conversation not because of skill level, but simply because it is assumed a man will know better…Fighting the mansplaining can be exhausting on a busy set, but I enjoy proving those people wrong.”
Florence is trying to help bring more equality to film sets by working with as many women in the industry as she can on her films. “I think you have to look out for each other and help bring each other up. Especially for women in the camera department, it can be a struggle. Young women are often put down/turned down on jobs unnecessarily, because someone doesn’t think you should carry a light or something… Pffttt. We need to be active in helping the issue and be aware of the negative effect on the industry this attitude has.”
The future is looking extremely bright for Florence. As she follows her film Elle around the festival circuit i asked her what the hardest parts have been so far. “I think my career right now could be the hardest but also best part of my career – ha!” Working in the industry since finishing her A-levels has been hard work but she has been learning and growing ever since and wants to continue to do so. “I love it more than anything and as I said – I am a filmaholic – but its just about making that balance at the moment. Hopefully soon, I can work full time as a freelance director – but at the moment the balance is exciting and challenging and I like that – no matter how tired I am! Baby steps, baby steps…”
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