For Film’s Sake moves to distribute female-helmed films

‘Strange Colours’.

Festival For Film’s Sake (FFS) has expanded its focus to include the theatrical distribution of films from female filmmakers.

In partnership with Bonsai Films, FFS will release Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours in cinemas next week and Gabrielle Brady’s doco Island of the Hungry Ghosts in the first quarter of next year.

Of the decision to move into distribution, FFS director Sophie Mathisen tells IF that many of the films she had worked with through the female-focused festival were made independently and were yet to find a distributor. Often the filmmakers were unsure what to do with their films after their festival run was over. She believed with strategic investment, these films could find broader audiences.

“When you can see that most of the films that are in cinemas are directed and written by men, it creates this cultural vacuum where it makes female filmmakers feel more risky,” says Mathisen.

“When you’re looking at exclusion you have to look all the way along the value chain. Much like we can see there is a lot of discrimination at the start of the pipeline, there’s definitely a lot of discrimination at the end as well.”

Last year, Mathisen was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to look at gender equity programs in the screen industry around the world. A key focus for her was distribution – she regards it as an ‘overlooked’ part of the puzzle in terms of getting more women to working in screen. This is particularly so in Australia, where a distributor and/or sales agent is often a requirement to secure production funding from agencies.

“It’s really important that films like Alena’s get to theatrical release, so that she can have maximum impact and that when she goes back for her second, third and fourth works she feels there is a sound business case as to why she should be invested in.”

Further, Mathisen feels there is a downward pressure within the industry to move towards online distribution, a pressure she regards as “defeatist”. She doesn’t want to give up on the theatrical space and is keen to work with exhibitors in this regard. “What we really want to do is find out how the theatrical space can work for these small titles.”

In releasing both films, FFS will leverage partnerships with cultural organisations to create event screenings with the hopes to bring in new audiences.

Ahead of Strange Colours’ national release on November 22, a launch event will be held at ACMI this weekend as part of Melbourne Music Week. Composer Mikey Young (of band Total Control) will perform a live score to the film, with Mathisen hoping that fans of his music will be drawn to the project.

“I think what FFS did [as a festival] really successfully was to start to ‘eventise’ cinema in an interesting way that makes a film more editorial and relevant to youth audiences. We could definitely see that a lot of the events that we were creating had a really wide appeal and we were selling out sessions in non-traditional theatrical settings,” Mathisen says.

Bonsai Films’ Jonathan Page tells IF he wanted to partner with Mathisen to distribute these films as he was impressed by her drive and the relationships she had already established with exhibitors. Further, he regards both Strange Colours and Island of the Hungry Ghosts as excellent films.

“They also happen to be the kinds of film that I really relate to and like to get involved in, in that they are specialty films that are distinctive, and that may struggle for distribution if a smaller like distributor like me doesn’t get involved,” he says.

Both Strange Colours and Island of the Hungry Ghosts have had generated significant buzz on the festival circuit. Strange Colours, shot for €150,000, is a product of the Venice Biennale College and debuted at Venice Film Festival in 2017, and Island of the Hungry Ghosts has won several awards including Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca Film Festival.

Strange Colours will receive a limited release of between eight to nine screens, with Q&A screenings at the Classic, Cameo, and the Lido, and Page is hoping word-of-mouth will spread from there.