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“We want to tell women that what they have to say matters”

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Liza van der Smissen and Nicole Lieberman • Founders, Female Film Club


The Female Film Club is here to provide an extra push for the female and non-binary international film community

Liza van der Smissen and Nicole Lieberman • Founders, Female Film Club

The Female Film Club, a new, global, online initiative for the female and non-binary international film community, is here to encourage and empower, as its founders, Liza van der Smissen and Nicole Lieberman, tell Cineuropa. In addition to showing some good films.

Cineuropa: There are quite a few initiatives trying to bring women in the film industry together, like Film Fatales, for example. But how did it start for you?
Nicole Lieberman:
We are so used to working together – Liza and I live five minutes apart, and during the pandemic, we found ourselves separated. We thought: “If we feel so alone, what is happening to other women around the world?” Everyone was so lost. We started by discussing films with the people we knew; we were having fun, and then it just grew, so we decided to build a proper platform. There are so many incredible organisations, but it's difficult to find something with a worldwide reach.

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Liza van der Smissen: It was what we needed at that moment: something fun and just different. We are creatives, so we didn't want to make it super-corporate. That's not how films are made – they are made with passion and inspiration. I'm Dutch, and Nicole is Italian-Israeli, so we’ve always loved foreign cinema, and we want to bring it to a wider audience.

The language you use is very welcoming, underlining that it's possible to meet people without spending money on drinks or baby-sitters. It's like trying to convince a shy friend to go to a party.
With the Female Film Club, we are challenging ourselves with different conversations, but nobody tries to “sell themselves”. We want to build a network of sisterhood. We have heard from our members that these sessions have helped them solidify their voice. Gradually, they become more confident in networking and communicating. We really want to tell women that what they have to say matters. Just because you don't want to tell a Marvel story, it doesn't mean it's not valid.

NL: We are like our members, so there is no hierarchy: we come from the same place. We are very much a community, and even though it's online, it's very personal. People can be vulnerable. You can say that you are struggling or looking for help.

You refer to it as a “safe space”, which is interesting, given how many women feel unsafe online. That being said, someone identifying as male can also join.
It's a “safe space” because you can be yourself, not because we are trying to protect someone. You can be there with your child – we had a director breastfeeding during a Q&A, for instance – and you can share intimate stories. But it's also safe because we respect each other. We still don't have any male members, but we do welcome them, and whether you are a man, a woman or non-binary, you have to respect the space. Everyone gets a chance to speak or to express their opinions. We are here not just to take, but to give to each other.

You show films, but what are the other practical things that people can get out of this whole experience? Online distribution?
Every two weeks, we have a film chat – that's how we started. We work closely with Herflix, an online platform showcasing films for women, about women and by women, and they are happy to provide us with the kinds of films that we have never seen before.

LvdS: If our members have a short or a feature film, and if it's up to a certain standard, we submit it for distribution on Herflix. So far, everyone has been able to get in. The more we’ve grown, the more we’ve realised how important the right mindset is. Every month, we have a professional coach coming in, we talk about systemic constellations or we have a meditation yoga session. We are facilitating the knowledge that's already out there, making sure it doesn't get lost.

NL: There are so many talented women out there, but they lack the self-confidence to take the next step: to finish a script, send out applications or get in touch with the right people. So many of our members need this extra push. In February, we held a case-comparison event called “Women in the Israeli and Swedish Film Industry”, and we want to host more open events, as we don't want to keep everything in the club. Knowledge is power, and we have to share it.

Do you think the club could transform into live events once the pandemic is over?
Hopefully, we will have meet-ups at festivals, but we want to provide accessibility, so everything will stay online. This way, you only need to get 50% dressed: just the top, some lipstick and you are done.

NL: Even with festivals, we tend to forget that not everyone has access to them. So many are unable to travel, cannot afford to or have other jobs. But everyone can log in or find one hour, without having to leave the house.

LvdS: Our members are working towards growth and becoming better in their personal life and in their career. They are eager to connect, and it can be fun, but you have to actively participate. We have a two-week trial period, so come and see if it's what you want.

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