Anna Bogutskaya is an events programmer for the BFI, as well as the festival producer for female filmmaker focused Underwire Festival, and one half of The Final Girls, a screening series dedicated to the intersection of horror and feminism. This interview took place in relation to The Final Girls' tour of new female filmmakers 'We Are The Weirdos'.
Can you explain a little about the origin of The Final Girls, and your initial intentions with establishing it? How has it developed or changed since then?
The Final Girls is the brainchild of a Saturday morning WhatsApp conversation. We were both, individually, horror and fantasy fans, as well as huge cinema nerds. We bonded over a shared love of horror cinema, by doing load of marathons, and by a shared disappointment in some of the usual horror environments, where we did not feel very welcome. So we decided to stop moaning to each other and do something about it.
Do you have criteria by which you select (or exclude) films?
We have literally hundreds of ideas that we keep track of, both repertory films, events, and we track new films that are on the festival circuit. For us, it’s all about timing, about the ‘why now’. There are films we absolutely adore, but would never screen and others that we are holding back for the right moment. We want to keep a particular focus with each of our events, so it’s not just about putting on films we love, it’s about playing that film at the right time, in the right way, in the right place, to ensure that we can continue the conversation.
What has been your experience of the horror film community in general? Its not my world, but what I’ve seen of it has been very nerdy, middle aged and a bit foreboding. The Final Girls events certainly have not been these things. I wondered if this was intentional, and if so, how you go about creating a more welcoming or inclusive space?
This is absolutely intentional, and it’s part of the reason why we wanted to create something like The Final Girls. We wanted to create a space where we could give horror films the same attention, care, and discussion that they don’t seem to generate as much as other types of films. There’s always been an arthouse snobbery around genre, and we wanted to bridge that gap by creating inclusive and thoughtful events. We try to create a welcoming space for everyone, particularly women, and even more particularly women who do have not yet engaged with genre. We try to avoid the look and feel of horror events we’ve been to in the past and play around with what every film has that draws our attention. Little things, like the zines we make, masks, giveaways, etc. and especially the feel that it’s all curated and thought-out is what we try to generate in all of our events - so we’re glad it has come across!
As far as these things go, you have quite a clear theme and identity. Do you ever find the idea of the intersection of horror and feminism limiting or restrictive, or do you find limitations productive? Do you ever want to screen horror films that are somehow un-feminist?
We’re really interested in the discussion element of these films, especially about the problematic aspects, the difficulties both as critics and spectators to engage with certain aspects of genre. We have screened films that are certainly problematic in many ways (thinking here about The Entity, Single White Female), but we screen them because we find an angle into them that is fascinating, and worthy of talking about. They might be flawed films but there must be something about them that makes us want to re-contextualise them.
How do you keep things interesting with each screening, and try to offer something different to the film community?
This is our question to ourselves whenever we start thinking about putting on a screening or an event. We think not only about the film we want to show, but why now, who’s the audience, what we want to say about it, and what we could do around it to make it unique. After a first year of doing a lot of events, we’re taking more time to think about exactly what it is that each screening and project will be saying and doing.
I’m particularly interested in this screening, as it has the presumed objective of finding and developing new (female) talent. Is this a longer term objective of The Final Girls?
Absolutely. We wanted to move into the contemporary space and be in touch with filmmakers who are poised to make waves in genre. One of the core objectives of The Final Girls is to provide a supportive platform to some of the talented filmmakers that we are excited about in the genre world. There are some many incredible genre filmmakers out there - a showcase just felt like the next natural step! It’s the first time we’ve looked to distribute something like this ourselves, but certainly a taster of what we want to do more of in the future.
The idea of touring shorts is a great idea. What are your thoughts on the festival cycle in general and it’s limitations for filmmakers and audiences? Is this an attempt to widen the audience for short / independent film, or extend a film’s lifespan somehow?
Short film festivals are extremely important, but festivals are an event in and of itself, a period of concentrated activity. This is an attempt to widen the scope of short films, yes, an effort to promote and spotlight the work of the filmmaker’s we’re intrigued by and passionate about. This is also a mission statement, of sorts, for women in genre both as makers and spectators - and hopefully the first of many tours!
You were accepting submissions for this screening. How did that go? What was your process for sourcing films for this screening in general? Is there an abundance of new short horror films being created by women around at the moment?
We wanted to open up submissions so we wouldn’t limit ourselves to looking at the festivals we know and the work of filmmakers we’re familiar with. We wanted to see if we could find some real outliers (or more like, could they find us?) We kept them free so as to not create additional barriers. We received over 1,300 submissions - a lot of them were completely irrelevant but some were absolute revelations. We premiered the programme at the Sitges Film Festival, which has been our first international event and a great platform for the filmmakers to get their work seen and for us to develop more connections with the international horror community.
There’s a lot of varying work in this programme. Was this your intention, to show a cross-section of the contemporary?
We wanted to show that a female take on genre and horror can be varied in both themes and form. The shorts we’re showcasing with We Are The Weirdos are completely, radically different from each other, each filmmaker uniquely talented and interested in different subject matters. We thought a lot about narrowing down the brief further to a central theme, but with the quality of films sent through to us, we felt like that might lead us to compromising on some of the films we could include.
What would you like to see as a result of this tour, and what other changes would like to see within film culture?
After this tour, we’d like to be in a position where we can take on, distribute and promote more interesting horror projects, with women center stage both in front of and behind the camera. We want more diversity of perspectives and more adventurous programming.