In Conversation with Spanish director Amancay Tapia

Amancay Tapia is a young Spanish director whose first feature film Battlefield was commercially released in Bolivia in January 2011 and in Spain in March 2012. It was also shown in London at Occupy LSX, The Bolivar Hall and Passing Clouds as well as at several UK Universities, such as Bath University and Goldsmiths College. The film won the Best Foreign Film Award at the Portobello Film Festival in London. I was delighted when Amancay agreed to meet me and have a chat about her work as a filmmaker and actress.

Maggie: For those who don’t know you, can you tell me what you do?

Amancay: I am a filmmaker, I write and direct films. Sometimes I act in my own movies.

Maggie: Which one is harder for you: to be an actress, writer or director?

Amancay: I think being a writer is the hardest. It is all about looking for a good story line and than transfer it onto paper.

Maggie: So how long does it take you to write a story?

Amancay: It takes a long time. Once I get a story, it takes me two months to write it but then to rewrite it is a different matter; it may take me even a year to finish.

Maggie: You made a few short films such as The Invisible Woman, The Invisible Man and Harbour Island (The Bahamas): The Girl on Holiday. You also directed your first feature film ‘Battlefield’. You used a shoe-string budget of around €7000. How did you manage to do that ?

Amancay: ‘Battlefield’ was my first feature film. I made it in Bolivia in 2008 and it was first released there in January 2011. It took me a few years before I could screen it anywhere else. It’s a fully independent film and with our €7000 budget we did everything: it was pretty impressive. I also left London for four months just to make the film in Bolivia. Battlefield is about 5 women trying to kill their time in a beauty salon while on the street of La Paz, Bolivia, the troubles caused by the coca war break out; the women have different attitudes, characters and simply don’t get along with each other.

(Tapia arrived in La Paz in late 2008 looking for actors, crew and locations. She had three months to shoot the movie and little time to waste)

Maggie: So your film was released in Bolivia, Spain, Colombia and the UK. Battlefield was the winner of the Best Foreign Film at the Portobello Film Festival in London. How did you feel about the award?

Amancay: I was very happy; the whole journey was a battle to me so winning the award felt good. The Portobello Film Festival is a great place for indie films to be screened.

Maggie: Do you think that there is a future for independent films?

Amancay: Yes I do, there is always a market for innovative stories.

Maggie: What’s next for you?

Amancay: I am working on a short film called ‘Thou shalt not covet’ which is inspired by my previous short film ‘The Invisible Woman’. I am also writing another feature film, it’s a contemporary one. At the same time I am working on another project, the story is set between London and Bolivia. So as you can see I keep myself busy.

Amancay is one of those directors who is passionate about their work. It was a great pleasure chatting to her.

Interviewed and written by Maggie Gogler

The Education of our Young Women…

Mulberry School for Girls in East London was involved in Wow – Women of the World Festival for the second year running, having made their debut in talks and panels in the first ever WOW in 2011. This year, Mulberry hosted a Young Woman’s Conference, which took place on Friday 9th March. It brought together different girls’ schools and women and men involved in women’s education to address the question, ‘What makes a great WOW education for 21st Century girls?’

The day included panel discussions between a variety of women with successful careers in education, enterprise and media and included responses to the questions, ‘What inspired you to become the woman you are?’ and ‘What should young women’s education look like in the twenty – first century?’. Many women explained how they made it to the top and others also stressed how important creativity was for them across the curriculum.

Mulberry student, Nazifa , expressed, ‘The panels were extremely interesting and I learned so much’.

Delegates were also treated to a fantastic performance of Mulberry School’s award winning play, ‘The Unravelling’ and to some highly engaging and thought provoking performances from spoken words artists; Holly McNish, Kat Francois, Joelle Taylor and Natalie Fiawoo.

Attendees of the conference also got to choose two workshops to participate in throughout the day including ‘Lessons for my daughter’, which explored the complex and dynamic relationships between mothers and daughters. Another workshop, ‘Better Together: women of all ages learning together’ was delivered in partnership with Magic Me, a company that runs arts projects that bring together people of different generations, whom Mulberry have worked with many times.

All in all, it was a very inspiring day which truly reflected the spirit of the WOW four day festival  in supporting the empowerment of women from all areas of life into realising their potential, after all, we are the future!

By Tasnin, Year 10 student, Mulberry School for Girls.

Losing it with Ruby Wax & Judith Owen

Ruby Wax’s 2-woman show was a blast. Ruby talks at lightning speed of fame, motherhood, glazed eyes, shades of beige and well-meaning friends encouraging her to ‘perk up’. With her trademark pithy wit she talks about her sharp descents and visits to The Priory. That mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us.  No matter where you are or who you are. After all, depression doesn’t discriminate.

This is not a navel-gazing ‘poor me’ account of depression. It’s honest, it’s laugh out loud, it’s a desensitised account if you will. Judith’s poignant songs, and their friend double act, puts relationships and emotion back into the mix. It’s fun.

The excerpt we saw is part of a longer touring show that has graced mental institutions and comedy venues alike across the country. The Q&A they hold at the end creates an interesting pause for reflection. They invite people with similar experiences to understand it is possible to retrain your brain, to create distance, and to find people like you so you know you’re not alone.

Their mission is to make it socially acceptable to talk about mental health, to ask questions and seek support. They want to create a support network similar to AA so people in the same boat can help each other get to a better place. See this show.

Things I learned this weekend

I came home with my head spinning after the final day of WOW 2012 so thought I’d share some of my reflections from the weekend.

There is no shortage of wonderful role models for women and girls – I developed massive girl crushes on Jude Kelly, Baroness Helena Kennedy, Shami Chakrabarti and Bidisha but also heard Ruby Wax and Rosie Boycott talk about the awful lows in their lives, Rosie Boycott (again) and others discuss global economics, all of the panel at the Arab Spring session, Sali Hughes and India Gary-Martin on body politics, Dr Kiran Bedi on the criminal justice system and many, many more. There are inspirational women all around us.

Strike a woman, strike a rock – The recent protests and strikes were largely lead and run by women. When we get together we can be magnificent (with thanks to TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady)

Women need to get into power to change things – Quotas came up in several discussions I attended and I’ve written another post about it. India Gary-Martin was also asked at the Body Politics session how things will change with regards to ‘acceptable hairstyles’ if people like her are still afraid to come to work with dreadlocks. Her answer was that her recruitment practices were changing the culture of the organisation and in time, what’s acceptable will also change. Great answer.

Find your people – The best way to recover from the hardest times in your life is by finding support from those who truly understand what you’re going through. I think the same is true of feminism. Finding support from other women and feminists is crucial. The WOW festival certainly helped address that and I met some amazing women.

There is so much more to be done for women in the world – from Shami Chakrabarti’s breakdown of what is still going on worldwide at the Women, Power and Change session, to the emotional discussion at the Arab Spring session and the panel about the Criminal Justice System it’s clear that we still have a lot to do to bring about equality for women worldwide.

Education of girls is key – The winning idea at the WOW Den was about creating an empowered girls’ network, educating girls and boys about how to relate to each other in a respectful way, and addressing the curriculum of all subjects in school to ensure the role of women is properly taught. It’s an exciting project. In addition, one of the WOWsers stood up and presented her idea about the need for black women to be better represented in careers such as the police force so that they could be role models for young black girls like herself. It was really tough for her to stand up in front of this room of women and speak but with the support of the panel and fellow students she did it. She’ll learn a lot about herself from having done so.

We’re not ladies – After a long and hilarious discussion on the meaning of the word lady, we ditched it. It’s gone. Forget it.

Feel the fear and do it anyway – I did one of the speed mentoring sessions and met some fantastic mentors. A key message from all of them? Go for it. Whatever it is, whatever I want to do, embrace my skills, let them bring me confidence and go for it.

I learned an awful lot more than this but these were some of the key themes which emerged for  me. I look forward to talking about them more on blogs, forums and twitter. Let’s keep the #WOW2012 hashtag going and keep chatting about what we know and what we can do.

Women of the world, women of science

We’re all stardust. Yes you’ve heard this before. But Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of the astrophysicists who spoke at yesterday’s Women of the World session, ‘This time it is rocket science’, explained in more depth. “The stuff in your body has probably been through two [occurrences] of star building and star explosion. Every atom in your body, apart from a few hydrogen atoms, comes from exploding stars.”
During the talk, Jocelyn took the audience through – in very basic terms that even a journalist and English graduate like me could understand – some of the work she has done. But she also weaved in the story of her own career. She is famous for not receiving the Nobel Prize for her role in the discovery of pulsars when she was an undergraduate. (Although she puts this down to the fact she was a student, not particularly that she was a woman, the stars she spotted went on to net her male supervisors the illustrious prize.)
After graduating, Jocelyn married a man who worked in local government – to advance his career, it was necessary to move every five to 10 years. So move they did – leaving Jocelyn to start again at a new institute each time. She illustrated the effect of this to us by showing us a map of the electromagnetic spectrum. While most astrophysicists would pick a spot on the spectrum, and specialise, Jocelyn noted wryly, “I’ve been just about all over the spectrum.”
It was also a struggle to work part time and raise a child, she explained, at a time when the expectation was that mothers should stay at home and give up all ambitions for a career. Despite all this, Jocelyn has built up a brilliant career.
Maggie Aderin-Pocock, is another space scientist of a younger generation, with another high flying career – you might know her from Dr Who Confidential. She came up on stage carrying her baby daughter in a sling. She also showed us a photograph of a pregnant scientist, standing next to her equipment, which she was using to explore the birth of the universe. The times, you might conclude, have moved on.
But this isn’t exactly the case – Maggie explained that she’s moved away from her research career, to work as a science communicator, which better fits around the schedule and demands of parenthood. And women continue to be pushed out of a scientific career altogether in this country when they have children.
That said, there is more going on here than just the expectation that women will do most of the childcare – that is holding back brilliant scientists. Jocelyn added, “It’s not just about family. Women without partners and children also fail to progress as fast as their male counterparts.”
And that’s starting from a small pool of women who go into a scientific career in the first place. Maggie showed us a clip from a film she made in a secondary school. In the classroom, the walls were arrayed with the images of famous scientists – not one of them was a woman. The girls looking at these images absorbed the message that women simply haven’t made great discoveries. This is simply wrong, and Maggie has been trying to revive the stories of early women astronomers, and communicate them to girls, in a bid to provide role models.
But it was impossible to consider these stories without bringing to mind some of the things that Helena Kennedy QC had talked about earlier in the day, as she reminisced about her experiences fighting in the courts for women’s rights back in the 1970s. What is needed, she said, is “treatment as equals – not equal treatment”. And maybe this logic applies in the laboratory as well as the courtroom. Equal treatment might involve changing the profession so that having a child doesn’t shut women out of a career in research in the first place.
“What we learnt is there is no such thing as neutrality. Neutrality was a complete fiction and in fact it misled and distracted us from the real things,” Helena went on to say.
It’s a lesson that some scientists might find hard to hear, but the structure of how scientific institutions are run is no more ‘neutral’ than, say, the criteria that the TLS uses to determine which books it wants to review. 
Maggie and Jocelyn had some fascinating statistics to show us about the proportion of women represented in the sciences. Women make up 37% of astronomers in Argentina, but only 12% in the UK. This doesn’t mean there is a surprising cluster of talent and interest in Argentina. It shows that the under-representation of women in science is cultural, and can be changed.
The structural changes we’re talking about aren’t to benefit the careers of individual scientists – although it sure couldn’t hurt. Both women were emphatic that a more diverse team will lead to better results. “It’s already been well demonstrated in industry that the most diverse [organisations] are the most flexible, strong and successful,” Jocelyn noted. This isn’t ‘just’ about more women, though: diversity of background leads to diversity of perspectives, which leads to breaking out of the standard patterns of thought. “Anything to dilute the white male Brit will make an organisation stronger,” as she put it.
Maggie was just as straight down the line on the importance of diversity. “If you have a more diverse team.. you are more likely to make great discoveries,” she said.
This post is by Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word

Mary Portas – it’s not just shopping

Kinky Knickers - the pants that will save the nation. Or at least a town in the North of England.

I have a shameful confession to make. I’d never thought much of Mary Portas. Oh, I love that we have an older queer woman on TV – who advises David Cameron, no less – and it’s true that I covet her hairstyle. But listen to her speak? About shopping? Not my thing, sorry. Luckily for me, she was part of a trifecta that kickstarted Day 2 of #WOW2012 along with Shami Chakrabti and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.

She talked about her new collection, Kinky Knickers, aimed at reviving the British manufacturing industry. She opened a factory in Middleton, just outside of Manchester, where the factory that was the bedrock of the community had closed down a few decades earlier. Bringing on board two of the seamstresses who had lost their jobs when it closed, she trained eight young apprentices – teenagers in the community who had never had a job and were used to getting up at 2pm and drinking from 5, “because it makes the day go faster.”

I realised then that Portas does more than talk shoes and shopping, and that her amibiton to revitalise Britain’s high streets was less to do with commerce and more to do with community. In fact, she slammed the rampant consumerism that we all got used to during the boom years – “who bloody needs ‘buy three and get one free’?” – and argued the case for shopping with a conscience. If 80% of the world’s shoppers are female, then that gives us immense power – we don’t have to support the chain stores and designer labels who make a whopping profit off the backs of sweatshops, we can choose to support companies who treat their employees fairly, not ones who care more about money than they do about people.

I’d never really considered what the decline in British manufacturing really meant until I heard her speak. And I’d never imagined that just by choosing where I shopped, I could contribute to improving the lives of people whose lives have been devastated by the recession. For this first time – and the last – I’m going to buy underwear with a man in mind – the factory worker who, when Portas asked how he was finding adjusting to employment for the first time, told her “I walk differently now.”

We can make a difference in the most unlikely ways, and women we’d never given much thought to can turn out to be inspirations. And they’re really nice knickers.

Handbags & Gladrags: Why Margaret Thatcher matters

She may have claimed she owed “nothing to women’s lib”, but do today’s women owe anything to Margaret Thatcher? This morning’s panel – titled Ironing it out: Margaret Thatcher – feminist icon? – attempted to answer that question. Journalists Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism,  Ann Leslie – who travelled around China with Thatcher when the latter was Leader of the Opposition – were joined by Laura Liswood,  Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders to discuss women’s relationship with the Iron Lady.

It was a subject close to my heart – sitting through Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance earlier this year, I realised that I knew very little about her outside the political satire that dominated the left wing newspapers and comedy shows of the early 1990s. Reading John Campbell’s impressively detailed two-volume biography – The Grocer’s Daughter and The Iron Lady – I found myself fascinated by a woman whose struggles I recognised.

But as the most divisive politician of the 20th century, how could I – as a left wing feminist whose earliest political memory was my father slamming the door in the face of a pollster who wanted to know if he backed Thatcher in her final fight against the colleagues that deposed her – honestly say that I admired her? Over the past few months I’ve kept quiet about my conflicted feelings, but today Natasha articulated everything I’ve been too embarrassed to say.

Afterwards I spoke to ReeRee Rockette, who had spoken up during the panel to say that when it comes to her importance as a role model for women, Thatcher’s policies aren’t important. The fact is that she achieved something no other woman had before – and tellingly, her three successors have all been men – and with a dearth of high profile female politicians, women have to take what they can get. She may have double-glazed the glass ceiling as soon as she’d smashed through it, but the fact that she got as far as she did is a triumph for feminism whether she likes it or not.

Ann made the point that Thatcher didn’t like women “because she knew that we knew what she was up to.” She wasn’t above using her feminine – and sexual – wiles for her own ends, but her real achievement was taking on the trappings of masculinity and making them work for her. Laura explained that the majority of female politicians have a less direct way of speaking, and are more modest in their descriptions of themselves and their views. Thatcher had none of that – there was, she so often said, no alternative. It was her way or the highway and politicians who didn’t get on board were dismissed as ‘wets’ and shuffled out of the Cabinet.

Although there’s a lot to be said for consensus politics, it’s refreshing to find a woman who wasn’t afraid of speaking her mind and had no intention of changing it. When asked if we considered her a feminist icon, only a handful of women raised their hands awkwardly. I was one of them. I may not like her convictions, but her courage in them is inspirational. I’ve gone from using her surname as an insult to finding her something of a role model – sorry Maggie, but this is one lady who is for turning.