Gold Coast Film Festival: We get feisty with festival director Lucy Fisher

Whether delivering a film festival, wearing fantastic frocks, fighting for feminism or even just writing her last name, fierce, funny and fabulous Gold Coast Film Festival director Lucy Fisher does it all with a capital F.

“You need to aim high,” she tells us when we sit down to ask about whether or not she’s going to outdo herself again at this year’s event. It might as well be her personal mantra.

Gold Coast Film Festival has been running for 17 years, with Lucy at the helm since 2015.

“I’m pretty proud of where I’ve taken it,” she tells us. She pauses then laughs her full-throated, characteristic chuckle. “It was a lot more hard work than I thought it was going to be!”

With 178 individual events on this year’s program, hard work doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Lucy, Festival Programmer Rich Haridy, Festival Coordinator Issy Schoonenberg and Industry Event Producer Sam Weingott together form the GCFF’s engine room, and the four of them will be presenting a range of exciting national and international films, panels, workshops, Q+As, awards, tours, kids’ activities and other events over 12 days in April. They each bring their personal knowledge and skill set to the role.

“Rich Haridy is an incredible curator,” says Lucy. “He has an in-depth knowledge of world cinema, different genres and how to put together a program that’s going to entertain and challenge.”

That program includes Australian premieres of ‘Under The Silver Lake,’ a US mystery starring Andrew Garfield, and English-French tragicomedy ‘Happy New Year, Colin Burstead’, as well as a range of fascinating documentaries, including ‘That Sugar Film’ director Damon Gameau’s new work ‘2040’, and ‘Breaking Habits’ – a doco about The Sisters of the Valley, a group of feminist activists who present themselves as non-affiliated nuns that grow and sell medical marijuana products to ill patients.

The GCFF has also managed to nab a few World premieres, including Australian dramedy ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, and Australian thriller ‘Locusts’. Another Australian thriller ‘The Furies’ will be played on a pop-up outdoor cinema in spooktacular Springfield for Horror In The Hinterland, which will also be showing 2012 nightmare ‘Cabin In The Woods’, for those brave enough to venture into the woods for a night of cinematic immersion.

“It’s been great engaging with the community to create a low impact event for Springbrook, that’s exciting for us,” says Lucy.

Closing night sees another World premiere; war drama ‘Escape and Evasion’, a film with significant ties to the Gold Coast.

“It was shot in Currumbin Valley,” explains Lucy. “The producer Blake Northfield is in Northern New South Wales, but we claim him,” she laughs again. “Obviously being shot on the Gold Coast, the crew and the people who were there for it are Gold Coasters, which is terrific.”

Diversity is key to the Festival.

“It’s our job to put together a program that has depth, that has variety,” Lucy says. “And it’s made up of really good new release films that often you can’t see anywhere else. There will be films I don’t like, totally, but they’re in there for a reason and there will be some people who love them.”

“I think healthy debate around film is great, you can talk about it, what landed and what didn’t. That’s one of the best parts of film.”

As always, the Festival will produce a robust program of industry-related events, including perennial favourites Movie & Music Trivia, Women In Film Lunch, Gold Coast Superhero Weekend: Movies in the Mall, Movie Locations Tours, REELLife Screen Industry Panels, Virtual Reality and Floating Cinema.

First time events this year include Horror in the Hinterland, the inaugural Screen Industry Gala Awards, and Blind Cinema, a fascinating new addition that Lucy is pretty excited about.

“It’s a specially made 30 minute film by German artist Britt Hatzius,” Lucy explains. “It has no dialogue in it, but you can hear some sounds and footsteps. Adults sit blindfolded and children sitting behind them narrate what they can see on screen, and it’s such a beautiful shared experience. It forces you to concentrate – in a way that modern daily life doesn’t – on using your imagination.”

Gold Coast Film Festival wouldn’t be a Lucy Fisher-run event if there wasn’t significant attention paid to the participation of women within it. Although she calls herself a “feminist in progress”, Lucy has certainly progressed further than most, as evidenced by the inclusion of a Bechdel Test indicator in the program, a 50/50 gender parity policy for speakers, and of course, the free crèche, an initiative started by the GCFF back in 2016, which is now being adopted by other national festivals.

“Probably the most significant change I’ve seen in Australia is at the end of last year Adelaide Film Festival and a big screen conference called Screen Forever both put on childcare, and so that’s now probably going to start being seen as something that is best practice,” says Lucy.

“Women in Film and Television (WIFT) have been campaigning for it and so I think it’s a really great outcome for us, that our little old Gold Coast Film Festival started it and put it out there in 2016, and since then WIFT has been able to use it as a case study to show other festivals and events that it’s possible.”

“We have also partnered with Dame Changer along with Screen Queensland to do a four hour workshop for women focussing on pitching skills so that’s another great development.”

While there is still a long way to go in terms of correcting the gender imbalance within the film industry (only 16% of directors, 34% of producers and 22% of writers working in feature films are women), it’s national programs such as Gender Matters and individual film industry event leaders like Lucy who are driving the progress from the top down and the ground up. It’s not just about gender, however. Lucy and her team also put in the work to ensure that the festival is as inclusive as possible across the board.

“It’s about questioning every decision in the festival,” she explains. “Have we considered the diversity of this panel? Are we doing the right thing here? This year we have a panel on accessibility for people in the film industry with a disability.”

“Generally cinema audiences are skewing older and women are going to the cinema more (68% of GCFF’s audience is women). I think some film festivals might attempt to be very cool and underground but we try and make our program legible, it’s not tiny print, and we do some seniors’ morning teas as well, so we try and engage with all sorts of audience members.”

While these policies are welcomed by appreciative audiences, the approach has taken some getting used to for some of the old guard.

“I think you can create a visitor event that still remains true to its values, even if it’s really hard,” says Lucy.

“There were things I was questioned about at first, like ‘how long is this women’s stuff going to continue for?’ and I think it’s about standing up and supporting what you believe in, and know that it’s making a difference. It might make your event harder to put on but it’ll make your event better in other ways, and it’s helped us grow a wider national profile.”

We told you she was fierce.

Gold Coast Film Festival hits the Gold Coast from 3 – 14 April. You should be able to pick up a copy of the program wherever you pick up your copies of Blank. You can also check it out online at gcfilmfestival.com.

IMAGE (c) Leisen Standen | Lamp Photography

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