Video Interviews: Reflecting on Women’s Film & TV Archives

By Gina Denton, Postdoctoral Intern on the Women in Film & TV Project

On the last two consecutive Fridays, we filmed the first set of video interviews for the Women’s Film & TV Project. For me, this is a really exciting aspect of this project. Through a series of oral history-style interviews, feminist filmmakers will be asked to reflect on the history of their archives and their evolving relationship with the material, while academics and archivists will be asked to consider the opportunities and challenges of archiving women’s film and television history, past and present. The interviews, which will be housed in Feminist Archive North (FAN) and freely available via this blog, will also serve another key goal of this project – bringing the history of women in film and TV to the attention of a broader public.

Sharon setting up to film our first interviews in FAN's room in Special Collections on 24 April 2015

Sharon setting up to film our first interviews in FAN’s room in Special Collections, 24 April 2015

We are extremely lucky to be collaborating on this aspect of the project with Sharon Hooper, a feminist filmmaker and senior lecturer at Leeds College of Art who has worked with Vera Media in the past. Not only has Sharon agreed to film the interviews – meaning that the final product will be of a very high standard and allowing me, as the interviewer, to focus on the content of the interviews – we have also discussed the possibility of using the footage in the future to make a more in-depth documentary!

Day One, Friday 24 April, was jam-packed, with three interviews, all taking place in FAN’s room within Special Collections at the University of Leeds. We began by conducting separate interviews with Catherine Mitchell and Al Garthwaite of Vera Media – asking them questions such as what’s in the Vera Media Collection; when they first became conscious of the need to record Vera Media’s history; and why they chose to donate the material to FAN. We then spoke to Jalna Hanmer, a founding member of Feminist Archive North – where questions included when and how FAN came into being; whether they had been conscious of the long history of feminist and women’s archives when creating FAN; what challenges FAN has faced over the years; and how they came to have such strong holdings on women in film and TV. All three were rich and wide ranging interviews.

One personal highlight was a story Catherine recounted about her father, a local history enthusiast, who would spend his weekends driving around Stafford to photograph buildings with compulsory purchase orders before they were torn down – often with her and her brother in tow! He went on to donate this collection of photographs to the William Salt Local History Library in Stafford. Reflecting on this childhood memory now, Catherine felt that it had no doubt influenced her own beliefs about the need to record and archive the past – a consciousness which was later heightened by her involvement in the women’s liberation movement and a strong belief in the need to preserve feminist history for future generations of women.

In addition to the interviews, we also filmed Al and Catherine looking through photos from Vera Media’s early days in the 1980s. It was really interesting to hear them reflecting on these images now, and discussing whether they in any way altered or challenged their memories of Vera Media’s history – while also reminiscing about all of the different projects they had been involved in and appreciating the ’80s hairstyles!

Filming Al and Catherine looking at photographs from Vera Media's early days in the 1980s

Filming Al and Catherine looking at photographs from Vera Media’s early days in the 1980s

One photo showed Al and Catherine working on one of their first films, No Place Like Home, exploring experiences of homelessness, 1987

One photo showed Al and Catherine working on one of their first films, No Place Like Home, exploring experiences of homelessness, 1987

Then, on Friday 1 May, we interviewed Terry Wragg, a founding member of Leeds Animation Workshop, at their terrace house studio in Harehills. The interview took place in the art studio, a sunny attic room with views right across Leeds, where much of the artwork for Leeds Animation Workshop’s films is created. Questions we put to Terry included what was in Leeds Animation Workshop’s archive; where the Workshop fits within the history of the women’s liberation movement and the history of British film and TV; what some of the challenges of trying to find a permanent home for the material have been; and what the most exciting thing in the material was to her. All of which resulted in a really interesting discussion.

As well as the interview itself, we also got some great footage of Terry showing us the original artwork for some of Leeds Animation Workshop’s films – including Through the Glass Ceiling, a fantasy tale about equal opportunities at work, where the princess slays twice as many dragons as the prince only to be appointed as his assistant with special responsibility for young, elderly and emotionally disturbed teenage dragons (for a clip, see here!). It was fascinating to see all of the backdrops and props, and especially the characters with their movable arms and legs and many different faces with different expressions. Above all, it brought home all the work that goes into animation film (and that’s not to mention research, writing the scripts, recording the voices, and distributing the films!) and the challenges involved in archiving this type of material.

Filming these interviews has made me really excited for our third set of video interviews in a couple of weeks time, when we will be speaking to Rebekah Taylor from the Animation Archive at the University for the Creative Arts, and scholars of women in film and TV, Melanie Bell and Vicky Ball. Watch this space for more on these interview as they unfold – and for the final videos, which will be posted here at Feminist Archives, Feminist Futures. To find out more about these filmmakers, their work and their archives, come along to our public workshop and film screening later this month.