Starting in acting, director/actor Jo Southwell made her debut short in 2012, Holding On, and has been hooked ever since. Winning many awards for her shorts (Deirdre, Cover Me, The GunMan and Entrance No Exit), she talks to Exeposé Screen about her upcoming feature and projects as well as being a woman in the film industry in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Your acclaimed short-film Deirdre, is a female-driven narrative, enriched in folklore. What sparked your interest in folklore and Irish culture?
I come from an Irish background and spent much of my youth running around the fields of Tipperary. At Uni I studied Theology and Media but my interest in folklore and fairy tales existed since I was very young. The idea of creating a modern myth through film has always intrigued me – how audiences connect to those visual stories and how impactful they can be on our lives.
Why was important to have a female voice as lead in your narrative?
For this story it was essentially a Mother / Daughter story, so yes. It appealed on lots of levels but equally Father – daughter / son relationships get me – it is always about looking at each story for each new film.
What challenges have you faced in creating your follow up feature to Deirdre, Deirdre of Sorrows?
Where do I begin! The world of independent film making is really tough. It takes most people 7 – 10 years to raise finance for their first feature. Deirdre of the Sorrows is a high-end concept feature so I am having to be patient and re-look at other stories I really want to tell before making this film. If the story is good it will last so I am not worried about waiting but still keen to direct my first feature.
Short films showcase narratives concisely, often to an effective degree, but, are you looking forward to having the space to cover more ground with a feature?
Absolutely – every film maker dreams of seeing their film in a cinema – at least from my generation! The time line of a feature is still similar to shorts – pace, conflict and structure are equally important. It always comes down to a great story and brilliant screenwriter.
“it is really quite easy to say #metoo, but it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed of getting a job or being financed”
You’ve said before that your first short, Holding On – about a man’s struggle with Alzheimer’s – is influenced by your father’s illness. Do you find that your writing is embedded in your own life and experiences?
I am sure it is – not always, but our own lives influence what we do, how we tell stories and how we interpret what goes on around us. To be an honest and real story teller for me is all about humanity and the many layers that are involved with that.
It is difficult to compare directing/writing and acting; but what do you find so rewarding about being on the other side of the screen?
I love working with actors – being able to bring out the characters, emotions and story and work with them and their take on the story. It is always a team effort.
In light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, have you personally seen any change in the industry; both in front, and behind the camera?
To be honest – no. I know that sounds really awful, but it is really quite easy to say #metoo, but it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed of getting a job or being financed. Many of the social media examples out there of women saying “we need change” are often by those who I consider to be already very much involved / employed / earning top dollar for their work. #metoo isn’t really about that – what about the those of us who are still trying to open up the door ?
What troubles have you faced as a woman in the film industry? Have you ever felt restricted?
Always a tough one to answer – like anyone I have had ups and downs on various sets but generally I have felt most supported by my DoPs, editors and actors. It is all about making good relationships with people you like, respect and want to work with.