I’ve never been to a film conference before -they always seem inconceivable- Sundance, Festival de Cannes etc- because of an air of exclusivity, and who-you-knows, and… the ability to afford to go. I am speaking, as a co-founder of ROOT-ed Zine, from a privileged point of view as we were invited to write about the event (and have been paid for our words too for two consecutive days, Amber has written about day 2 here).

Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to afford it, as working freelance has its disadvantages. A positive of the conference is that of the 5 years running it TWU has never been hosted in the ‘powerhouse’ of London. This is because (similar reasoning to ROOT-ed being based in North West only), that everything seems to happen in London. Great news for us Northerners!

The day started with friendly interactions from the foyer of FACT by This Way Up colleagues, and tea and coffee was provided- as well as a map and agenda for each day. I was so happy to see that there was soya milk too! The schedule was simple infographic and was easy to understand from my neurotypical perspective. During the morning of the festival, it was commented that the programme has been improved by having less panels, and more interactive discussions. This is good news to me as a first time goer -it would be quite a mundane experience- if opinions only came from one way.

After a talk from one of the delegates, Umulkhayr Mohamed and the Director of Birds’ Eye View, Mia Bays the atmosphere was turning more inclusive each minute, as I was seeing women, and BAME people presenting primarily. The screening that these talks were in, FACT Screen 1 was suitable as there was enough space for people to be sat down, including wheelchair accessibility- but no pressure to have to talk with your neighbour. I was happy about that.

Shortly after Bays discussed #ReclaimTheFrame, a project that emphasises work written, directed or originally composed by women, I was in positive spirits. Afterwards, Clare Binns (co-managing director of Picturehouse Cinemas) and Susan Picken (director of the Theatre Cathedral Trust, Belfast) discussed about Binn’s start in the industry, and how she was bought up poor, and refused to let the struggle of her dyslexia stopping her in vocalising and visualising her opinion within the film industry. She lightly touched on the issues of, when there is a manager above you, how important it is not to be micromanaged, with quote ‘…people who get on with things and let you do your job…’ is vital in the wellbeing of working within an industry that is quite frankly, no better than the fine-arts industry where I am from (in narcissistic behaved managers towards their peers in the pyramid schemes). It was inspiring to hear that she has ‘always punched above her weight’ in regards to decisions she makes and the vision of Picturehouse Cinemas- it made me, as a person who co-runs a business and simultaneously as freelance- empowered.

However- when it came to the Q&A of the talk, Binns would not discuss the pay of Picturehouse employees, her salary, or anything to do with the topic. I felt that this was disappointing, especially since the controversy surrounding Picturehouse (and their parent company, Cineworld), in 2017 of the London minimum wage pay, etc. It’s understandable that it’s ‘complex to discuss’ as quoted from Binns, especially as it wasn’t a scheduled question- but some clarification would be good instead of avoidance. 

Afterwards, we had a fantastic talk by Ian Wharton (Group Creative Director at AKQA) who discussed how businesses can be ‘Understood, Enjoyed and Remembered’ when on the market. He discussed the differences between making decisions based on precedent, and not based on precedent which was helpful when he broke it down for the audience furthermore. Giving case studies of how influential directors took risks in their careers to cater for something that seems like a ‘large risk’ where you trust your instincts rather than logical decisions was fantastic. It seemed like he was describing ROOT-ed Zine from the beginning, and how the backlash and doubt we were given, because of our USP being so unique (by keeping it to PoC and the North West), so were told to keep it more broad- which we have ignored. The main points of his discussion was to look at things from an empathetic (and psychographic) point of view rather than demographic view, to really engage and understand your audience. 

Another aspect of the day, which was titled ‘Welcoming Diverse Audiences and Learning from the Unexpected’ was excellent, as the panel discussed the -elephant in the room’ which was unapparent to me regarding the British Film Institute (BFI) in Southbank and their controversy regarding an issue to do with audience member dispute in April this year. It was nice of them to address the issue whilst keeping anonymity for the people involved, which shows respect for all participants and for the new audience receiving this information.

Over the full two days the entire conference has been thought provoking, and addressed issues around ‘taboo’ subjects well and within a short space of time. It has been intense but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Hoping to be back next year!

Fauziya Johnson, co-founder of ROOT-ed Zine.