Lea Aevars is a film and TV producer, screenwriter and film festival director. After completing a Master’s Degree in Journalism at the University of Iceland, she received a talent-based scholarship from the New York Film Academy, where she graduated with an MFA in Film and TV Production. Lea’s background consists of studies in Human Geography, Politics and English, but she also has a Private Pilot license and is a certified personal trainer. During her studies in Los Angeles, she has written, directed and produced a number of short films and music videos. Upon her return to Iceland in 2016, she did an internship at the Saga Film production company in Reykjavik. Since then, she has been working as a producer for foreign filmmakers – Danish, German and American. She has also been directing, writing and producing her own projects in co-operation with other female directors and screenwriters. In 2018, she started working towards creating the RVK Feminist Film Festival that had its first edition now in 2020.
Tara Karajica caught up with her to discuss the very first edition of the RVK Feminist Film Festival and the situation of women in film today.
What prompted the idea to found the RVK Feminist Film Festival?
Lea Aevars: After coming back home from my studies in Film and TV Production in LA, I felt that the film business was a very closed off trajectory in Iceland. There weren’t many networking platforms and I felt that everyone was in their own corner doing their own thing. I connected with the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival and it became my dream to create a feminist film festival in Reykjavík. I have been talking about doing it for three years now and when I got the strength to follow my dream, I set up a team in the fall of 2018 and then, it really started. I connected with other feminist film festivals and started researching the status of women directors and saw that it is imperative to give space and platforms for women’s voices and other minority groups. We need to see women’s perspectives in film and TV and create role models for future generations in the industry and encourage others to tell their stories. So many stories have been lost in the past from women and other minority groups that we will never hear or see. The thought alone is devastating because women are half of the population and we need to see the perspectives of the other half of the world’s population. There are many women out there making films, but they are not as visible as films made by men. We need to change this development, no later than NOW!
What is its mission?
L.A.: The RVK Feminist Film Festival has a simple aim: to strengthen female film directors and equalize the gender deficit in the film business all over the world. In the coming years, we want to join minority groups and give their stories a louder voice in film. Iceland is a great geographical location for a feminist film festival for women to network, discuss ideas, create cooperations and talk about the films they want to make in the future. And since Iceland is such a volcanic island, we are hoping that women attending the festival might just erupt with ideas that could spread over to both the East and the West. Just like when the Eyjafjallajökull erupted, it affected the whole world! The RVK feminist film festival team truly believes that this festival could be a great instrument for female directors to incubate momentous artwork for the big screen.
Why do you think there is a need to have a feminist film festival in Iceland? How do you think it will help and help shape the fight for gender equality in the film industry in Iceland in particular and in the rest of the world in general? But also Iceland’s film industry in general?
L.A.: I think there should be a feminist film festival in every city, in every country. Films and TV shows not only affect our daily lives, but set the standard in so many ways – fashion, way of thinking and role models. It is shocking to look at the huge gap of numbers of female directors compared with those of male directors. This is far from gender equality and far from showing us reality as it really is. Given the reaction and participation, it is clear that this festival was needed. The film industry both here in Iceland and worldwide is way off in portraying gender equality; women’s stories are not being told or shown in the media. Women’s stories and stories from minority groups are being made, but they are not visible enough. This is one of the reasons the RVK Feminist Film Festival got such a great reaction. It is evident that there is a discrimination going on, because women are ready, well educated, capable and have written and produced all kinds of diverse material. It seems like the system is ignoring them and not valuing their merit. I feel like there is a certain tailwind blowing in women directors sails and we need to catch it and nurture it together and that is why it is important to create a platform where different women in the business can meet and encourage each other. We really need to grab this momentum that is adherent to the world’s current state of affairs. Equality will follow when we are louder and when we are telling our stories.
Can you talk about making the first edition? Did it exceed your expectations? What were the best surprises? The biggest challenges? The little victories?
L.A.: This has been an educational journey, to say the least. But it is shocking to look at the huge gap of numbers of female directors compared with those of male directors. Since this is the first ever RVK Feminist Film Festival, I did not have any specific expectations. Our intention was to create a platform for women in the business and make them more visible. This festival exceeded every expectation we could ever have had. It has gotten so much attention and reaction – beyond believable! We have been contacted by film festivals around the world, so many female directors have written to us and thanked us and celebrated the initiative. The biggest challenges were getting funding to get films and directors to come to the festival. But we were able to get great guests from the industry from all over the world; from Thailand, America, Vienna, the Nordic countries and Germany. I think our little victories are that we have ignited a spark in women around the world to make more films and tell their stories.
What is the selection process like?
L.A.: For the features, we handpick them, trying to showcase as different films as possible and from as different countries as possible. I think it is imperative that we understand and see what other women around the world are filming, what kind of stories they are telling and what kind of reality they live in. An eye opener for everyone.
What can you say about this year’s selection?
L.A.: This year’s selection was all about screening films from women coming from different cultures. There are so many untold stories from women and we were looking for stories that really come from a woman’s perspective and their reality.
What is a good film, according to you?
L.AE.: A good film can be so many different things depending on your mood, feelings and situations in life. But for me, personally, a good film is a film that touches your heart and makes you think and feel with the characters.
Shorts hold a prominent place in the program of the RVK Feminist Film Festival. How do you see the short form today? Why is it important for you to screen short films at the RVK Feminist Film Festival?
L.A.: Making a short film is not as expensive as making a feature. It is important for future talent to showcase their ability to make films. It is often a very inexpensive way to show your story; with it you can show your ability to make a film and hopefully get a chance to make a feature. It seems very hard for women to get film grants, so making a short film is the first step. This is why it is greatly important to screen shorts at our festival.
You also have the Fabulera Short Film Script Lab. Can you talk about that? Is it the first step in the setting up of an industry/workshop program for the festival?
L.A.: The Fabulera short film Script Lab is a very important component of our festival. There were a lot of applications and great stories. It is a vital part of your mission to connect women and write stories and encourage each other. We plan on having the Lab as an ongoing workshop during the year, hoping for these short stories to come alive and screen the ones that do get filmed at our festival next year.
How would you define the RVK Feminist Film Festival and its artistic direction?
L.A.: We want to screen films by unheard voices, showcasing films that are not mainstream cinema, blended with films by women that have really had success, showing other women and minority groups role models and that everything is possible.
How do you make sure that the program is appealing to both filmmakers and the audience?
L.AE.: When we were setting up the program, we really wanted to educate people about the status of women in the film business. That is why we invited Wendy Guerrero, the President of programming at the Bentonville Film Festival, to come and tell us about the newest research made by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Also, WIFT in Iceland and the European Woman’s Audiovisual Network (EWA Network) came and introduced their networks and possibilities for collaborations. We took care of screening a variety of different films and shorts from around the world and films by women in Iceland.
Do you work with other women’s film festivals and organizations around the world? Who are your partners in this endeavor?
L.A.: Our role model festival is the Stockholm Feminist Film Festival, but we are also connected with the Dublin Feminist Film Festival, the Power of Women Festival Copenhagen and the Bentonville Film Festival. We hope to connect with other similar film festivals around the world during the next years. Feminist Film Festivals are being founded all over these days, in Norway and Poland to name a few.
What is Iceland’s film festival scene like? Do you work together or are you rivals?
L.A.: The Icelandic film festival scene is wonderful and diverse. We have the Reykjavík International Film Festival, the Stockfish Film Festival, Frostbiter, Northern Wave, IceDocs and many more. We work together for sure – we all have the same goal: to show interesting films and introduce the wonders of filmmaking from around the world. The RVK Feminist Film Festival would never have been as great as it was if it weren’t for the help of the great festival directors from all these festivals. We are so grateful!
There has been a lot of talk about women in film in the past two years. What do you think of the situation of women in film today? How is it in Iceland?
L.A.: Gender equality in the film business is far from being achieved, but there are initiatives being outlined in regulations in many countries as we speak. I feel there will be a huge change coming in the next years. I want to believe it is happening slowly, but surely. I do hope I am right. The imbalance in terms of gender equality is the same in Iceland as it is elsewhere in the world. We just need to push it as hard as we can, and we can even it out if we all work on it together. But it will take time.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
L.A.: This is a very hard question to answer. I have not seen everything, BUT the ones I really love and adore are American Psycho by Mary Harron, Monster by Patty Jenkins, The Babadook by Jennifer Kent, Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola and Cléo from 5 to 7 by Agnès Varda.
What are the plans for the future of the RVK Feminist Film Festival?
L.A.: We plan to have the RVK Feminist Film Festival as an annual festival. We hope it grows with new voices from women and minority groups. We really want to make a difference in the film industry in a way where young women and girls can grow up seeing women role models making films, telling their stories and being successful.