Arts & Culture People

In conversation with Caris Rianne, Founder of Women X Film Festival

Words: Amy Callaghan

Rianne Pictures was founded in 2013 by filmmaker Caris Rianne as a hub for her projects and a space where people could work together on films regardless of their experience and background. Since then, they’ve gone on to produce seven short films, a feature length film, various promotional and music videos and two web series, and have shown films at festivals around the world — some very impressive achievements from such a recently-established, totally independent production company.

This year, they’re launching their very own film festival, Women X, celebrating women and non-binary filmmakers, with screenings of new films, panels and workshops, and an awards ceremony judged by an all-women jury. It’s taking place digitally this weekend, and tickets are available on the Rianne Pictures website — the Digital Pass costs £5 and gives you full access to the whole weekend of online events and screenings. We sat down to chat with Rianne Pictures founder Caris Rianne about her experiences as a filmmaker in the North East, the company itself, and of course, the upcoming festival.

You set up Rianne Pictures in 2013 — why and how did you go about setting up your own film company?

It was mainly to give my short films a bit of a home! I never saw myself being a film director because of how I’d seen other directors on set — it was predominantly male, predominantly white, and the idea of enjoying being on set was very difficult. I just thought how am I ever gonna enjoy this when it’s so hectic, and people just talk to you like you’re nothing because you’re a girl and you’ve got blonde hair. And you’re wearing makeup, so they think you’re the makeup girl when really you’re the production manager, so it was almost a little bit of a rebellion. I just wanted to set up something where anyone could work together regardless of their background or their training, because it’s such an elitist environment. Even the independent side is still so elitist, so that’s really why I set it up.

Rianne Pictures was never meant to be the name! It was meant to be a placeholder and I was gonna come up with something more interesting and unique and different. I just never got round to it, and it would be too expensive to change it now! So I put together an email address and just started working with people, essentially.

Since starting out, you’ve grown into a pretty well-established small film company — what are some of your personal highlights from throughout the years running Rianne Pictures?

Making a feature film was really amazing, because it’s obviously a longer process than a short film. You get to know the cast and crew a lot more, and it’s a lot more work, so when it’s finished, it’s really great to sit back and look back at that. The fact that we’ve got into festivals around the world — that someone watched our films and thought ‘yeah that’s pretty good, we’ll put it in our festival’ — that’s still mad to me even now. Every festival email we’ve ever had saying ‘you’ve got in’ has been amazing to me. Seeing my own film on the big screen a few times has been quite strange — usually I go hide in the toilet because it gets a bit too much!

We did a documentary about girls paying football, and it was just so odd because the other day I was watching a WSL game, Arsenal and Tottenham Ladies, and saw two girls that were in my documentary playing football for these two massive teams. It just feels lovely to have made something supporting that.

The fact that we’re still here is quite a highlight! Throughout the years I’ve definitely thought ‘I’m just gonna give it up, it’s too hard, nobody wants a female company, nobody wants this’, and I think that less now. Maybe just once a month rather than three times a week!

Women X is your upcoming film festival celebrating woman and non-binary filmmakers — taking place this weekend, which is very exciting. What went into your decision to set up a festival this year?

We started planning about 18 months ago — we just wanted to have a day where we could bring a bunch of female and nonbinary filmmakers together, share our films, learn from workshops and discuss on panels. I really wanted it to be in the North East — I moved here a fair few years ago and there just aren’t many film events around, especially tailored to women. We booked a tiny hall in Darlington and started planning — we put out feelers for people to send us their films, and we thought we were gonna get 30, and we’d pick 10 from that 30. We got 230, which is mad to me, and obviously we had to pick more than 10! Then the pandemic happened, so we could no longer be in a small hall, we moved to larger hall but we just felt that it wasn’t gonna be the festival we wanted it to be in a physical space. We wanted people to be able to socialise and feel comfortable, so we decided to park that idea and come back to it next year. We can do this online and be more accessible. People can attend more than they could if it was an actual event, so we focused our energy on building a digital space.

The original idea has gone completely out the window, and it’s grown arms and legs now and has become something that I couldn’t even imagine happening. The amount of tickets that we’ve sold and the amount of people that are gonna be attending this weekend is just unreal to me — I feel like I’m gonna wake up any moment now. The idea came from just bringing people together, and I hope that we can still do that even in a digital environment.

The festival is really interesting, as you’re combining screenings and Q&A’s with filmmakers with workshops and panels on working in the film industry itself. Why was it important to you that the festival combined experiencing film as a viewer, as is typical of a festival, with making a space for creatives to discuss the film industry?

I think people go to festivals, and they see great films, and then they walk away and that’s it. I wanted people to attend a festival with purpose — yes, they watched some great films, but they also learned something, or they made a connection, or they educated themselves or developed skills they already had. It was important to me to break it up so it wasn’t just watching nonstop films, it was learning and it was developing and it was engaging and realising that making short films is one part of the process. That’s why we have workshops on crowdfunding and festival strategy because there’s a lot more that goes into it when you’re being independent to get your film out there and get funding.

Similarly, we have panels on the importance of women in film criticism, because while we are one part of women in the industry making films, there’s this whole other segment of women watching films. The power of their reviews can make or break a film at times. The Work Well Feel Well panel is about taking time out from being so busy. We have to stop glamourising being busy and remind ourselves to check in with ourselves and if we need a break, to take one, and that you can be productive while taking a break. That’s kind of where the balance came from, enjoying films but also developing our craft and our futures.

You mentioned earlier parking the in-person festival until next year. What’s on the horizon for you guys? What are your plans for the future of the festival specifically, and Rianne Pictures more broadly?

The festival is definitely coming back next year! Obviously, nobody knows what the world is gonna be like, but we are aiming to have a physical space in the North East as well as the digital element. I think digital festivals this year really opened up eyes to the fact that more people can be involved, and it’s more inclusive, and you can be accessible, so we’ll definitely be doing that again next year. We’ve had many people contact us offering to host panels and workshops and we couldn’t fit that into the schedule this year, so I think next year is gonna be a little bit bigger, maybe a 4-day event. We hope we’re gonna have some great films out there, we’re hoping some of our attendees will go off and make films that we’ll then show, so that’s the future of Women X.

Rianne Pictures are about to launch a mentoring scheme called Rianne Pictures: Evolve, mentoring aspiring filmmakers to get their script to production plan, or to get their short film to a festival, sharing our resources to elevate other filmmakers out there. It’s about collaboration, not competition, and I think that the more we help lift each other up as women in film the better it is for all of us. We have a few other bits and pieces that I can’t say too much about as they’re mainly ideas in notebooks that need to be properly planned!

And finally, what are your top film recommendations for people looking to see more contemporary films from under-the-radar women and non-binary filmmakers?

We have a brilliant selection of short films at Women X so I’d definitely recommend a ticket there first! There are a lot of great women who have gone from working on short films to television, and they have some great films. Kate Herron, who is directing the Loki series for Disney Plus and also did Sex Education, has made some really great short films. There’s also an organisation that we’re part of called Cinesisters. and they have a roster of female filmmakers — you can click on their name and it will take you straight to their website where you can watch all of their short films. Their website is cinesisters.com. There are resources out there but there needs to be more, and that is definitely something that we’re aware of. A lot of female filmmakers make short films that then just sit on the shelf, and it’s about revisiting that work because these people then go on to make feature length films, and that’s exciting, and it’s good to see the early stages of that.

Make sure to follow Rianne Pictures on Twitter and Instagram @riannepictures, check them out on Facebook here and visit their website here to pick up your tickets for their unmissable film festival celebrating women and non-binary people in film.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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