Jeanie Finlay is a British artist and filmmaker. She set up Glimmer Films in 2008 to deliver ambitious, engaging and empathetic work for cinema, broadcast and exhibition. Her work includes the feature documentaries ORION: The Man Who Would Be King (Winner Grand Jury – Nashville), Panto! and The Great Hip Hop Hoax (nominated for a Grierson and a Bifa) for BBC Storyville, Sound It Out (official film of Record Store Day), Goth Cruise, which became the most downloaded title ever on IFC, Teenland, and award winning interactive documentary Home-Maker.
Jeanie was named an Inspiration award winner by Sheffield Doc/Fest, and a “Star of Tomorrow” by Screen International. She was the director of Nottingham’s flagship cinema and Media Centre Broadway for many years.
It was very confusing explaining the fourth wall to a four year old.
Congratulations on the UK premiere of Orion at Sheffield Doc/Fest! How has your festival experience been with the film.
Sheffield felt like a homecoming really, after a mini North American tour starting with our world premiere at Tribeca, Nashville, HotDocs, and Doxa (in Vancouver). Tribeca was terrifying, we had a PR company and magazine photoshoots and make-up artists and wearing gowns – far away from the nerdy world of documentary filmmaking. It usually takes me ten screenings to feel comfortable with a film being public, but this was like premiering it to the world! The Nashville screening was really emotional, because we shot a lot of the film there and we won the grand jury prize.
My husband came with me to New York and Nashville, and my mum came to Nottingham and looked after my 11 year old daughter. She was pretty pissed off she didn’t get to come to the States – but it’s work! There are some things that are really cool to share and I have taken her with me out to Doxa in Vancouver, but some things aren’t so fun. I wanted to be able to be looked after as a filmmaker for my world premiere, I didn’t want to be a parent while I was at the festivals. Then I did a masterclass at Sheffield, and I took my daughter up for the day. I said “I want you to understand my world!”
Was she into it?
She initially said she would find it “boring” (see her reaction here) but I think she enjoyed it after all! If I was doing a Minecraft documentary, or a film about about Taylor Swift, maybe she’d be more into it. She is more interested in fiction: my sister Claire Finlay works in British television comedy as a costume designer, on shows like Gavin and Stacey and Hunderby, so she’s visted lots of those sets. It was very confusing explaining the fourth wall to a four year old; we took her on a visit to the Gavin and Stacey set when she was about four – she’d met Ruth Jones loads of times, and she just couldn’t understand that it wasn’t real. Then when she saw the episode on TV, she was really confused.
My husband Steven [Sheil] made the first ever Microwave film Mum and Dad when our daughter was about four or five. She’d visit the set and they’d have to cover bits up, because it was a horror film. He also runs a horror festival called Mayhem, and last year she programmed Teen Mayhem with him, and brought in the cast of Wolfblood, which is her favourite show. She was totally in awe and super-shy.
But she came to the gala screening of my film Panto!, and although I know she thinks it’s odd what I do, she held my hand through the whole screening. She likes the idea you can take places that are familiar to her, and transform them on screen. She’s only just starting to understand that all the mums and dads at school don’t make films.
I had a national galleries tour of Home-Maker when my daughter was four months old: since then I’ve never done more than 50% childcare. That’s the main thing.
How do you balance your work and your parenting together?
We’re both freelance, so we manage our time. Sometimes our work means I’m working more and then I’ll be doing more at home than Steven is – he made a film for HBO Asia and was out in Indonesia for six months, so I got childcare and a cleaner, and I was emancipated by that! But I’ve always been a parent-filmmaker: I didn’t start making films until 11 years ago, and I got my first commission when I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter. I was really pregnant, and I remember the commissioner saying to me, “Will this be a problem?” And I said, “No, it will be fine.” It was blind faith, I was an optimist! But honestly the BBC couldn’t have been better.
I was already working as an artist, making artwork for galleries and on the internet. I’d been doing a lot of photography and it seemed like the stories people were telling me as I shot them were “the work”, and I should record that. So I made my first, self-taught film called Home-Maker, and then got in contact with a new producer. She pitched eight films to the BBC, including mine – Teenland – and that was the only one they wanted. I had a national galleries tour of Home-Maker when my daughter was four months old: since then I’ve never done more than 50% childcare. That’s the main thing.
You live and work in Nottingham: is it a particularly family-friendly city?
It’s supposed to be the city with the largest percentage of artists outside of London. It was hit hard by the recession but it’s coming back now. The cost of living here is lower and there are spaces available for redevelopment. For example there’s a really good artist-run centre called PRIMARY in what used to be a primary school that has artists’ studios, gallery space and a bakery; the people that run it were able to take a risk in setting it up. The same applies to us as independent filmmakers.
We can afford a house, and I have an office at Broadway cinema where I can see other artists. Childcare is cheaper because the cost of living is cheaper. When our daughter was at nursery, before she started school, the cost of her childcare was one-quarter of the cost my sister pays living in Shoreditch: that’s insane! That has a huge impact.
Being a parent has never, ever got in the way of my filmmaking: it has made me value my time and cut out the bullshit.
Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers?
If you want to be a filmmaker, you need to make films.
Being a parent has never, ever got in the way of my filmmaking: it has made me value my time and cut out the bullshit, and say “I’m not doing that, I’m paying for childcare.” Having been an artist, I knew my sensibility, I knew how I wanted things to work visually. After I’d made two films, I knew I wanted to set up my production company, Glimmer Films, and be autonomous.
In fact, I never talk about being a parent-filmmaker as a challenge, only sometimes about being a woman – and then only when it come to distribution or press, when people write about how I look, and at some film festivals. With Sound it Out, maybe because it’s a film about a record shop and a 99% male clientele, I got asked over fifty times, “How would the film be different if it had been made by a man?” And you always get a question about how you were able to make the film as a woman, as if your boobs got in the way of holding the camera.
I was mentored by Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie, who were visual artists, but are now filmmakers too. I’ve always been very driven: I asked them to mentor me, and designed a mentoring package. And that helped me move from being a community artist to just being an artist. Sometimes I just think that women need permission. When I moved to making films I didn’t need to ask anyone!
Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is in cinemas and VOD from September 25th.