Nicole Lieberman and Liza Van Der Smissen met at the BFI film festival in 2017 and have worked on an award winning short film together titled ‘Neext!’ for which they had an 80% female crew. During the shoot they discovered their shared passion for films told from the female gaze and decided to keep working together on a mission to champion female filmmaking. They came up with the Female Film Club during lockdown as means of connecting with other female filmmakers around the world.
Tell us about your background - where you grew up, what you studied and what your career has looked like so far?
Liza: I grew up in The Netherlands training as a professional dancer since I was five years old. At 19, I came to London to continue my studies as a musical theatre performer. After working as a dancer in a few films I became interested in the medium film and performing with text. I decided to train more as an actor, and as many actors do nowadays, started to produce and write my own pieces. This led me to want to understand the different elements of film more, and as I have a thing for organizing and planning, it was great to work as an AD in film where I got to understand each department better.
I decided to study further at Middlesex University where I achieved a distinction for my research into ‘Flawed Female Characters in Western 21st Century Film’. During this time I also co-produced and starred in the short film Neext! with Nicole. We made this film as a first push to get female voices heard, and founding the Female Film Club was a next organic step for both of us to help filmmakers reach their full potential and create their life’s work.
Nicole: I grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel and am half Italian. After a wonderful year in Barcelona where I learned Spanish - my sixth language - I moved to London where I studied Anthropology/Sociology and did a Masters in Human Rights Law. I was keen to make a difference through my work campaigning and promoting human rights in different areas. In 2016 I co-produced a Ugandan/British feature film Imperial Blue which premiered at Raindance Film Festival and is now available on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
I then started my production company Lieberman pictures and produced Neext! which shot with an 80% female crew and premiered at London Independent Film Festival, and won numerous awards. I later became the VP of Acquisitions & Business Development for the UK & Europe for the VOD platform Herflix which promotes films by, for and about women. I am now the co-founder of the Female Film Club, the online membership for international filmmakers who strive for excellence in all areas of their lives.
Where does your interest in the film industry stem from?
Nicole: I always believed that films are the best tool in raising awareness and telling stories we might have never known about. These important untold stories have the ability to open our minds, break cultural boundaries and borders and indirectly educate people and create change. They are not niche - everyone watches films and they have a wider reach which means they can really affect people. Through film you connect with the emotions of a person. Films are relatable, beautiful and really take you on a journey, enabling you to travel to other places you might not have visited otherwise.
There are so many stories we would have never heard of unless a film was made about them, and that is was always what drew me to the industry. I also love the creative element of making a film - the fact that so many passionate people got together to make something happen. The process is just so beautiful and the result is so rewarding. It is an industry I have always loved and I am so grateful to be part of it.
Liza: It started by working in film as an performer, but once I went to film festivals my passion for film really began. I was mesmerized by the different ways of storytelling coming from all over the world, and how magical moments are created when the elements of cinematography, acting, language, sound and light come together. There is not one formula, and can only be achieved when filmmakers deliver excellence together. I love the fact that a film involves many different moving parts. It’s (almost) impossible to make a film alone - you need each other which I find beautiful.
At film festivals I learned a lot about different cultures, habits and problems I wasn’t aware existed, which got me passionate about sharing them with others. This made me realize that most festival films don’t make it to a wider audience - they go back to their territory and perhaps have a cinematic release there. Which is exactly why we’re promoting these films now with the FFC. I truly believe that films can change perception and open our minds, but we need to be able to see the films! Luckily with everyone now being used to using online platforms more than ever, this becomes possible.
When did you start to notice the lack of female representation in the film industry?
Nicole: There were always such few nominations for women, in the Oscars, in the BAFTAS... it is shocking that there has only been one female DOP to ever win an Oscar. There are so many women doing amazing work out there but they are kept under the radar and not considered or nominated. When you ask most people who might not be in the industry to name a female director off the top of their head, they find it difficult, whereas they would always know the name of a male director. That is when you know there is an imbalance and women are being under represented.
Liza: During my studies I came across a lot of feminist film theory which fascinated me. The films and knowledge I discovered really drove me to push for a more inclusive film industry, not just for women, but for filmmakers of all genders, backgrounds, ethnicity and age. The strange thing is that there are so many brilliant films and filmmakers out there - they just work with smaller budgets and smaller niche audiences, and therefore rarely get the recognition and attention they deserve.
What roles in particular need to be filled with more females?
Liza: I think HoD’s should have more female and non-binary filmmakers. A gender-based analysis of the Israeli Film Industry (The Celluloid Ceiling 2021) which was first presented in the Female Film Club found that female directors hire more other female crew, so I’d say that would be a great place to start. And for anyone looking for female crew but does not know where to find them, I’d say join the FFC or message us as we’d be more than happy to introduce you to our brilliant members.
Nicole: I think it is not about a specific role, but if anything having women in all the roles within the industry should be normalised and not looked at strangely. The moment we will see more women in every position we will know that we are moving forwards, and questions like this one would not have to be asked.
How did the Female Film Club begin?
Nicole: The Female Film Club started at the beginning of COVID-19 and the first lockdown in the UK in 2020. It came from a place of need, because me and Liza really missed working with each other and we had to do video calls, even though we live five minutes away from each other. We thought, If it is so difficult for us, what are other women feeling at the moment? So we decided we wanted to find a connection within this worldwide disconnect. The FFC started for fun and it really took off from there and we decided to grow it.
Liza: Because everyone was talking about COVID-19 24/7, Nicole and I needed a space to focus our attention back into the industry and lift each other up in a disruptive time. It was a place where we had fun, a bit of escapism, vulnerability, and openness while discussing films that we and our members would not have seen otherwise. Soon we realized that we weren’t just discussing films together - we helped solidify our own voice and taste. We became a community comfortable with our own opinions and realized that they truly matter. Nicole and I then knew that we needed to scale this as we truly had something special to offer.
What is the main purpose of the Female Film Club?
Nicole & Liza: The FFC is there to inspire the can-do mindset that will drive real change so we can take more control and ownership of our life. We strive to empower and embolden individual female voices, from right across the film industry whilst championing female excellence and recognizing all that has been - and can be - achieved when we work together. Within the Female Film Club members find their tribe and become part of a global movement pushing the female voice forward.
What more needs to be done to increase female representation in film?
Liza: It starts by empowering women to take that step and bold action. To submit their films, to arrange that meeting, and to not take no for an answer - that’s why we work so often on mindset in the FFC. Because we cannot control the behavior of others and if we focus on that we’ll only get frustrated. But we can change our behavior and actions towards others, and change starts there.
Nicole: What we have seen time and time again through the club and our events is that a lot of women lack self-belief and confidence in taking the next big step towards creating their life’s work. Women need to work on their mindset and make sure they follow up and don’t give up because of fear or lack of self-confidence. By not giving up I mean completing that funding application, finishing that script, writing those important emails etc. But this does not always happen on its own and it is really important that we help each other and lift each other up in order to achieve excellence and inspiration.
Tell us about one of your recent favourite films that champions females?
Nicole: I loved Keren Ben Rafael’s film Virgins (2018) the story. The acting, the style... everything about it was magical to watch. Keren is a brilliant Israeli director and her recent film The End of Love (2019) is also a beautiful, relatable story shot in a very interesting way. If you haven’t seen her films yet make sure you watch them, they are great.
Liza: I have always loved Nordic cinema, and the films from Lisa Ohlin really stay with me. As a trained dancer myself, her film Walk With Me (2016) about the relationship between a dancer and soldier who lost his leg, is excellent filmmaking. There is an openness, strength and vulnerability to each character, exactly as we as humans are. And when I talk about bringing different elements together, Lisa Ohlin does exactly that. The film keeps surprising, exactly like life does.
Who inspires you and why?
Liza: All the powerful women who went before us paving the way for a more inclusive industry. The women in my family are incredibly strong and supportive and they inspire me to strive for excellence, as that is the least I can do to honor them.
Nicole: My mother inspires me every day. She raised me to believe in myself and in my ability to achieve excellence. She always fuelled my creativity and she let me take my journey towards self-discovery. I am very lucky to have had such an amazing mother. Until today she remains my biggest fan and supporter, and her advice for the Club and beyond is so valuable.
Is there anything else you want to add or shed light on?
Liza & Nicole: In the FFC we close most Q&A’s with the surprising question: ‘What are you proud of?’ It is so unusual for many women to come out for their achievements and it’s so personal what an achievement is for you. When we feel proud, we feel more motivated, we take bolder actions and we become that one step closer to our goal. So we’d love everyone who reads this, just to think for a moment, what they’re proud of today, and to go out into the world with that positive energy.
Find out more about The Female Film Club:
The Female Film Club is a unique, online community for female identifying and non-binary individuals from across the international film industry. An accessible, informal and inspiring online platform, the Female Film Club connects filmmakers and creatives, regardless of boundaries or limitations, to successfully develop their skills, networks and a positive, creative mindset. The Female Film Club puts shared experience and collaboration at the heart of its network, to ensure that no one is left behind. Hosting regular panels, masterclasses and Q&As with filmmakers from around the world, assisting with distribution, providing access and industry benefits, as well as offering a huge database of ground-breaking films to simply engage with, the Female Film Club is committed to encouraging female excellence through its international, creative community.
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*All photographs provided by the Female Film Club.