Monday, 29 October 2012

Podcast + transcribed interview with Ellie Land about her latest film: Centrefold


This is a 19-minute podcast with an interview with the international award-wining filmmaker Ellie Land, which I recorded in August 2012 (I have also transcribed parts of the interview below).

In this podcast, Ellie Land talks about her latest film (released in July 2012), Centrefold, a 9-minute animation film about Labiaplasty, which gathers the accounts of 3 women who have had labia surgery. Ellie Land has made many animation films on documentary subjects around the themes of femininity, gender politics, education and identity, and she is also a Senior Lecturer in Animation at Northumbria University Design School.

Centrefold was released online in July 2012, and it was incredibly successful very fast: in the first 2 weeks that it was released, it had had 125,000 hits, and it had featured in the national and international media on the radio and in the press.

You can watch the film online here

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Feminism in Newcastle

North East Feminist Gathering, Newcastle, October 2012

This film also comes at a certain time when feminism seems to be talked about more widely in the media, and where it is certainly more present at the moment in Newcastle upon Tyne. 

Many feminist initiatives have sprung up recently in Newcastle: the Star & Shadow Cinema has been holding film screenings on feminism throughout the whole of 2012, in partnership with the gender research group at Newcastle University, (LOUDER NOW: Feminism on film); in September 2012, Dr Julia Downes, Research Associate at Durham University, organised a Girl Gang film season on Riot Girls and the punk feminist movements in the USA, also at the Star & Shadow Cinema; in October 2012, the North East Feminist Gathering organised a whole weekend of workshops, debates and discussions; and finally, between 12 and 14 October 2012, a new festival called Imprint Art took place in Newcastle, which focused on the work of experimental/feminist/cross platform female artists.

Transcription of bits of the interview with Ellie Land

Centrefold is an excellent film about labiaplasty, but it is also about more than that – through this subject, the film talks about the way women perceive their bodies, and about the sense of disgust that some of them might feel towards their own genitals. This in turn, can be linked to the way women are portrayed in the media, to consumerism, and to the way certain women still feel insecure and pressured about the way they look.


I talked about all that with Ellie Land, and this is a transcription of part of the interview that you can find in the podcast:

Q: The film doesn’t seem to condemn labia surgery – was that important to you?

Ellie Land: Yes. Actually, I set out to make a film that I thought was going to be damning to labia surgery, because it’s not necessarily something that I think women should be going through. However, when I met the women [whose interviews feature in the film], that’s not what they think. So that’s why the story talks in that kind of way, because as a filmmaker I’m really interested in what these women have got to say, and to bring that forward in the film.

That’s also why I didn’t include the voices of the research partners who’ve done a lot of work around labia surgery , Sarah Creighton and Li-Mei Liao, because I didn’t want to have that voice of authority in the film, to undermine what the women were saying. So I think that the film is definitely not the film that I set out to make, but the film is very true to what the women say.

And actually, I didn’t’ find a woman who’d had a labia surgery, and who completely regretted it, but that’s because none of the women I interviewed had had their labia surgery more than a year, so I think that they haven’t really had time for it to sink it. It’s a serious piece of surgery, so your body’s got to heal, and get used to that, and you have got to get used to it, and your partner has to get used to it. And as you grow older, you also possibly get more comfortable in your own skin anyway, so your thoughts about your body and how you feel about it also change. 

So it would have been great to have found a woman who'd had labia surgery for 10 years, but labia surgery was not so popular 10 years ago, so it was very difficult to find someone who’d actually had it done.

Q; Was it important for you to use animation to talk about that subject?

Ellie Land: You know, talking about genital cutting is not something that we do very often anyway, and then, to do it in quite an accessible form, like animation, just brings it out of the space where it would normally be talked about, which is probably in feminist and academic circles. So hopefully the film might be more attractive to a wider audience of people.

But also to use animation with documentary subjects really interests me, because you can do whatever you like, you’re not tied down to using live action, and having to try and recreate things in live action. With animation you just have complete freedom. So a flying sequence, to describe the ups and downs of how women feel about their labia surgery, would be quite difficult to achieve in live action, and you probably wouldn't do that, you would probably try and talk about it in a different way. But it’s about communicating these ideas through animation in a way that I feel is much more emotive than a talking head shot of that person talking about labia surgery.

But one thing that’s quite interesting is that people often say “well, actually I would like to see those women who talk about their labia surgery”. They miss that talking head shot, but I really like to keep that out of the process.


Q: You have made several films that talk about feminist issues, and female body identity, why and what exactly interests you in these issues?

Ellie Land: So I suppose, what I am interested in is just how do we, as women, feel about our bodies, how do we look at ourselves, how do we reflect and critically appraise what we think about ourselves. Because I think that in our society, there is so much information and cultural wash about how we should look and how we’re supposed to look as women, and that changes depending on what’s fashionable at the time. And I think that it’s quite easy to get lost in all of that. So I’m quite interested in picking up on these kinds of things. So I suppose it’s body anxiety and body identity mixed up together.

Q: Do you feel like this pressure that women are under (or put themselves under) regarding their looks, is the result of hundreds of years of women being regarded primarily as objects or sexual objects?

Ellie Land: Yes, very much so, but I also think that it’s wrapped up in consumerism and business. So it’s not necessarily just because women are regarded as an object of desire, it’s also about making money from being that object of desire, which I think is a big thing that surrounds us, for both men and women.


Finally, I also talked with Ellie Land about the difficulty that she had in finding the right vocabulary for talking about labia with the women that she interviewed, and about the sense of shame that women might feel regarding this part of their body.

Ellie Land: I think that shame is a good word, there is this feeling of shame about “down there”, about your genitals. I remember when we were starting the project, we thought “what are we going to call it when we speak to the women?”. The women were saying to me: “how shall I refer to myself?” - and I was saying - “well the actual term is your genitals". But it doesn’t sound as good as "fanny" or "vagina". So in the end, people just referred to themselves as they wanted to. 

And there was also a discussion about the way to pronounce “labia”, and is it “labiaplasty” or “labioplasty”? There are all these different terms, so even getting the language right was something that we had to discuss, because it’s not something that is generally talked about.

Music at the end of the podcast: Feeling Good by My Brightest Diamond (a woman singing about feeling good, I thought it fitted well!)

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