The brains behind online platform Girls in Film, we talk to the producer who is helping pave the way for a new generation of filmmakers
Nikola Vasakova grew up in a country with a strong film culture and history, which helped her appreciate independent cinema from a young age. Originally of Yemeni and Czechoslovakian descendency but raised in Slovakia, she was inspired by Czech New Wave film growing up. Personalities like Vera Chytilova and Jan Svankmajer helped influence her interest in becoming a video producer and programmer. Once she got her foot in the door, Nikola began to notice the limitations of progression in the industry so started a platform to network and elevate the careers of a new generation in film.
Nikola grew up in a small Slovakian town where there wasn't much to do except attend the local cinema. Despite independent cinema and film playing a prominent role in her early years, she didn't think a career in film was on the cards for her. She moved to Great Britain to study Magazine Publishing at London College of Communication. After graduating in 2010 and several unpaid internships later, Nikola found herself frustrated and in a difficult position: did she continue struggling in magazine publishing or try something new? She told us she had to get real with herself, especially as the industry was in turmoil during a transition period from print to digital. After thinking about what she was good at, Nikola thought production would be a good place to start. Now she looks back at that moment as a stroke of faith, but really it was about making a decision for practical reasons.
A decade later in London, Nikola now considers herself a 'Londoner.' Although Girls in Film has evolved into a platform championing female and BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) filmmakers, it's important to understand the reasons behind Nikola starting it. She didn't settle on production for financial gains, quite the opposite as she worked for free as a runner for several of her friends. From there she landed a three-month internship and worked her way up to a production secretary, to the coordinator, to the manager, and finally, a producer.
It took her a while to establish herself in a 'secure job.' She told us, "My first ‘proper’ job was a two-month shoot in Ghana. I was the most junior in the crew and the only woman, it was pretty intimidating. I’m glad I didn’t jump through the ranks, I think it’s important to get experience at each level to understand the job. I’ve been working in production for six years now and I can honestly say I’m still learning new things with each job! Which makes it more fun (and stressful, sometimes)."
Having started in March 2016, Girls in Film held their first event at the Ace Hotel in east London. Nikola told us it sold out really quickly and the demand showed her there was a need for this type of platform. She felt like it was the right time for a new network for young women that took more of an interest in video as a vocation or another form of creative expression. In just over two years they have gone onto organizing events in London, New York, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, and Prague –which now has its own hub, GiF Prague. Nikola told us she is now hoping to create more of these hubs around the world so they can provide a strong international network to women worldwide.
As a new generation of women enter the industry and the world continues to address internal issues around the #MeToo movement, there has definitely been a shift in interest when addressing equality and breaking down generation old stereotypes. We asked what sort of changes Nikola has seen in the film since she began her career and Girls in Film?
"There is definitely more interest in a discussion on topics of equality, not just gender but also class, ability, sexual orientation, etc. These are all very good and important discussions that have manifested themselves in creating more opportunities and efforts for diversification, there are no more funds available to female and BAME filmmakers. There’s also palpable change in the representation of women and minorities on screen. However, when we look at the statistics in the representation of females in various positions in the industry, the figures are still pretty dire. But I do believe that if we play our cards right, this wave of change can have a long-lasting positive effect on the industry and won’t become a fad that has come and gone."
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Excerpt from the film ‘Continuing Conversations’ commissioned by @vamuseum and directed by @jadeshamraeff that will be screened today at @hereeast from 12-6 in the programme celebrating women in the arts. Honoured to be in the company of awesome creative women from east London like @dianachire @ashleighkane & @amputee_kat
Having a lasting impact on the industry is at the heart of Girls in Film and what Nikola is trying to achieve. This outset on excellence and diversity is being rolled out throughout their platform and social media. Predictable and Instagram-friendly content can get you quick gains, but this isn't what Girls in Film stand for. She told us that Girls in Film has "never used millennial pink on Instagram despite it being the modern feminist color of choice–it’s too easy and to be honest, pretty boring." Instead, she says they focus on "representing the variety and diversity of voices of female-identified filmmakers and not how palatable, Insta-friendly their work is. I find it weird when I see platforms claiming to represent or promote creatives but all the images look very same–that’s not representation, that’s very narrow-minded curation. It’s boring, reductive, and doesn’t serve the community as much as it benefits the publishers."
Nikola's views are also currently being echoed across the industry in a bid to diverse creativity instead of sticking to a formula that pulls in good algorithms. Bella Mackie wrote a piece this summer in The Guardian asking if Instagram is changing the way we design the world, this could also be true of film and other creative forms of expression. Going against the mainstream tide and standing by your morals is a highly valuable assist within the industry, which is why Girls in Film has evolved into a credible source of talent.
With so much focus on Nikola's efforts to elevate the industry in a new direction, we barely had the opportunity to discuss her work. Having previously worked for the likes of NTS Radio, Boiler Room, The Economist, The Telegraph, and Vice to name a few, Nikola has worked within some of the most known and renowned organizations in Europe. We asked her what her all-time favorite client or project was, to which she replied:
"I just got back from working on a music video for British artist Nilufer Yanya. We spent two weeks in California shooting two music videos on 16mm back-to-back with an amazing team, cinematographer Sonja Tsypin, and director Molly Daniel. It is these projects that remind me how powerful and positive a female-lead set can be."
Nikola has a vision, having already created a space to open a discussion on several topics from gender to race to equality, she plans to make a positive and lasting effect on the industry. To conclude the interview we ask Nikola about the past instead of looking to the future. We ask her what three classic films she still loves watching to this day. She told us, "I’m a 1990s child, so I never get tired of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann. Every year at Christmas I watch Slovak and Czech Christmas films as a tradition, my favorite is definitely Perinbaba by Jakub Jakubisko, there are also some great Russian films like Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors. And of course, I should mention a female directed cult classics like Wayne’s World or American Psycho."