Interview with Bridget Ikin: Sherpa, diversity and Rebel Wilson.
Bridget Ikin is a passionate champion of new and innovative filmmaking, having worked as an independent producer in both Australia and New Zealand for more than 25 years, through her company Hibiscus Films. We catch up with Bridget in the lead up to the theatrical release of her latest film, Sherpa, and ask for her thoughts on diversity in the film industry.
You’ve just come back from the BAFTA Awards, where your film Sherpa was nominated for best documentary. How did you find the experience and what did you learn?
The experience was incredibly enjoyable. Jen [Peedom, director of Sherpa] and I both saw it as a once-in a-lifetime opportunity, so it was such a treat to be there. In fact, it was a weekend of events – spread between Kensington Palace and the Royal Opera House – all unbelievably well-organised and fun. I’d not really realised that the BAFTAS nominations celebrate ‘best in the world’, so they’re very international events. The thrill was seeing so many Australians nominated – and a number of them (all women) won for Fury Road. Because we didn’t win our section (Amy won, as predicted), I wasn’t able to publicly thank Screen Australia, who supported our BAFTA campaign very generously. I’d like to thank them here.
Sherpa takes an intelligent analysis of historical and political challenges facing and has a lot of cultural complexities. With that in mind, what was your greatest lesson from producing this film?
The greatest lesson I learnt is not to judge any of the characters in the film; present all points of view and give the audience the benefit of their intelligence. Also – to stay constantly open to change!
Sherpa premiered as part of the Official Competition at the Sydney Film Festival. It was the only documentary to be invited to screen in the official competition, and it’s gone on to screen at many other festivals since. How important have festivals been for the film?
As it’s turned out, the festivals are extremely important for Sherpa. We made the film with a theatrical release in mind (well – that’s a no-brainer, with the Himalayan landscapes!), but as most people will see it on television, the festival experience has been really rewarding (for the pleasure of experiencing the audiences’ reactions).
In many ways Sherpa gives a voice to a marginal group of people as it explores the unequal relationship between cashed-up foreign expeditions and their guides. What motivated you to tell their story?
There were two primary factors: firstly, I felt that the story was in very intelligent, safe hands with Jen Peedom, as she had been climbing in the Himalayas with this particular Sherpa team over many years. She knew the characters and the terrain of the story intimately. Secondly, I had personal connections to the story, via my NZ heritage: I’d been influenced by Ed Hillary’s dedication to the welfare of the Sherpas throughout his life; one of my closest friends had recently written Hillary’s biography (and we’d talked about Himalayan stories a lot), and I also had been caring for a young Sherpa guy in Sydney. It all added up to feeling ‘right’ for me, as, when I take on a project, I do need to feel that I have something particular to offer.
When will Sherpa have a theatre release?
It’s being released in Australia 31 March, and in NZ a week later.
While you were at the BAFTAs Rebel Wilson spoke on stage during the ceremony and said “never been invited to the Oscars, because as you know, they are racists”. While this is a comment on the awards, it speaks to a bigger issue of a lack of diversity in the industry as a whole. How did people in the room react to her speech and what are your thoughts on this?
Rebel’s speech was brilliant, and very well received. I got the sense that the BAFTAS were attempting to differentiate themselves from the Oscars in this regard. Lack of diversity is a huge issue for all of us. I guess each in our own ways, we have to keep chipping away at this – presenting stories, which challenge the mainstream, which represent our wildly varied experiences, and which humanise marginal voices.
Over your career, many of your films have had often has a strong representation of women in key production roles. Can you tell us what your process in putting your crews together?
I almost always choose to collaborate with female directors, on stories that have a female perspective. I think it’s a natural bias, as I want to produce films that I want to see! I have to consider myself part of the audience for each film I produce, as I use my intuition a great deal.
As far as choosing crews – I enjoy working with as many women on the crew as possible. It’s not always possible (eg the crew of Sherpa was 100% male, as the requirements were so specific). I like to choose the key crew, together with the director, and they then choose their team. I find it naturally evolves to being a crew dominated by women, if the story has a female perspective. There’s a natural gravity.
With current momentum towards developing more leading female characters do you see a move towards creating strong female leads or is there more scope for a more nuanced and complex exploration of the female experience?
I hope we can move to a more complex and nuanced exploration of female experiences. Our industry is full of ‘followers’; it’s much harder being a leader, but, over time, I feel that the door is slowly being opened up for more female-oriented stories. We certainly need the diversity.
You’re currently working with Alison Maclean on another project with a strong female story. Can you tell us about it?
I’m working in New Zealand now with Alison Maclean, an old friend, for whom I’ve previously produced her marvellous, classic short Kitchen Sink and her first feature Crush. This new film is an adaptation of Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton’s intriguing novel, The Rehearsal. Alison has co-written it with the NZ novelist Emily Perkins. Kerry Fox and Alice Englert have key roles. We shot in Auckland last year, and are currently editing. It’ll be ready in a few months. I’m excited about it!