Sophie Fiennes is a film director whose feature documentaries include her collaborations with the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” and “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” and her 2010 portrait of German artist Anselm Kiefer, “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.” Her 2001 documentary “Hoover Street Revival” featured a Pentecostal church community in Los Angeles, and the sermons of its preacher, Bishop Noel Jones, brother of Grace Jones.
“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” will premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on September 7.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Sf: The film is intimate and experiential and takes the viewer inside Grace Jones’ world.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Sf: “Grace Jones” exists almost as a cultural construction — a visual fetish. The film was a unique opportunity to explore the person beyond that fascinating surface.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Sf: I don’t approach making a film this way as it’s out of my control. The cinema screen is a surface that acts like a mirror and reflects the internal world of each viewer as much as the subject of the film itself.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Sf: As ever, finding the right financing partners to make it possible to make the film we wanted to make. It’s a big jigsaw and it takes time to fit the pieces together.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Sf: All the documentary footage is shot on prosumer digital video cameras so I was able to gather this material at relatively low cost without significant investment. This gave Grace and I the creative freedom we needed.
I knew I wanted to capture her performance and knew this would require substantial investment to do it justice. It took a long time, but by working with Katie Holly of Blinder Films as a lead producer we were able to partner with the British Film Institute, BBC Films, and the Irish Film Board, who were all excited by the premise of the film and have supported us throughout.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at the Toronto International Film Festival?
Sf: Toronto is a dynamic festival, both creatively and in terms of the market. I always enjoy showing films there. After many years of cooking up this brew, it’s going to be quite an experience to finally serve it up.
W&Hl What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Sf: Best advice: “Start as you mean to continue.”
Worst advice: I guess I deleted it as I can’t recall it.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Sf: Go as far creatively as you can — don’t limit yourself.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Sf: I really enjoyed Joanna Hogg’s “Exhibition” for its subtlety and quiet depth.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have on this topic.
Sf: There are a lot of women in powerful positions in this industry, but not directors of fiction it seems. There are many female documentary directors.
In terms of fiction, it comes down to the stories we as a society want to tell. Why so much violence against women? Do women want to make these kinds of films? The tyranny of genre as a guiding industry principle seems to leave women either on a rom-com merry-go-round or laid out of autopsy.
Tiff 2017 Women Directors: Meet Sophie Fiennes — “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.