HIGHER GROUND was the winner of BEST SHORT FILM at the May 2021 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival.
Conversation with the filmmaking team.
Director – Ania Smolenskaia
Producer – Jenny Collins
Executive Producer – Tessa Ingham
1. What motivated you to make this film?
Tessa: Higher Ground is WING’s first self-funded film; we’ve always talked about doing a film that wasn’t for a client, and we were fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to do so when we came across this script. When I read this script, it really spoke to me, I thought it was well written, witty, clever, and most of all it was tackling a very important subject. I was actually on a plane when I read it for the first time, which probably helped me to visualise it a bit! I have four children, two girls and two boys, and our eldest daughter was approaching 12 when I read this script, so I knew this was a topic that we would be discussing with our children fairly imminently. I just felt that it was such an important message, and it was handled in such a brilliant way that we decided that this was the script that we wanted to make into a film. It was a no-brainer, really.
Ania: On behalf of all the rest of the female crew, I think it was very appealing to see something that is so relatable. It’s put in a humorous form, which is good, and also I think every woman will be in a situation like this at some point in her life, not necessarily on a plane, but in some way, we all go through this. It’s important to put that up on screen.
Tessa: I was just so aware that I didn’t want my daughters to feel embarrassed about this totally natural thing that was happening to their bodies. We also have two younger sons, and I feel really strongly that they need to see periods as a totally normal part of life. If boys and men can feel more at ease around periods, then that will help women to feel more at ease. It’s really important for everyone to be talking about this topic, and the way it was handled in this script wasn’t preachy, yet it still managed to get the message across.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
Jenny: Overall it actually took a couple of years. As opposed to the client work we usually do, this was a passion project and was taken care of entirely in-house – with favours from friends, of course! It was something we were always determined to see through, and dropping the film on International Women’s Day 2021 felt like the perfect release date.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
Jenny: Period drama!
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Ania: It was definitely finding the plane! So many people came to us with suggestions, but it was really difficult to find something that worked for us. Somebody suggested using a green screen, but this is a self-funded film, Will and Tessa had put their own money behind this project, so we didn’t have a Hollywood budget. Plus, we didn’t want to just stick a few rows of chairs in front of a green screen and kid ourselves it looked believable. Somebody offered us a plane that a connection of theirs had, but it was parked on an airfield near Lisbon, and we couldn’t possibly transport the entire cast and crew over there. So when we finally found a plane we could use, that was amazing. The other big challenge for me and the team was to pull it off in a day. It’s our debut film, it’s 8 minutes long, we had a lot of extras, and they all needed to be looked after. But everyone did such an amazing job, this project truly is a team effort, and it’s a testament to how tight the crew is.
Tessa: Yeah, as Ania said, we didn’t have a huge budget, and usually you can find a way to mock something up or make it work in another scenario, but not with this. We did have conversations about setting it somewhere else, but really it had to be set on a plane, so we had to find one! The plane we found is a disused 747 which is now only used for film shoots, and we had it for the day. Everyone was absolutely fantastic at getting the job done, but it was a huge undertaking!
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Jenny: I was just overwhelmed by how positively everyone responded to the film. Everyone was so complimentary about the writing, the production design, and the performance of our wonderful lead actress Abigail Davis. What was really special was seeing people relate to the film and to their own experiences of being caught short and on the hunt for a tampon – it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
7. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
Ania: The first time I picked up a Bolex camera in one of my film classes at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) I was hooked. This 16mm classic was a big inspiration to me.
What film have you seen the most in your life?
Ania: Stalker by Tarkovsky. A Soviet sci-fi / art house film from 1979. Slow, dark and beautiful.
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
Jenny: FilmFreeway is really easy to use and it’s so great to have all the festivals in one place. It is a bit nerve wracking to send something off – you’ve worked so hard on the film, the poster, the press kit, and then with the click of a button it’s on its way!
9. What is your favorite meal?
Jenny: Nothing beats a pizza – veggie supreme, please!
10. What is next for you? A new film?
Jenny: WING are busy having just filmed a series called Life in Stages for London’s National Theatre, with British acting legends in conversation about their careers and the pandemic. It’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking and is not to be missed. Our first episode starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman and the National’s artistic director Rufus Norris dropped on YouTube last week and made a big splash – check it out!