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Five minutes with: Nikola Vasakova
We spoke to Girls in Film founder Nikola Vasakova about career highlights, advice for new filmmakers and her next moves.
What are you working on right now?
Girls in Film (GiF) has three main pillars of activities: an international network, a video platform and production. And I have fingers in all those pies! I’m working with our Central European outpost GiF Prague on international co-production projects and I’d love to set up more GiF hubs around Europe, Americas and Africa this year. We have started publishing two to three new films per week on our site thanks to tireless work of our editor Beatrix Blaise and I’m hoping more people are using our site for reference in finding great work by young female filmmakers. We also have two documentaries that were recently commissioned by the Guardian and by the Barbican, and a short film in production.
What was your first job in the film industry?
I worked my way up the traditional way, starting as a runner on my friend's music videos for free and interning. But my very first paid job was production secretary at a documentary series shot in Ghana across two months. I was the only woman in a 20+ crew and the youngest crew member, it was pretty intimidating and full of casual sexism.
What has been your career high so far?
I feel a lot of career highs are about to happen! Every new year feels like a huge growth, both personal and professional. Being selected to speak at SXSW this year might be one of them.
What’s your connection to the British Council?
GiF was granted a Sub-Saharan Africa research grant for our outreach trip to South Africa in order to further our connection to South African creatives and establish ground for future projects. I was also invited by the British Council in Mauritius to create a three-day workshop seminar on which I was joined by South African director Jabu Newman. Teaching a workshop in Mauritius, where there is a lack of film culture, was incredibly rewarding.
What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting off in filmmaking?
If you are starting out as a runner on set, be nice and always keen to help - seems obvious but it never goes unnoticed. Put yourself out there - find who you admire and why and think about ways how you can contribute. I went on a lot of short courses with subsidised funding. I’d go to any free lecture, talk and workshop I could find.
Find your wolf pack. Having good people around you that support you and help you along the way is seriously half of the job.
Last but not least, watch a lot of films! Immerse yourself in the craft until all your references become scenes from the films.
What is your favourite British film?
I’m not good at ‘favourites’ but here are some British filmmakers I admire: Kim Longinotto’s compassionate eye in her documentaries, Andrea Arnold for finding diamonds in the rough, Nicolas Roeg for making me feel an array of emotions with each of his films. His passing really got to me, we lost an incredible mind.
What’s the first film you remember seeing? What was so memorable about it?
I think the most memorable films for those growing up in Czechoslovakia must be the Christmas films, they’re a strong part of our Christmas tradition and a collective cultural heritage. Films like Three Gifts For Cinderella (1973) by Vaclav Vorlicek, The Feather Fairy (1985) by Juraj Jakubisko and Russian film Jack Frost (1964) by Alexander Rou were all part of our early film experiences. With fierce restrictions from a Communist government, filmmakers found their creative window in ‘safe’ family films, so many of them are real cinematic feasts. I’d recommend watching The Little Mermaid (1976) by Karel Kachyna.
This article was first published in February 2019.