Julie Zackova on the lack of female filmmakers and the importance of strong role models
Julie Žáčková is a graduate of Prague’s FAMU -- the film and TV school of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague -- and holds a master’s degree in critical and cultural theory at Charles University. She also spent a semester at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. During her studies at FAMU, she produced a short film “Pravomil / A Righteous Choice” (2014, Pavel Nosek, director) that was awarded Best Student film at the Czech Lions film awards. From 2010 - 2014, she worked as a programmer for iShorts, monthly short film screenings in Prague’s BIO OKO cinema. Since 2012, she has been working as a producer at Unit and Sofa. She is currently developing a feature film, “Mountains in the Mist” (Milada Těšitelová, writer, Agnieszka Smoczynska, director) and the TV series “Willows” (Milada Těšitelová, writer, Jan Těšitel, director). In 2017, she started the Prague outpost of “Girls in Film,” a platform that aims at connecting aspiring female filmmakers in the local film industry.
Femme Palette (FP): Julie, you are the head of Prague’s Girls of Film, a global network of female filmmakers. When did you become interested in the film industry?
Julie Žáčková (JZ): My story is kind of lame because none of my parents are in film or arts at all, so it didn’t come naturally in my family. I was an extra on a big shoot in Prague and I am not even sure how I came to it. It was being shot on the outdoor lot of Barrandov studios, where they built an entire 19th century London street. I was really charmed by the whole shebang of how films are getting made and I said to myself I’m going to do something like this one day. I gradually met some people who were already working in film crews and on sets. I started as an assistant, then moved my way up working on different service productions.
I also ended up applying to FAMU where I didn’t get accepted the first time. I was really let down. I tried for the second time and got accepted to the producing department at FAMU. I originally tried to apply to the department of documentary film making but it did not work out. The whole entrance exam experience at FAMU really tests your psychological strength; it’s brutal! The school is super selective. For example, at the documentary and the directing department they only accept five people each year. At the producing department where I ended up studying they ended up taking ten of us.
(FP): What are you doing now?
(JZ): I am working for the production company, Unit and Sofa. I’ve been there for six years, starting as an assistant then trying all the different positions in the production crew and I did some jobs as line producer. They are a service production company for commercials mostly -- American ones, English ones, big budget, big set. But I decided I wanted to return to film. So, I invented the title, “head of development” which is my current position. I’m now developing some feature films and TV series and I’m also working on a short film. I’m finally becoming a creative producer of fictional stuff rather than commercials.
(FP): When you were applying to FAMU did you have any backup plan or was this your only dream, the only thing you were shooting for?
(JZ): No, because when I didn’t get accepted for the first time I had to go somewhere to university, so I applied to Charles University. I got accepted to the English and American program where I studied for my bachelor’s and master’s degree for seven years and I kind of ended up studying both schools at the same time. Thanks to Charles University I had the chance to study at NYU in New York for a semester, which was great, and I kind of sneaked my way into their film school. On my exchange program application, I said I wanted to write my thesis on film. And they allowed me to do that. So yeah, if the film school didn’t work out, I’d probably be translating books or something similar right now.
But I always knew that even if I didn’t get to FAMU I would still like to work on films and on sets. It is of course harder without film school and I can see it in producing. The contacts are your main asset and the main thing you are building in your career. And FAMU is the ideal place where you can meet people from all different fields of the film industry.
(FP): Now to Girls in Film -- what lead you to introduce this London platform to Prague?
(JZ): I went to Berlinale, the Berlin film festival two years ago and before I go I always study who is attending and who I should meet and possibly collaborate with in the future. Then I saw this platform called Girls in Film and thought it sounded interesting. So, I wrote an email to Nikola Vašáková, a Slovakian who lives in London where she started this platform. We met in Berlin and she told me about what she’s doing, and I thought it sounded very intriguing and I basically decided I wanted to do the same thing here in Prague. What the platform does is organize different events and through these events they try to present the work of young upcoming aspiring filmmakers as well as connect them.
I remember that when I met with Nikola I felt we had very similar views about female filmmakers in the film industry. We both agreed on what is really the core of what we’re doing with Girls in Film -- trying to create role models for young girls who are starting to think about entering the film business. We are mainly promoting the work of female filmmakers who are just getting into the industry. We are not saying that men are bad filmmakers or directors and that women are better in some way and that we should impose some quota on the funding bodies. What we are trying to do is to show the world that there are some interesting women in this industry and maybe they don’t get as much attention and we can help them showcase their work or maybe even connect them with each other.
(FP) I think you have touched on this a little bit, but could you introduce the platform and how does it operate in Prague?
(JZ): Here in Prague, I and my colleague Dagmar Sedláčková focus on two main activities. The first one is organizing events like screenings, debates, and networking events. We’ve already done two short film screenings, called iShorts, where we put together a selection of short films made by women from all over Europe and we present them at screening nights at BIOOKO. Last year we had a debate with the Czech film fund at the Karlovy Vary film festival where I was moderator, and we opened a discussion on women in the Czech film industry.
The second activity is our Instagram account where I try to post everything that is happening in Prague or at major European festivals that is somehow connected to female filmmakers. This is how we help young female filmmakers present their work to the outside world.
The main platform website of London’s Girls in Film is like a journal where they do weekly posts of short films, music videos or video art. We are not really working on that here in Prague, for us it is mostly the events and Instagram, promoting the works of female filmmakers.
(FP) What reaction have you received? Did people start noticing you and joining your community right away?
(JZ): You don’t have to become a member to follow us. Anyone can follow our Instagram page. The reactions about what we are doing are very different. Of course, there are some women and men who are very supportive saying that what we are doing is great, that we were really missing something like this here in Prague. But then you also have men and women who are saying that this is only a trendy thing and we are just riding on that wagon doing something “cool” and promoting ourselves by that. Some people think we are trying to get involved politically, trying to impose a quota on the funding system here like getting at least 50% of the funding for women. But that is not our goal. Our main goal is to help young female filmmakers promote their work on top of what they are already doing on their own.
In Czech Republic, why are we seeing more male filmmakers and directors than female?
That is actually a question I often ask myself and I still haven’t found an answer. When I tried to investigate how many women apply to the film fund, and how many get supported, I didn’t find a solution because I don’t feel that the Czech film fund or Czech television would not want to support them. They do support talent when they see it no matter what the gender -- like Tereza Novotová. You can’t say she is being overlooked by the funding bodies.
So I thought maybe this issue goes a little deeper. I spoke to some people from FAMU about the ratio of the applications of women vs how many people get accepted to the directing department and I found out that for 100 applications there is only 10 that are sent by women. So perhaps the “problem” isn’t that women are not getting accepted to film school or not being given the chance to shoot their films -- it is more that they are not even applying to film school.
And then this is where Girls in Film steps in and becomes very important to me. Because I believe that we could inspire some women who are just thinking about entering the industry by showing them what other women are doing.
(FP): How was it for you to make it in the film industry as a woman?
(JZ): I think this is applicable for any type of industry. I feel like sometimes you have to go the extra mile to prove that you can do something. I can still feel that there is a doubt about women being in these strong positions. I’ve heard from my colleagues that they receive comments like “Oh you’ll have a baby soon and drop out of this project,” etc. When I got support from the Czech film fund, I heard the comment that I “must have worn a skirt to the presentation.” I understand it was a joke, and I didn’t get offended or anything, but it kind of stayed with me. You must learn how to overcome the fact that people have low expectations of you as a woman. And it is not only men, women can be very unsupportive as well.
Actually, a few of my friends and I have started this group where you can come and share your problems and troubles that you are facing in pursuing this career. I feel that by sharing, you learn more than just hearing about how somebody made it easily. I appreciate it much more when people talk openly about their failures because it makes me feel like I’m not the only one who is failing the first time.
(FP): This group, would that be part of Girls in Film?
(JZ): Possibly. We are just testing it out on a small group of people now. When I was organizing some panels, often panelists approached me and said, “You know I really would prefer not to talk about this project that I quit.” People are afraid to talk about their failures and I don’t judge them -- it is their choice. But I do feel it is easier for people to talk about their successes than mistakes. So yes, we are going to test out this group and then maybe make it part of Girls in Film.
(FP): Would you say there is a pay gap in the film industry?
(JZ): I wouldn’t say so. The film industry is very well-structured in a way that you have set daily fees for your position or profession regardless if you are a man or a woman. So, for example, the make-up artists and camera people make a set amount of money. Of course, it also depends on the level of your experience. A well-known professional will make more than someone who is new. But the set pay-scale is one of the very good things about this industry.
(FP): Is there something you would like to say to aspiring female directors or filmmakers --something you wish you knew when you were just starting out?
(JZ): Don’t be afraid of asking for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid of approaching somebody famous in the film industry. In my experience, when I approach somebody and ask them for help, I usually get it, even if I ask a very famous director. I just saw this interview with the famous French director Agnes Varda and she said, “be curious, be courageous, be patient and be joyful about filmmaking.” So, I would say courage is the word I am looking for. And joyful as well, because nobody likes to work with stressed grumpy people -- especially since films are such team effort. Also, choose the people you work with wisely.
Would you share with us where our readers can find you or follow you?
Yes, we have an Instagram page which is dedicated solely to Girls in Film in Prague. That is where I am the most active. Then there’s Girls in Film website, which is the journal that I spoke about earlier: www.girlsinfilm.net
There’s a Facebook group which is fun and easy way to find new film collaborators. It’s also one of my favorite Girls in Film channels: GiF Exchange.
If you would like to hear more about the film industry and Julie, come to our Networking event: Women in Film on Tuesday 26th February. Grab you ticket here.