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Filmmaker Nancy Paton: 'Half the world is female and half male. It needs to be that in our films'

With just 48 hours to conceptualize, shoot and edit a short film, Nancy Paton found herself stuck.

Hours into filming, London rain made it impossible to shoot a terrace scene without soaking the camera. Then the camera rig she’d planned to shoot the entire film on stopped working. With the clock ticking down, the director — who was 6½ months pregnant at the time — had to improvise.

“We had lots of things go wrong,” she recalled. “It’s problem solving at its highest level. You constantly have to go, ‘Do we have the time, can we fix it?’ If you can’t, move on, next thing. And you kind of have to make that decision at that moment.”

She decided to cut out some scenes requiring the rig but luckily it started working again two hours later. “You just have to go with it,” she said.

The resulting seven-minute short, “Choke,” which chronicles a man in the last stages of prostate cancer who seeks spiritual release through a dominatrix, was nominated in seven categories at the 48Film Project, an international online short film festival. It took home awards for best short, best director and best cinematography.

“I was excited to win best director during women's month,” she said, referring to March’s designation as International Women’s Month. “For them to honor a woman as a director was amazing.”

Rain and rigs haven’t been the only impediment in the 33-year-old director’s film career. After making her first short film on the environment at 11 years old, Paton has worked in different roles both in film and off. She moved to Saudi Arabia from London four years ago with her husband and two kids.

As a woman living in Saudi Arabia, where there are no public movie theaters and men and women are not allowed to mix freely, Paton found making a film challenging. But for the Australia-born, Britain-bred director, who lectures about digital photography, screenwriting and storyboarding at Raffles Design Institute in Riyadh, it’s enough to just inspire a new generation of women to pursue film.

“Maybe if I were in London my career would be moving faster because I’d be able to work in my field,” she mused. “But I’m lecturing girls and I’m teaching girls things, which is fascinating. I’ve written two films while I’ve been there based around Saudi Arabia and the women there that I’ve met, and I wouldn’t have done that if I lived in England.”

One of those films, “Postpartum” — which she wrote, produced and directed — was filmed in Saudi Arabia at her home and featured an all-female cast, in part because men and women are not allowed to mix on set. Inspired by her own anxiety over developing postpartum depression while pregnant with her first son, the film features 24 women ranging in age from 20 to 70 with no prior film experience and won her the award for best director at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival.

“It would be great to start promoting women into filmmaking,” she said of her impetus behind the all-female cast. “To find women there who might want to do this as a career in the future and to help mentor them.”

As the “only blond girl with blue eyes” at her multicultural Australian school growing up, Paton sees diversity and inclusivity not just as buzzwords but as themes to strive toward in her work on film and in the classroom.

“I really love stories about things that people bring to situations from different worlds,” she said. “People who are made to communicate and made to find a commonality.

“Art is meant to be a representation of our world. I think we as entertainers need to put more emphasis on that. We need to show the balance: Half the world is female and half male. It needs to be that in our films. It needs to be that in our theater shows. That’s one thing I really focus on in my work.”

sonaiya.kelley@latimes.com

follow me on twitter @sonaiyak

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