Film Editor | Graciela Mae Chico
Documentary filmmaker and Royal Holloway alum Anna Snowball talks with The Founder about her BFI London Film Festival selected short documentary, Spring Fever, as well as her filmmaking journey during and post-university. The film, which was part of the ‘In the Age of Consent programme, highlights a class so refreshing, and frankly a flicker of hope amidst the current cultural climate, all the way from the Netherlands. Spring Fever documents a group of pre-teens in a sex education class that is free from guilt and shame, the children are encouraged to ask the genuine questions that abound coming of age — what starts as a class on menstruation evolves to candid queries about masturbation and sex. An absolutely vital and entertaining watch. Spring Fever, as well as Snowball’s other film #TradWives, will be screening at the London Short Film Festival on January 2020.
GC: I also watched your film #TRADWIVES and I really liked how both your films tackle such current topics through alternative viewpoints. Rather than focusing on the figures leading this social media led wave of feminism, you focused on the women who are retaliating ideologically. In Spring Fever, you focused on pre-teens in a sex education class rather than focusing on, per se, the Weinstein case — amongst the many allegations and controversies. What made you want to focus on this?
AS: I saw that there was funding for making a film about periods in a more confident way… so I looked around for sex education that talked about periods so I came across this curriculum on YouTube about what the Netherlands were doing and I thought I bet they have interesting sex education. The Netherlands don’t have a set curriculum, everyone has to do sex education but in however way you want. This curriculum ran by this charity and campaign group called Spring Fever, they’re all about a shame-free approach to sex. I called them up to ask whether they also had a lesson on periods and they said they did, and that’s how they introduced me to the school. I knew I wanted to do it about sex education, but it was bit by bit that I found how to make it. What I pitched for the money I ended up making… which sometimes doesn’t happen.
GC: There seems to be such a natural trajectory with the kids and their questions — starting with periods and the natural progression of questions, as a curious kid would ask. How much control did you have over that?
AS: That’s nice that you said that but it was all in the edit I think. I don’t speak Dutch so I had to edit with a transcript…I had to rejig in the edit to create this narrative arc, it was more chaotic in real life.
GC: The kids were such a diverse bunch and had such different questions, did you have any say on who was in the class?
AS: I was introduced to the teacher, that was her class. But I went for a recce and I knew they’d be good. When I got there, the first day, I did some interviews so the kids would get used to me. And then, I was going to do the lesson on the next day, and I just asked who wanted to be interviewed, I had my eye on a few who I’d like to be interviewed so it went from there. Looking back on the interview transcripts after, I had already selected a few who I’d like to focus on… filming the lesson was the last thing we did.
GC: How long did you film at the location for?
AS: Only two days and a recce a month or so beforehand.
GC: Was it difficult filming interviews in dutch and having to find a way to align it with the arc you had in mind?
AS: I’ve worked a lot in the Netherlands before which helped, it’s a really difficult language to understand, but I’m used to filming in different languages so I knew where to point to children who I knew were interesting or who had interesting reactions. I didn’t need everything being in sync, I’m not sure if you noticed, but they’re not speaking in sync. I put a microphone on the teacher and external recorders so I knew that regardless of where I was pointing, I had the dialogue so I could just capture the nicest reactions and I knew I could build a scene even if I didn’t know what was going on.
GC: You mentioned it briefly in the panel (Snowball was part of the In the Age of Consent Panel Discussion before our interview), but what are the future topics you want to cover in your next films? And what are you working on at the moment?
AS: My long project is a film in Brazil, with a couple [who have a baby together so soon after meeting for the first time, Snowball has been following them for over four years]. It’s interesting the challenges of being a parent with someone you don’t really know that well and they both have their own issues. It’s exciting and every time I go there, my access gets deeper and the story widens out. I’m following my instincts on that one.
GC: It’s incredible you’ve been following them for that long! Do you have a set time frame in mind of how long you intend to follow their story for?
AS: I did think it would be ten years, but I think I’m getting to the point where I think I might be done soon, but we’ll see! It’s getting to the stage where I’m making a cut to try and get a producer and funding. I knew if I had funding, they wouldn’t just let me keep going without a plan, but I’m getting to the stage where I can fight for it more as I’ve discovered what it is. It’s starting to get legit!
GC: As most of our readers are current students, how was navigating filmmaking post-university? Did you always focus on documentary or did you focus from another ‘major’?
AC: From my second year at Royal Holloway, I was taking Directing Screen Fiction and Documentary — I wasn’t sure what to take for third year. I was deciding for quite a long time, I don’t quite remember why I took documentary in the end, but pretty quickly into that I decided I wanted to go to the National Film School to do a Masters and I knew my graduation film would be the evaluator for that so I took it very seriously. I guess from around halfway through third-year, I was settled on going to NFTS. It worked out quite well for me because one of the films I made in the second year got into some festivals and then with that the film I made at the end of the course I managed to get a scheme with the BFI. On the day of my graduation, I was on the selection workshop for the NFTS so I had that [already], ‘that’s where I’m heading’. And I had six months with the BFI to make films in-between so just applying for everything, basically! Finished the course, straight to working for the BFI, being paid to make films, I didn’t realise how lucky I was till afterwards. That never happens again because 16-25 funding is great, milk it! Because it soon goes away. Then I had NFTS for two years, made the connections, I understood slightly how the industry works. I think it pushed me forward about ten years further into my career, it was really lucky timing. It was obviously bit by bit, but I was able to start working as a director.
GC: You touched on it briefly but was there anything specific you wish you had known while studying for your BA?
AC: I wish I had been a bit more forthright and stepped forward in class a bit more. It’s important that you have direction because once you know what you want to do if you just keep at it and don’t give up, you will succeed.
GC: Finally, going back to Spring Fever. What impact do you hope the film will make on audiences?
AC: I guess it’s the conversations, that’s been really nice. Having people watch it and then talking about their own experience of sex education, to broaden the conversation about what we’re taught as children. It was important to me because I didn’t get provided with that. It would be really nice for children, particularly girls, to grow up without shame attached to them from an early age. Even within the film industry, I’ve had to ‘unlearn’ things that I’ve been taught, having attended a church school, I was taught from a very young age to ‘be small’, to be a facilitator, to be agreeable, and not to be a loud woman. It’s not just about sex it’s about what your gender is meant to do, that’s been really unhelpful in my career because men just take up that space that you’re offering them. It would be great for people to talk about their childhoods and themselves and reevaluate that and for women to step into their space.