i-D online presents the fourth film in our ‘Best Short Film Award’ series with the London Short Film Festival in the run up to their 10th anniversary, Jan 2013.
The fourth film in our collaboration with the London Short Film Festival, is I want to be a Secretary by director Sarah Wood, which won the LSFF Best Short Film Award in its fourth year running. We caught up with Sarah to find out more about her obsession with archives and what she has been up to since winning the award.
What was the initial starting point for I want to be a Secretary? I was curious about how the concept of the modern career woman is constructed. I started by watching instructional films, to think about representation. Most of the films had been made in the immediate post war period to encourage women into training for the workplace and despite the encouragement for girls and women to work in the slick city environment, where the lines in their stockings, their shiny lipstick cases and the click of their heels all perfectly reflected the cityscapes, another narrative softened this vision. Good typing speeds and dedication were rewarded by marriage to the boss, a path that unsurprisingly put an end to careerism. I began to wonder what other fantasies might lurk beneath the surface? What other hidden female desires were pushing to be expressed in the decades before the sexual revolution, before the consciousness-raising of feminism?
Do you often work with archival imagery? I always work with archive film or at least an element of the filmmaking process that is recycle in the soundtrack, if not in the image. Found footage filmmaking is a form where you can critique moving image culture while still exploiting the seduction of the image.
Obviously there was no live shooting for this film. Do you see archive as an alternative way to making low budget shorts? There was nothing live in the visuals of the film but the soundtrack was. I admire artists who can create a whole artwork from sampled material. I love People Like Us, for instance, for her ability to see and hear all the resonances in the archival. I’m interested in colliding a contemporary element with an archival element. In I Want To Be A Secretary the images are archival and the voice over is parody. The collision is there to encourage a disconnection so that the viewer has to consider the process. I don’t think you should ever let budget dictate the form of what you’re making. If a film requires live performance then you should use actors.
Has your work shifted direction since winning best film at LSFF? Yes, the award opened lots of doors and enabled me to experiment with archive film in different ways. It gave me scope to work in different formats and on different scales, with live performance, and on television. The prize was a wonderful honour from a wonderful festival. I hate any idea of competition because I know how arbitrary it is to choose between works but it gave me a great boost of confidence to win the prize and more importantly a new audience. The secretaries have travelled the world now and it’s been fascinating to reflect on the different resonances that the film can generate in all kinds of different contexts.
What are you working on currently? I’m working on two projects: a feature film called I Am A Spy about espionage and what surveillance society means. I’ve enjoyed finding out just how many spies and ex-spies it’s possible to meet. The research has also spawned a short film for Channel 4′s Random Acts series called Three Minute Warning about bombs, breasts, women and war. In fact I’m editing it right now.
Text: Joe Cohen