Kathryn Ferguson is one of a new breed of filmmakers who cut their teeth in fashion film. Over the past four years she’s moved from making shorts for designers such as Richard Nicoll and Katie Eary to experimental films such as Máthair, a visually startling exploration of her Catholic roots.
Having curated Birds Eye View Film Festival’s Fashion Loves Film strand at the BFI, on Friday Ferguson launches new festival FASH/ON Film with the British Fashion Council
With multiple projects in the pipeline, Belfast born Ferguson is undoubtedly a name to watch. Twin spoke to the filmmaker about her work so far…
What was the initial impetus behind you picking up a video camera?
I first picked up a camera in 2005 during the final year of my Fashion BA at CSM. I was frustrated with the flatness of two-dimensional imagery and wanted to try experimenting with creating immersive visual worlds combining moving image and sound.
How easy did you find the transition between working as a stylist to working as a filmmaker?
My passions pre-filmmaking had always lain heavily in photography and art direction. I dabbled in styling as a way of supporting myself throughout my BA but as soon as I made my first film Tingel Tangel, an experimental dance film featuring Paloma Faith, in 2005 I was sure it was film I wanted to pursue. However at that point I didn’t have the skills or know how to progress. In 2007 I decided to submit this early film to Birds Eye View Film Festival and to my surprise it was chosen for their UK Shorts strand at the ICA. This acknowledgment by them inspired me to throw myself 100% into filmmaking. During this time I made lots of experimental short films leading me to apply for a Masters in moving image at the Royal College of Art in 2009. My time there saw a transformation in my work and as a result have moved further from fashion and more into experimental film. I find film a totally thrilling medium to be working in as the boundaries are limitless. My initial step into moving image via the world of fashion has quickly evolved into a heady desire to tell stories via the medium of film whether it be documentary, music video, short films and beyond.
Your work, such as Máthair is very experimental – can you talk about some of the techniques you use in your work?
Máthair is the film that I feel really defines the area in which I am now most interested. Previous to the RCA, my work had mostly consisted of commissioned based fashion and music projects. The RCA was a fantastic experience as it forced me to work beyond an aesthetic and come up with my own brief and ideas. This was quite challenging to begin with but once I got going I decided I wanted to make a film about my mother but still adopting the visual style I was drawn to which is often creating worlds via montage / collage. I wanted the film to be a mix between the real and the hyper real. The reality of my catholic upbringing in Northern Ireland juxtaposed with an imagined hyper real fantasy version.
Máthair 2011, film stills
Máthairclearly draws on your own Irish background and ideas of faith, but what other ideas or cultural references are you drawn to in your work?
I feel my work seeks to create a sense of immersion and ecstatic experience through narrative and non-narrative experimental film. Taking influence from my background working with fashion designers creating experimental films to encapsulate their seasonal collections, I have developed a strong interest in the relationship between dance and movement, particularly around the tactile surface of fabrics in motion. Through a series of works that glean ritual and quasi-religious encounters, my practice combines elements of performance, religious iconography and symbolism, acknowledging early abstraction through the medium of film.
However, I’m becoming increasingly interested in women’s issues and now feel that my next series of films should be reflecting the female voice. There needs to be more stories about women told by women.
A lot of exciting work is happening in fashion film, particularly by women, why do you think they’ve become so important both within the fashion industry and film?
I think it’s an incredibly exciting time for film in general, especially as so many women are finally picking up a camera. I’m really interested in how the female protagonist will be represented in fashion film. Generally speaking up until recently the majority of films have been through the male gaze so it will be fascinating to see how women will be portrayed when their image is predominately created and shot by female directors. Fashion film is a fantastic medium for young designers to showcase their work without the crippling costs of the catwalk and marketing campaigns. It gives them a voice and a way to reach out to the world via the internet. As it is still a genre very much in its infancy I am interested in its future development.
Tingel Tangel, 2005, film still
Lady Gaga / Dazed Digital, 2009, film still
Richard Nicoll S/S10’2009, film still
How has your own work evolved since your early films?
My early films were visual experiments. I came from a world, i.e fashion, where image making is driven by an immediacy to create. Now that I’ve moved into other areas of filmmaking I finally feel like I can slow down and concentrate on making films that interest me on a more personal level.
I still feel like I’m only on the first step of my film career. I am very conscious of wanting to tell stories and I’m definitely moving more and more towards both narrative filmmaking and documentary. High aesthetic used to be the driving force in my work and now I’m very keen to start making films where it’s secondary to a storyline or other people’s stories. Máthair was the first step in that direction for me. Real people fascinate me, I want to tell real stories but with my own take and aesthetic being applied.
You’ve worked for BEV and are about to go on tour with the British Council – why is it important to you not to be working in isolation as a filmmaker?
My work with BEV was driven by a desire to work with women in general. As a festival, they supported me by showing my first film which is really what kick started all of this in the first place. I’m very keen to work with other women and truly believe films about women made by women are the way forward. I also find the work I am doing with the British Council thrilling, as I will travel the world working with filmmakers and creatives. I think travel is the best way to open your mind and I am sure it’s going to inspire me. Filmmaking as a practice is very immersive and my work as a curator for BEV, the British Council and more recently The British Fashion Council means I meet other people whose work I appreciate and I get to talk to them in depth about their practice. I also really enjoy working with others whether it’s in a teaching / lecturing role or a project collaboration. I feel being out in the real world conversing with people informs my work as much as experimenting in an edit suite.
What is FASH/ON Film all about?
FASH/ON Film is a new initiative I’ve been working on with the British Fashion Council for the past few months. We’ve been talking about it for a few years in fact but now is the first time everything has come together and been made possible. It is an initiative that will bring together both emerging and established filmmakers and fashion designers via a series of curated film screenings, Q&A’s, feature film premieres and film mentoring schemes.
What are your ambitions in terms of filmmaking?
My long-term ambition is to tell stories. For me 2012 is the year I plan to take the next step towards this ambition. I am currently writing a treatment for a long format documentary film with fellow female filmmaker Elisha Smith-Leverock. We met in Paris at a film festival in October and spent most of the night talking heatedly about women’s issues. We have been working closely on this since and now I feel it’s on the precipices of being realised.