Short Film Corner 2022
Matt Houghton & Georgie Wileman
THIS IS ENDOMETRIOSIS
georgiewileman.com / itsmatthoughton.co.uk / harriettewright.com
May 17, 2022
In this intensely personal documentary, Georgie Wileman shares with us the challenges of her years-long struggle with endometriosis, a most nebulous chronic illness. As part of her healing, Georgie turns her camera on fellow sufferers, finding beauty in their collective experience.
Hello Matt & Georgie, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
Georgie (G): Thank you so much for talking with us! It’s been a turbulent time but getting through. This film has been a wonderful focus throughout it all.
Matt (M): I couldn’t agree more. I think for all of us, this film is a beautiful by-product of a difficult time.
Have you been able to remain positive and creative at least?
G: I think working within such an amazing team has really helped me stay positive. Creating "This Is Endometriosis" has been an incredible creative output during a time where it was really difficult to shoot, as even when we were unable to be together and document, we were planning the work and gathering archive material.
M: Absolutely. I often find myself turning to creativity at times of uncertainty, being more open and more responsive to ideas. Making this film with such an incredible team has been a hugely enriching experience, both creatively and personally.
What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner with This Is Endometriosis and what do you hope to take away from this experience?
G: Getting this film out into the world is a complete dream come true, I hope this experience with Cannes Short Film Corner helps to bring our message to a wider audience.
How vital are platforms like Cannes SFC in championing and supporting the short film format?
M: Short films have always been a breeding ground for new talent but in recent years, I’ve felt that even more tangibly. I look around at other short filmmakers and I feel so excited for the future of film. Personally, I owe a lot to short films because they’ve helped me to develop a style, an approach, a feel for the medium. I feel like I can be more experimental and in that way they’re very freeing. Platforms like Cannes SFC are invaluable because they’re a forum for all of us to grow and to explore new ideas. We’re really excited to be a part of it.
Can you tell me how This Is Endometriosis came about, what inspired you to make this film?
G: The work began as a photographic project. I was homebound with the disease at the time and I found it incredibly isolating, which was compounded by not seeing a true reflection of endometriosis in the media. I would often find articles with stock photographs alongside them - made-up women holding their abdomen with a slight pained expression. This wasn’t what endometriosis was in my experience. To me it was wheelchairs and hospital wards, being barely conscious on pain medication, not recognising my face in the mirror. I wanted to show what endometriosis was for me, and for so many others that I met while creating this work. This idea carried on to a social media campaign, a wonderful community effort with submissions from people living with endometriosis across the world. The journey of this project and the experience of living with endometriosis was something I wanted to see in moving image, it felt like the natural next step to make a film. Through this film we hope we can not just show what the disease looks like, but how it feels.
M: From my perspective, the project developed very organically. Georgie and I were neighbours briefly and we met in a sunny courtyard during the first lockdown in London. We chatted about photography and film and Georgie told me about her ambitions to make a documentary. I think we both went off and Googled each other’s work and then came back with a lot of enthusiasm! Of course, I loved G’s sense of light and her feel for composition but I also had the feeling that what she was doing was very important. When Georgie asked me to collaborate on the film, to be honest, I was very unsure. I felt like it was her story and it was so deeply personal that I wondered what I could really bring to it. But after talking it through with her, she really sold me on the idea of there being these two audiences for it: people like her - who understand and are affected by the disease - and people like me - who come to the subject with little or no real understanding of it. Together, the idea was to make a film that spoke to both.
Georgie: This Is Endometriosis is a very personal documentary, did you have any apprehensions about making a film that was coming from such a personal place?
G: Being vulnerable and showing sides of my life that I would have always hidden has been a big part of this work from the start. The message is so deeply important, that it out weighs any insecurities I have around feeling so exposed. Since the photographic project with many self portraits started circulating in the press, it’s been a strange adjustment. It’s been both challenging and incredibly rewarding through the love and support from the endometriosis community. In some ways it’s also been kind of a relief. I don’t need to keep explaining, the photographs and this film now do it for me. I’ve had others in the community say they use my work to explain to their friends and family what they’re going through - it’s so overwhelming to know that others experience this relief too.
M: I’m going to embarrass her now, but the bravery that Georgie has shown throughout this process has been extraordinary and humbling. She has trusted Harriette (our producer) and I completely. I feel very proud of Georgie for that and we’ve all grown very close because of it. It is that willingness to be vulnerable that makes the film so personal and in turn, we hope, relatable.
When working on a short film such as This Is Endometriosis do you allow yourself much flexibility?
G: From the beginning this film was a sketch of an idea, and that idea changed drastically as my own story changed and my health plummeted during the making of the film. As over 80% of our team are directly impacted by endometriosis, we allowed a large amount of flexibility to ensure no one was ever over-worked on this and everyone could sub in and out when needed.
M: Over the course of the two years of making the film, we had to develop lots of strategies to allow for those ebbs and flows. Although I’m not sure I’d agree that no-one was over-worked! I joke but documentary projects always need that flex because real life is real life, and things happen. But with this project, being alive to the changing dynamics and the realities of the disease felt even more important.
What has the process been like for you both making this film?
G: There’s been incredible highs and very low lows, and given the nature of the film I suppose this was always to be expected - but it was a much more challenging journey than any of us could have expected. The collaborative nature of this project has been wonderful, from start to finish we’ve had such passion and dedication from our team, it’s been a wonderful process to be a part of, despite the hard times.
M: From a filmmaking perspective, I was more daunted and challenged than I ever have been because I felt a huge responsibility to represent Georgie’s story authentically. G’s right, we’ve had some very real ups and downs on the project and there were times when Georgie was so sick that she had to take a step back from it all. That was really hard but as is often the case, it’s bonded us all very deeply and I for one feel very lucky to have made a whole bunch of new friends and worked with some amazing, creative people.
To navigate that uncertainty, we put together a small team of brilliant, committed, creative people to make it all happen, and I’m going to single a few people out because I’d like to say thank you. Number one on that list is Harriette Wright, our incredible producer. For two years, Harriette was there every step of the way and her ideas and dedication are ingrained in this project. I feel very comfortable saying that without her it would never have happened. Our cinematographer Anna MacDonald is not only frighteningly talented but also has the kind of sensitivity that you can’t learn. She was a hugely important influence on the look of the film and a collaborator right from the very beginning. The music is written by Jess Jones and Tim Morrish, who also go by Vanbur, and the soundscape was designed by Tom Jenkins. The three of them are long-time collaborators of mine, engaged, thoughtful people and they have shown such a deep and willing understanding of what we were trying to achieve.
What would you say have been the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?
M: We identified right from the start that the way into the story would be through Georgie’s eyes. Endometriosis is a hugely complex disease, it’s grossly under-funded and under-researched and everybody’s experience of it is so different. There is no universal experience of endometriosis and so our aim was to tell a story that felt deeply personal. I believe very strongly that that is how you affect people and that perhaps counter-intuitively, it’s how you make a film that a wide audience can relate to. I edited the film myself and for me the biggest challenge was to track a path through the hours and hours of archive material, thousands of stills and the in-depth interview that I did with Georgie, to craft something that reflected her experience. I’d hazard to guess that Harriette and I spent hundreds of hours talking on the phone about the edit and it was undoubtedly the most challenging of my career so far.
"The style of film we’ve focussed on feels very close to that of my photographic work, sharing private and intimate moments that would otherwise go unseen."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
G: Filmmaking has been a dream of mine for an incredibly long time, my main focus was always on photography with the goal to create a film like this one day. The emotion that can be captured in film is so beautiful, it’s a medium I really look forward to exploring further.
M: I think filmmaking kind of suits me because it’s an amazing combination of the artistic and the very practical, the solo and the very collaborative. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer but when I started making films something really clicked. The more I do it, the more I love it - especially working with people like this.
What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about yourself and your filmmaking style so far?
G: This has been my first time collaborating on a project like this, I feel I’ve learnt so much about working with others and trusting a collaborative creative process, especially when telling such a personal story. The style of film we’ve focussed on feels very close to that of my photographic work, sharing private and intimate moments that would otherwise go unseen. This film is very much the type of work I want to be doing going forward.
M: I’ve made a number of short films now and making each one has been a totally different experience. But something that I’ve definitely learnt is that the most important thing you can do as a documentary filmmaker is to listen.
Is there any advice or tips you can now offer anyone thinking about making their first short film?
G: My main advice would be to form a strong team that you trust. I’ve seen friends projects who have struggled in collaboration and it makes me feel incredibly lucky that we have the team that we have.
M: In some ways, I wouldn’t presume to offer advice because everybody makes films in their own way - and developing your own way of working is all part of the fun of it. But Sidney Lumet said something like, at the beginning of your career, there’s no good work or bad work, there’s just work. I think what he was saying was, just get out there and start doing it. Oh, and be nice to each other, that really matters.
What is it about the documentary genre that interests you so much and what other film genres and themes are you looking forward to exploring with future films?
G: I have always been interested in documentary and sharing true stories in an honest way. I would love to explore other genres to help tell stories that I feel need to be further amplified.
M: I think I tend towards topics and stories about community and moments of shared experience - but I also try not to over-think it and follow my instinct.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from This Is Endometriosis?
M: In some ways, I would never want to second-guess what someone may take away from the film; our hope is that what we’ve made has space for the viewer to feel however they feel. But at the same time, we’d be lying if we said that there wasn’t a clear goal. Simply put, we wanted to put something on screen that reflected how endometriosis can feel.
G: For those without the disease or who don’t know anything about it, we wanted to give an insight into what living with endometriosis means and feels like, and a desire to learn more. And for people like me who know it all too well, I hope they feel represented and validated, and they know that they aren’t alone.
There is so much more to be said about this topic. We want more films to be made, more conversations to be had, more articles to be written. Every time I make a film, I learn something about myself and making this film has been.