In conversation with Nuala O’Sullivan

The Festival Director of Women Over 50 Film Festival, Nuala O’Sullivan tells us why she set up the world’s first festival celebrating older women on both sides of the camera, about the festival’s move online due to COVID-19, how students can get involved, and about London Film School’s continued supported for this essential festival.


What inspired you to set up Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF)?

I’d been a writer and producer, mainly for radio and theatre, when I wrote and produced a short film, Microscope, in 2014. I wrote it when I was in my early 50s and it was about a middle-aged woman examining her life and marriage. 

With my producer’s hat on, I started going to short film festivals to see where I thought the film might fit - I found I wasn’t seeing many older women on the screen and, after screenings, amongst the people in the bar afterwards talking about the films we’d just watched, I wasn’t seeing many older women either. Not many people talked to me. I felt lonely and isolated, which was the exact opposite of how I expected to feel in a roomful of people who had the same interest and passion in storytelling and film as me.

It got me thinking about questions like: Who’s not running film festivals? Who’s not on the screen? Who’s not behind the camera? Who’s not in the room? Then, I was talking with my friends about how I was feeling, and we decided: Well, stuff that! Let’s start our own. That’s how WOFFF began.

Possibly an obvious question, then, but what’s the premise?

The rule we launched with in 2015 is the rule we still live byin every film WOFFF screens, there must be a woman over 50 at the heart of the piece on screen or a woman over 50 behind the camera in the core creative roles (writer, directorproducer).

For me, the beauty of this rule is that it makes WOFFF open and accessible to everyone because, for example, a 17-year-old boy can make a documentary about his 57-year-old grandma and that film is welcome at WOFFF. 

In our first festivalwe screened Lovely Alice Poet, a film made by two young trans men (Fox Fisher and Lewis Hancox) about the trans spoken word poet, Alice Denny. To me that sums up what WOFFF is about. Everyone is welcome to submit a film to WOFFF; everyone is welcome to come to WOFFF. As long as you want to be part of the conversation about older women, as long as you’re interested in what it means to be an older woman living in the world today, we want to see you at WOFFF.

How can students like ours get involved?

Send us your films. Come to our festival (this year we’re online). Volunteer with us.

WOFFF offers free student submissions, which we receive from filmmakers across the globe, from Taiwan to Trinidad & Tobagoas well as home-grown UK talent.

If you’d like to volunteer with WOFFF, go to our website and fill out the contact form. We’d love to hear from you! 

Over the years, we’ve screened films from London Film School students including The Wait by Dhruv Tripathi in 2018 and, at this year’s festival, Espacios Vacíos (Empty Spacesby Clara Stephanie Schieber Lorenesi, filmed in Guatemala.

Empty Spaces follows the story of Agnes, an elderly grandmother, and her housekeeper, Irene. They share their lives silently inside an empty house, but when Agnes falls down their relationship changes, and previous boundaries are erased.

The LFS crew for Empty Spaces, which features in Programme 7 at WOFFF20, wereWriter-Director, Clara Stephanie Schieber Lorenesi ; Editor & Focus Puller, Anne Madeleine Mancosu DoP: Juri Ferri Gaffer, Anthony HughesAssistant Director, Vasco de Oliveira ; and Sound Editor, Vassil Kotzev  

Tell us about last year’s Best Student Film prize, which we’re delighted to be sponsoring this year!

In 2019, the WOFFF Best Student Award went to Forget-Me-Not by Sarah Smith, a student at Norwich University of the Arts. Her documentary interspersed personal archive / family home movies with hard and moving conversations between the filmmaker and her mother, who was living with a cancer diagnosis.

The winning student, Sarah, said: “WOFFF is a festival that supports all filmmakers, with a hope of elevating the role of older women both in front of and behind the camera. As one of the first film festivals I have submitted to, WOFFF was a hugely positive experience. Sad I wasn't able to attend in person but honoured to have been awarded Best Student Film!”

What’s in store at WOFFF20 Online? 

From 26 - 30 September, WOFFF will screen 58 international short films. 

As well as enjoying short films from around the world, audiences can also join in online with 8 filmmaker Q&A sessions and a chance to get closer to filmmakers and their inspirations; learn with a lecture from Dr. Francesa Sobande of Cardiff University about the on-screen careers of older women of colour - screen legends Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Pam Grier and Grace Jones; and attend a virtual awards ceremony. 

Festival Passes – available here - give you access to all aspects of WOFFF20. Regular Festival Passes cost £7.50 and Student Concessions are available for £5.00. You can read more about WOFFF20’s online programme here. 

How has WOFFF’s relationship with London Film School developed?

London Film School has been a WOFFF supporter for a number of yearsIn 2020, with our move online due to coronavirus, London Film School became further involved by supporting WOFFF in our Q&As and as the Best Student Film prizsponsor. Term Tutor and Senior Lecturer, Sue Austen is also hosting one of our eight virtual filmmaker Q&As.

We’re delighted with this collaboration and are looking forward to announcing the WOFFF-London Film School Best Student Film at our virtual awards ceremony.

Don’t forget to pick up your Festival Passes – available here – and find out more about what you can see in WOFFF20’s online programme here. 

Find out more about London Film School’s intensive MA courses in Filmmaking, Screenwriting and International Film Business.