Louise Hutt is a 24 year old bisexual woman from New Zealand starting a deep conversation on disparity in the NZ film industry via her Master’s thesis. She is a multi talented photographer, graphic designer, and filmmaker who created “Online Heroines”, a webseries that encompasses her research, as a way to educate others on the struggle of marginalized voices in film and to inspire resistance to the status quo.
The text below is an edited excerpt of a conversation between Louise and The Light Leaks Founder, Kim Hoyos.
What do you wish you saw more of in media?
I am angry and sad, I wish I saw more authenticity. I wish I saw more characters and situations written by people who hold those identities, so that people really see themselves on-screen, and others see those real perspectives, rather than stereotypes and assumptions played out again and again.
What do you think the biggest problem is in the industry?
The lack of representation, both on and off screen is so much more than just, prioritizing certain stories over others. It’s the erasure of cultures, identities, experiences; reinforcing the dominant perspective of our society and ultimately contributes directly and indirectly to violence against the most marginalized.
It’s often portrayed as “little girls don’t have enough role models” when it’s so much more complex and nuanced than that. It contributes to the suicide rate of trans and non-binary kids who don’t know that their identities are real and valid. It reinforces racist and misogynistic stereotypes. Media is not just entertainment, but allows us to learn and grown and empathize with others, and if we are only ever seeing only story, then we’re missing out on so much richness and diversity.
What do you enjoy best about film?
The combination of senses creates a whole world you can get lost in, which I think is so different to photography, or design, or any other mediums I use. You can create empathy through stories people would otherwise have never heard or understood because it’s not just sound and visuals which you’re using on a technical level, but also an emotional one. Which I think is just amazing, and unlike any other medium.
What do you wish people understood about the disparity in film and media?
I wish people understood how tired I am, how tired everyone is who experience marginalized identities. We live in a world where I am so excited to find media which isn’t just casually, let alone blatantly misogynistic, homophobic, racist. Where there is media which I can see myself in, let alone one where people like me are able to exist without it being a constant struggle. So finding creators who also share those concerns, and being able to give them a platform where they can talk about their hopes and dreams for the industry in a way they feel safe and listened to, is so important, and I’m not sure everyone understands that.
What do you think creativity is?
Creativity is the thing which keeps me creating despite failure, despite frustration, despite setbacks. It’s the joy in actual art of making, which can be so hard to explain. I love the silence creativity brings to my mind as the idea takes hold, and it consumes my focus. It’s the sense of accomplishment of having made something, from nothing, even if you hate it, or it didn’t turn out how you wanted it to.
How did you see your creativity develop over time?
I’ve been really fortunate to be able to try a lot of different media; I did a lot of theatre at high school, photography since I was a preteen, crafts like sewing, knitting, and embroidery since I was a child. I loved the storytelling of theatre, the aesthetic of photography, and the tactile nature of crafts; which I took into my filmmaking practice. Why The Southern Ocean is such a perfect example of that; it uses narrative to explain scientific principles in an accessible way, it was shot in my bathtub using a macro lens, and uses icing sugar snow, painted army figurines, and food colour dyed ice to create Antarctica.
What are some of your most recent challenges as an artist… accomplishments?
I’ve been apart of the Cultivate Mentoring Lab for the past six months; which is an awesome programme dedicated to supporting young women. I applied for it because freelancing can be really lonely and difficult, especially as I don’t have a background working in a creative studio, or anything like that. They’ve really pushed me to work on the business side of things; which are not the things started freelancing for, but still important. Having someone to bounce ideas and feelings off has also been so valuable; just being able to ask “hey, this client is making me feel uncomfortable, how would you handle this situation?” has been amazing. So I feel like I’ve become a lot more sure of myself and my worth, which is an important accomplishment in my books!
Where did this project come from?
In the first year of my Master’s, the discourse around diversity in film was just starting to gain momentum, and I looked at the women and nonbinary students from my graduating year, and what they were doing. So many of them had go onto teaching, or retail, or other jobs outside the industry, and I knew why; it’s such a hard industry to break into, it’s hard to get opportunities, it’s hard keep going once you get “in”. I wanted to find the people who were pushing back; making their own opportunities, creating safe spaces to work in, and addressing the huge gap in media which doesn’t leaves out diverse voices and stories.
Because I’m in a practice-based Master’s programme, my research wasn’t just about research, but also creating too. So I used the interviews with my participants, about their experiences in the NZ industry, and released them as a web series; an accessible platform to help other women and nonbinary filmmakers, widely share their stories to policy makers and guilds, and inspire people who are looking to make filmmaking their career.
Why are you passionate about the education of female filmmakers? Why is that relevant?
I found academia really hard; not because it was something I was struggling with, but because the guys in my classes would shout over me about wanting to make the next fucking Transformers movie while we never studied women’s films, queer films, films about or by people of colour. Because I felt I had to fight extra hard to be taken seriously, and thought maybe it was just me. Because I could barely afford to live and study, let alone buy gear, and practice in my weekends, which were instead consumed by part time work. And I was still able to go to university, with all the privileges associated with that, and there are so many people who would not have had the opportunities that I have had, and deserve to be heard even more. So for me, the education of filmmakers is reflective of the wider industry, and I’m so sick of people asking “where are the women filmmakers?” because it’s not that they don’t exist, they’re driven away, exhausted, and pushed out.
Why should we watch and how can these videos be interesting to anyone?
At my launch, I invited a bunch of the undergrads I tutor in video production, and I was really stoked the guys I invited sat through all the interviews, not just listening to women about their experiences being women, but also their views on filmmaking and online platforms in general. When they came up to me afterwards, and thanked me for inviting them, saying they’d learnt so much, I was just so pleased. So much of it is about specifically addressing women’s experiences, but these are also very successful filmmakers, who might not have been asked their opinions on these subjects. I hope in addition to shining a light on inequality, there is more respect gained for these intelligent, creative, and savvy women as excellent practitioners of their craft.
What do you feel about women specific spaces?
I feel like they can be really great, but need to be safe for all women. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes I was criticizing our industry for; so I made sure I collected information about my participants (in the past NZ funding bodies and institutions have gotten around talking about inequality by simply not releasing or collecting data). My research could have had more voices of Māori, trans, and queer women and nonbinary folk, and people with disabilities. I’m not sure if it was the limitations of the research, or the way I went about seeking applicants, but it’s something I want to address and acknowledge so that I can make it better. It’s pointless to be trying to share the experiences of “women” to promote equality when really you mean “white, straight, cis, able-bodied, women” because then you’re still discriminating. I’m hoping to address this with a second round of interviews.
How do you feel about being a woman online?
To be honest, I feel scared a lot of the time. I’m very fortunate that most of my experiences have been positive ones, and the only harassment and abuse I’ve faced has been via people I knew in real life, but in the lead up to Online Heroines, I was very nervous about how people could react.
What do you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I knew how many amazing communities are out there, waiting to support you. I felt like I was all by myself for so much of my undergrad, as well as Master’s, but talking to these filmmakers has shown me that people are kind and enthusiastic and want to help. You’ve just got to find the right people.
What videos should we watch from female/non binary creators?
I’ve really love Bright Summer Night by The Candle Wasters, Obvious Child by Gillian Robespierre, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, Steven Universe & Rebecca Sugar. I’ll have a better list once my thesis is submitted and I get to actually watch stuff!