Jeanie Finlay is one of Britain’s most distinctive documentary makers. Her acclaimed films tell small and intimate stories to international audiences, whether inviting them behind the scenes of Teesside’s last record shop (SOUND IT OUT) or locating the grit under the glitter of a Nashville legend (Orion).
Her films, although varied in subject matter, share a empathetic approach to bringing overlooked and untold stories to the screen.
Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth is her eighth feature film.
Her work includes: Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (89 mins BBC Storyville on BBC2), ORION: The Man Who Would Be King (87 mins, BIFA winner, Premiere – Tribeca, BBC Storyville, Creative England, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Broadway. Distributed by IFC & Sundance Selects) The project was awarded a Future documentary innovation award from React Lab to create a wraparound artwork – I am Orion. Indietracks (29 mins Shine a Light, Esmé Fairbairn) Panto! (71 mins) a co production with Met Film Production for BBC Storyville, The Great Hip Hop Hoax (88 mins, World Premiere – SXSW) for BBC Scotland & BBC Storyville, Sound It Out (75 mins, World Premiere – SXSW) (winner – Cinema Versa – Best documentary) The official film of Record Store Day, Goth Cruise (USA, 75 min) for the Independent Film Channel which became the most downloaded title ever on IFC, critically acclaimed doc Teenland (BBC4 60 min) and award winning interactive documentary Home-Maker.
Jeanie had her first film commissioned when she as 6 months pregnant and being a parent has always informed her filmmaking. She is a vocal supporter of Raising Films, which advocates for parents working in the media industry. Jeanie regularly writes about film for The Talkhouse and was a director of Nottingham’s flagship cinema and media centre, Broadway for many years.
She set up Glimmer Films in 2008 to develop and deliver ambitious, engaging documentary works, made in the region for an international audience. Glimmer Films aim to: Creatively challenge the form of documentary. Celebrate untold, intimate stories. Further explore “wraparound filmmaking”; continuing a groundbreaking practice of engaging with audiences in innovative and meaningful ways throughout production and distribution.
Named by Creative England and The Telegraph in 2016 as one of the 50 most creative companies in England and an Inspiration award winner by Sheffield Doc/ Fest as someone who has been an inspiration to filmmakers and inspired audiences around the world to engage in documentary. Named a “Star of Tomorrow” in Screen International’s prestigious yearly review of new filmmakers.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I didn't study film and picked up a camera when I realised that the conversations I had while photographing people was "the work". The resulting artwork was Home-Maker, an interactive documentary.
I made one short film (Love Takes) and then my first film Teenland (60 mins), was commissioned by The BBC when I was 6 months pregnant. When I showed the film in a cinema and when I felt the audience reaction, I knew that I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Which film school did you go to?
I went to a comprehensive school in the North East, studied art at Cleveland College of Art and Design and studied Contemporary Arts (music and art) at Nottingham Trent University. I was the first person in my family to pursue arts as a career and the first to go to university, closely followed by my sister Claire who is now a costume designer for film and television.
What advice would you offer other filmmakers that you wish you had known when starting out?
Follow your gut instinct - if you are fascinated by a story, then it's likely that audiences will also connect with it.
True intimacy trumps fancy cinematography any day of the week, so don't be afraid to build relationships with people and just get out there and make your film.
Don't believe the London myth - You can live outside of London and make films for an international audience.
What’s your process when making films?
I only make films about subjects that I am deeply interested in, posessed by and can't stop thinking about. I spend a lot of time listening and I never write questions down. When I was at art school I thought a lot about "The medium is the message", a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan. When I start making a new film, the form evolves through the filming. I almost see the visuals out of the corner of my eye. I also always work with amazing people.
I have zero-tolerance for show-offs, as soon as people know I’m filming and decide to be ‘entertaining’ I switch the camera off. I’m not interested in lairy people, I’m interested in shy people who might not have told their story before and will allow us to discover the truth in the moment.
Which filmmakers or films have most inspired your work?
I love going to the cinema and feeling open to the emotion onscreen - for me, there is a peculiar pleasure in crying in the dark, surrounded my strangers.
My favourite living filmmaker is Hirozaku Koreeda (Shoplifters / After Life). I look forward to his films so much and savour every moment. He always follows the emotion in his stories.
I love Kim Longinotto (Dreamcatcher) and Carole Salter's (Almost Heaven) films, they make hugely powerful, intimate documentaries with a tiny crew. They're astonishing. I think about Chris Smith's film American Movie a lot.
I'm also a huge fan of maximalist, ultra designed cinema - Max Ophuls (Lola Montes) and Powell and Pressburger. I fell in love with my husband after he took me to see a screening of Powell and Pressburger's "Black Narcissus". Brooding passion, swooning nuns in the heady atmosphere of the Himalayas, brought to life by Jack Cardiff in a sound stage using chalk, smoke and mirrors. How could I resist?
I picked my Baker's Dozen of favourite films for The Quietus
How was your experience of Crowdfunding?
Crowdfunding enabled me to make SOUND IT OUT, a film that just would never have been commissioned. It was very new at the time and we were one of the very films in the UK to crowdfund. I wrote up everything I learned for Directors notes, detailing the SOUND IT OUT process and the one for Orion. It's incredibly exciting and an enormous amount of work.
I'm a media student, can I send you a list of questions to answer for my homework?
Please, please, please for the love of Dolly Parton, please don't send me a list of questions to answer. I know your media studies teacher set you this as homework but it's a really lazy way to teach film, it's incredibly time-consuming and you can probably find answers to all the questions you need here on this site or by using Google.
I'm a filmmaker - can I send you my film for feedback?
I get a lot of requests to give feedback on film projects, go for coffee and give career advice to filmmakers but I am afraid I don’t have enough time to look at individual projects.
The best advice I can give you is to go out and make your film on the best camera you can. You will learn more than you can imagine by just getting out there - make mistakes, learn from them, find out what feels exciting on camera.
Newcomers day at Sheffield Doc Fest and the year round training they offer is brilliant for both novices and established filmmakers.
How would your films be different if you were a man?
I have been asked this ridiculous questions at Q&As over and over again. If you're ever tempted to ask this, ask yourself, would I ever ask a male filmmaker to talk about their gender in relation to how it shapes their work?
I'm a scriptwriter - can I send you my screenplay?
Please don't send unsolicited scripts, any sent will be deleted, unread.
I'm a composer or musician - can I send you my work?
I work with an amazing music supervisor Graham Langley at Loud and Cleared and am not looking for music at the moment.