West Hampstead film producer: ‘Funding isn’t as readily available for women as it is for men’
PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 June 2016
Up-and-coming West Hampstead film producer Jess Benhamou is set for a big summer.
She is on the verge of launching a moving short film about a dementia patient, which is set to be screened at festivals across the UK, and has been awarded a £20,000 grant. Her achievements, she hopes, will help redress the balance for women working in creative industries. Here she talks about her career.
“The problem, as a woman, is that in the film industry most funding bodies don’t have a commitment to giving equal funding to men and women.”
So says Jess Benhamou, describing her experiences getting a break as a producer.
She knows how much of a struggle it can be – just one in four film producers in the UK are female, and just under 15 per cent of screenwriters are women.
But her new project, a short piece called Juliet Remembered, could be the work that turns the tide for her.
It depicts an actress with dementia who struggles to remember day-to-day things, yet can remember every word of her role as Shakespeare’s Juliet.
The film, in post-production, features stage and television actress Maggie Steed in the main role.
It also stars Harry Potter actor Matthew Lewis – who played Neville Longbottom in the popular franchise – and EastEnders actress Rakhee Thakrar (Shabnam Masood).
It was shot in Sussex over three days – the speed of the filming, Jess said, testimony to the abilities of the actors involved.
The film is written and directed by Tamzin Merchant, who has previously starred in Pride and Prejudice, The Tudors and Jane Eyre.
The project was given a huge boost when it was awarded a £20,000 grant last month from Cointreau, having seen off competition from more than 750 applicants.
The drinks firm offers the grants for creative initiatives, and Jess, 26, said she was delighted it addressed the gender balance.
Jurors included model and Cointreau’s creative director Laetitia Casta, Rémy Cointreau’s CEO Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet and Glamour UK editor Jo
Jess said: “It’s so amazing that there’s an opportunity like this to help female creatives.
“It felt like a moment of recognition for all the hard graft that has gone into it.” Previously she has produced news packages for BBC London and worked for Netflix, BBC Panorama and ITV Exposure.
Jess said the power of the plot convinced the recognised actors to get involved. “Actors will only get involved when they like the concept,” she said.
“It shows we’ve sold it to people who get an awful lot of scripts, and discard 95 per cent of
Describing the main character’s predicament, Jess said: “She’s having a difficult time.
“She has this horrible debilitating disease, but the film explores how art can help beautify a harsh reality.
“We’re exploring through Alzheimer’s, but there’s a wider concept in terms of how people cope in difficult situations.
“We also explore how it affects people around her.”
Given her background in journalism, Jess said she is attracted to meaningful storytelling, and hopes the film’s success can be a springboard to work in television dramas and documentaries.
“There’s a journalistic voice in my brain when it comes to choosing stories that are important,” she said.
The money awarded will help promote the film, with Jess targeting an appearance at the London Film Fesitval and the Raindance Festival.
“It’s not just going to be put on YouTube,” she said.
“The short film format is a chance to experiment creatively and prove you can be trusted to put a team together, on time and on budget, and deliver something of real quality.”
It is expected that post-editing will be complete over the next three weeks, in time to qualify for the Raindance Festival in September and October.
The film is expected to be around 18 minutes long.
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