FILMMAKING, Hope Dickson Leach suggests, is a bit like giving birth. Given that the director has now made one film and gone into labour twice, she presumably knows what she is talking about.
"You spend so long trying to get your first feature made – or I did – and you get to the point where you think it's impossible," she tells me. "How does anyone ever make a film? And then as soon as you've done it you forget all of that. It's like childbirth. You forget all that pain and you go, 'Oh goodness, why was I complaining for so long?'
Dickson Leach is 41, the mother of two boys aged six and four, and the writer and director of one movie, The Levelling, a low-budget slow burn of a film about grief and rural life and milking cows that has been garnering praise on the festival circuit and seen its creator be given the inaugural IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award.
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The movie is coming to the Glasgow Film Festival this month, a homecoming of sorts given that it was conceived and written in the city. Dickson Leach now lives in Edinburgh with her husband (Herald arts correspondent Phil Miller) and their two sons. But right now, she is in Rotterdam. Her film is being screened to a Dutch audience even as we speak. Tomorrow she's off to Gothenburg for the film's Nordic debut.
Dickson Leach is thrilled that a small film set in Somerset in the aftermath of the 2014 floods has spoken to so many people worldwide. "In Toronto we had a Canadian dairy farmer come and tell us it was his story. It was fantastic to appreciate we got the farming stuff right, but also that it transcended the very specific southern English location."
It's spoken to people who have nothing to do with farming as well, of course. It's a film about loss and families after all. Who can't relate to that? It will chime with "people who have lost people they love suddenly or who have dysfunctional family relationships, which", Dickson Leach suggests, "is most people."
The Levelling is the story of Clover, played by Ellie (Game Of Thrones) Kendrick, who returns to the family home after her brother's suicide of and resumes her difficult relationship with her father (played by David Troughton). Before we go any further it's worth saying this is not autobiographical. I did ask. At the end of our conversation I ask if the film in any way mirrors the relationship Dickson Leach had with her own father growing up.
"Do you think I'm going to answer that question?" she laughs. "I love how you slipped that in at the end. This isn't my story. David isn't my father, he's my friend. But I think being a parent helped me write the character better."
The film she made is really a study of the desolation of grief and the chance it offers for new beginnings. But in the margins this is also a film about landscape and the rhythms of nature with an eye for the grace notes of rural living (look out for the footage of the murmurations of starlings; you can never go wrong with footage of murmurations). Made on a tiny budget, funded by the iFeatures scheme, it's a quiet, bruised film that makes the most of its rural setting.
Dickson Leach is a self-confessed city girl herself. "I've got some second cousins who are farmers. I visited them but I was always slightly terrified by the mud and the animals and relentlessness of it. You don't stop. It's like every day. They don't go on holiday."
"I think they work incredibly hard and it seems to me very easy for them to feel cut off from other parts of the country. To be fair most farms have diversified because the farming model does not seem to be sustainable. We don't pay enough money for our food. That's a whole other film."
On set the cast and crew needed to muck in. "My two lead actors, it turned out, were frightened of cows, which was not something mentioned in the audition. They did very well. They both learnt how to milk cows."
So did Dickson Leach in fact. Could she still do it now? "Absolutely. If I had the equipment. Having not long before stopped breastfeeding it was quite funny. Me and the producer, both mothers, seeing these machines. It did all feel a bit personal," she laughs.
What's worth noting, too, is that this is a film about a young woman made by a woman. "What was nice about this film was that we could really focus on a character," she agrees. "There was no sense she was objectified as a woman at all. It's not a love story. It's not a story where she's having to define herself as a woman. She's just a human being.
"I think the gender politics in this film are much more about men. It's about the father not being able to talk because he had been brought up in a certain way as a man, as a British man."
This is one of the subjects feminism now has to deal with, she says. "Understanding the challenges of masculinity and opening that conversation up and allowing men to be feminine as we think of the term; to be human in a way that they haven't been allowed. And maybe [then] they'll let women be human as well.
"I am the mother of two boys and I'm very aware that I don't want to be defined by their gender."
Let's return from the macro to the micro a second, and zoom in on the industry within which she works. The latest Oscar nominations, you might have noticed, saw no women directors nominated in the best director category. Glasgow, in the shape of David (Hell or High Water) McKenzie, has more. And only one woman – Hidden Figures screenwriter Allison Schroeder – has been nominated in the best writer category (and that's a co-write credit with Theodore Melfi). In fact, only 20 per cent of the non-acting nominations this year are women.
And that's at the high end of the industry. A study released last year looking at every feature film made in Britain between 2005 and 2014 found that only 13.6 per cent of them had a woman director.
"It's strange when doing your work is a political act," suggests Dickson Leach. "You do feel constantly reminded how unusual it is. As I've got older I've felt more and more that responsibility, seeing male peers of mine rise very quickly and females fighting and fighting."
Dickson Leach's own journey to this point has itself been a long, at times exhausting, one. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she went to film school in New York after attending Edinburgh University. Following film school she made short films and even worked for American indie misanthropist Todd (Happiness) Solondz on his 2004 film Palindromes. She looked like one to watch. In 2007, Screen International named her a Star of Tomorrow and Filmmaker Magazine included her as one of the "25 New Faces of Independent Film".
And yet it's taken her another decade more or less to get to the point where her first film is screening at festivals. In truth, there were times when she didn't think she'd get that far. "Yeah. I had a moment when I was breastfeeding at three in the morning when I thought, 'I'm just going to give this up. I don't actually have to do this. I told Phil that I'm not going to be in the film business any more and he said: 'OK. Or maybe you could find a way that works for you.' And I was like: 'Oh that's better. I like that.' It was like being given permission. I'm not going to fight in the way that I've had to so far. But I'm going to start to choose a path that works for me as a human being."
One of the results of that early morning conversation was her decision to co-found Raising Films, a campaign to make the industry more parent-friendly.
"When I had my children I realised there is this elephant in the room. No-one was talking about being a parent being an issue for women [in the film industry]. People said: 'That's a choice,' implying it's your fault if you decide to have children. You've got to be quiet about that. There were so many pressures not to talk about it.
"And I thought: 'Well, we need to start talking about this because the figures we've uncovered since show that's such a major part of why there aren't more women in the industry'."
Raising Films has just held a conference in which the subject was discussed with policy-makers in a bid to find practical solutions, "whether that's ensuring childcare being included as a line item in budgets, discussing the possibility of there being a crèche bus on bigger productions". It's a conversation that needs to be had, she believes.
"This is genuinely an important thing to talk about, parenthood in the industry. So what are the things we can change? How are we going to evolve the industry to help people whose voices are being excluded because of these barriers?"
Over and above practical measures, she says, the real benefit of organisations like Raising Films is you don't feel alone. "I found so much strength from other female filmmakers and female curators and people supporting feminist film in the industry so I want to participate in that community and I want to be part of that conversation.
"The longer you stick around it's harder to ignore. I can't keep my head in the sand about this and keep saying: 'We're all people.' Well, no. If all our lived experiences were the same it wouldn't really matter, but they're not because people are not treated the same in society. So you do want people with different experiences telling stories. You want people of colour, you want people with disabilities, you want LGBT people telling stories and you need women telling stories. It's 50 per cent of the population. So it is an important conversation and an important fight."
It's almost time for her Rotterdam Q&A. The film's producer has just arrived with her daughter who is, Dickson Leach points out, "the daughter of this film".
"She was born just before it got commissioned. And came to the whole shoot and now she's coming to festivals."
In the end this is an origin story; the origin of a new voice that has taken so long to be heard. Dickson Leach has other projects in the works at the moment. One of them will take her back to Hong Kong. "I'm writing one set in the period of the handover about a young Scottish woman who goes out there with her parents."
Dickson Leach is hopeful that it won't take quite so long to get her second film made. She's not starting at the bottom of the mountain again then?
"I think it's definitely easier. Who knows? I haven't had another one funded. But certainly developing projects is easier. Creative Scotland have been very supportive of this new project. But you've got to keep the momentum going. I don't want to disappear and then in 10 years time, have to start the battle again."
The Levelling is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival on Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, before being released nationwide in May.