Ads on HebWeb

Small ads

The Interview

Louise Wadley

Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities. More HebWeb interviews


In George Murphy's latest interview, find out about the dynamic, tenacious and multi skilled Director of Hebden Bridge Film Festival and how her interest in theatre developed into a love of film.

Louise Wadley answers George's questions on organising and choosing films for the festival, meeting her partner Jay, Lockdown, making movies, teaching film, her life as a student in London, moving from Brisbane to London, back to Australia and then to Hebden Bridge, how she relaxes and what she thinks of our town.

Maxine Peake, Nicole Taylor, Louise Wadley,
Hebden Bridge Film Festival 2019

Louise Wadley's Q&A
Louise, what distinguishes the Hebden Bridge Film Festival from other UK film festivals? 

I'd always wanted to start a Film Festival. I started Hebden Bridge Film Festival because I wanted to bring big ideas, international films that were of a high standard to a small, intimate setting. And I want to show people what a Film Festival could be - friendly, inclusive and with a high standard of films. I wanted to bring together dedicated cinephiles and those people who've never been to a Film Festival before to show that people will connect and talk about films if they're given the right environment and to create a welcoming space, where strangers could become friends.
What was the theme of this year's festival?  

The theme of this year's Film Festival was "Imagine Together". We wanted to invite people to imagine in a shared space where the power of film allows us to immerse ourselves collectively in a different view of reality to discover other worlds and perspectives. The weekend included films from near and far: Australia, Sudan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Canada, Georgia, Finland, the USA, Brazil, the UK and Palestine.  
We selected outstanding films from around the world that address the issues of today and brought us together in a space where we can re-imagine a world where we can all be free. 
I noticed that the audience clapped at the end of the films - which I have rarely experienced since watching Saturday matinees as a child! Is that collective response a particular feature of festivals?  
I do think film festivals that have the trust of their audience and a collective feeling of ownership will respond to films like this, with cheers or boos as they did in Copa 71 as well as clapping spontaneously or a standing ovation at the end. They did this in Freedom is Beautiful as well as some of the other films. And in past years people have stood up and joined in singing or been part of flash mob performance. I do think Hebden audiences are rather special.
Do you think COPA 71 got the festival off to a flyer?  

I knew that this could be an opening night film but I had to make sure. We don't normally play documentaries for Opening Night. I played it to my partner Jay, who despite being an extremely physical and outdoor person, has no interest in sport whatsoever, and particularly not football. But she agreed immediately and was as full of outrage and delight as I was when she watched it.

It was such a well-made film with an extraordinary grasp of how to make a thrilling narrative, even when many of the audience might already know the outcome. When Jay said "Are you mad? Of course we've got to show it!". I knew I was on to a good thing. I am the chief programmer but Jay is very important in the process not just about the programming but how the films are scheduled, the ticketing, the volunteers, everything really. We are a complete team. We have very intense discussions and don't always agree but happily this film was one we were in furious agreement about!
All of the players who appeared at the Copa 71 opening night event were generous enough to come to Hebden Bridge on their own steam. They also agreed to doing a special meet and greet that we organised for the Hebden Bridge Saints under 15 girls football team, Ravenscliffe and a few others in Calderdale. The girls got to talk to Chris Lockwood, Gill Sayell, Leah Caleb, and Kerry Davis for quite a long time and I just need to say again, how blown away I was by their generosity and how much we appreciate what they gave the town to make it such a special event.  
It felt important to involve Lionesses like Kerry Davis and Issy Pollard who played in the 80s and 90s because they were also not treated well, had to pay for their own kits, were not given salaries and were pioneers. I wanted people to know. Here's this person Issy, she lives right amongst us and need to be recognised for the pioneering work she's done, As does someone like Kerry Davis who was the first black female England player to be capped. Again, so humble, but such an extraordinary star. As Chris Lockwood pointed out, Kerry is still one of the highest goal scorers in the women's game, ever. She was just awarded the Keith Alexander Award, so we couldn't have been more proud and grateful to her and everyone who came and made it into such a special occasion. 
Many of the films had won awards or been nominated at well-established festivals elsewhere. How do you and your team select the programme? 

We try to show the best of the best, at Hebden Bridge Film Festival.  We want people to know that you don't have to go to festivals in London or Manchester or Leeds, to see really top notch films before they are released. You can come to Hebden Bridge Film Festival. Films we show are often award winners from Cannes or Venice or Sundance etc. We also always try to show at least one or two films that nobody would have heard of, which we think are of an amazing standard, and about things that everybody should be talking about. One of those films this year was Freedom is Beautiful, an Australian documentary. The screening was extraordinary and there was a standing ovation. We had the most moving Q&A session by Zoom with the filmmaker Angus McDonald and one of the Kurdish refugees, Farhad Bandesh, speaking to us live from Australia. It was very emotional. 

Saint Augustine's and the Friends of the Picture House brought people as well as Kurdish musicians to play for the screening and when one of the singers got up live, to sing to the Farhad who was on zoom in Australia, he started crying, I started crying, the audience was crying. It was very special and so touching. Many people have written to me or spoken to me since about this screening and how important it was in making them think differently about the UK government's plan for the so called "Rwanda Solution". 
But also smaller films that might not get a big release like Apolonia, Apolonia, Power Alley, Not Quite That or This is Going to Be Big are important. That is why it is crucial to have a smaller venue like the Town Hall for those films we want to show.

We find that our audience is so engaged that we get feedback about every single film. They trust us now. They feel at Hebden Bridge Film Festival they might see a film they would normally not watch any other time but whichever film they do go to, it will be of a very high standard. And I hope it will stimulate debate or a strong response. So far that seems to be the case for every film. Eg, Bye Bye Tiberius was one film that sold out in a few days.

We were so honoured to have Dr Mona El-Farra from Gaza come and talk to us about her work as Director of the Middle East Children's Alliance and the situation there now on the ground. The same with renowned documentary Director Jeanie Finlay who screened her film Your Fat Friend. Conversations about the film festival goes on for quite a long time after it is over and I am often stopped in the street, even months after, by people wanting to discuss a particular film that resonated with them. 
And of course the Shorts are a particular favourite. The decision to move the SHORTS session into the Cinema was vindicated when we had such a large and hugely engaged audience. The SHORT audience award went to How to Build a Life and we have had quite a few emails about this film and the young filmmaker Matty Reeves eventually plans to take it into schools. 
I liked having audience participation in the award process.  
Audience participation is particularly important to us at Hebden Bridge Film Festival. We have an audience award for both the feature and for the short. We think it's important to know what the audience like best. Sometimes it's the same as the jury and sometimes it is different. 

Who gets the prize money? 

The prize money goes direct to the director of the film. This is different to some festivals where people might be surprised to know that the distributor or the production company often get the prize money. We have a stipulation that the prize goes directly to the director. This is very important as most filmmakers struggle to get funds to make their next film. 
Louise, as a child in Brisbane, what first attracted you to cinema? 

Actually, it was theatre that was my first love and it was what drove me to leave Australia and come to London. I arrived with nothing but inadequate clothing and a big shock for how I found the city that I had dreamed about since I was a child. I arrived in November, freezing and very naive. So much so, the first time I saw snow falling in London, I thought it was a bushfire. I ran outside to try and warn people in the street that there was a huge fire with what I thought were flakes of ash raining down. Everyone outside said, "Oh no dear, this is not ash - it's snow!"  But it wasn't just the weather that was a shock to me.  
I had wanted to come to London since I was a child. I had done an Arts degree with my major in Drama and dreamed of working in the theatre in London's West End. But when I arrived, I found people cold, the theatre wildly expensive and most of it very disappointing. I had no money. I went to museums and libraries and rode around on the tube and on the buses to keep warm. I consumed whole novels on public transport.

I was shocked to find London dreary, the streets dirty and congested, the food disappointing and people reserved if not downright unfriendly. But one beacon was the kindness of the conductors and staff on the buses and London underground. They gave me warm coats from the lost property, chatted about what they missed about the Caribbean, offered me part of their lunch while they asked me where I was from, and would nod in furious agreement as I tried to explain how different it was to England, how hot it was in Queensland, how the dirt and the smells were different…even our rain was different.

The crowded city, the architecture, the trees, the class system, the food, the culture; everything was not as I had imagined. I got a job teaching drama to kids at the Unicorn / Arts Theatre in Leicester Square and slowly I got used to London. Gradually, I came to love the capital with its huge mix of people from all over the world and everything it had to offer.  
I had no money and nowhere to live, so got involved in the squatting movement and the Women and Manual trade movement as living in broken and freezing houses, I had to learn how to fix things, and fast! I started with very basic carpentry (learning in Adult Education classes funded by the old GLC) but soon moved to other jobs including electrics. That changed everything and there were a few exciting years where I was learning new skills and doing interesting jobs and eventually I became a qualified electrician, something I could never have imagined. 
As with Agustina Figueras, you moved across the world to gain qualifications. 

Actually I moved to London for theatre but after the surprise of becoming a tradeswoman I came back into the arts in an unexpected way. TV and Film jobs that had over a certain number of lights needed qualified electricians and I started working on various programmes and film projects, but I could never stay away from the camera or director. I was fascinated by how it all came together. I would set up the lights and then always be alongside helping the sound or camera person, watching the Director. It was so different to theatre and over time I realized cinema was where my passion lay. I applied to the National Film and Television School and to my absolute shock, was accepted. 
Can you describe the challenges and satisfactions of your life as a student? 

The National Film and Television School was an extraordinary place. It was a privilege to be there but despite it being an Arts organization, back in the early 90s it was actually a very conservative place, not very diverse and not easy for anyone from different backgrounds, or women; especially if you were a lesbian. However, I learnt a huge amount from my time there and met some amazing people.

Among other projects, I produced a documentary with my friend, the Director Anne Marie Carty, about Domestic Violence survivors after we had seen judges making outrageous remarks about why women just didn't get up and leave these "so called abusive partners" and stop making a fuss.

We interviewed many women and no matter their class or ethnic background, found there were so many similarities in their journey and how hard they all found it to leave, especially if there were children involved. We needed them to tell their own stories. But we wanted to make a film that was positive and useful rather than the often sensational victim narratives, which were popular then. 

We selected seven women from very different backgrounds and meshed their interviews with specially written and commissioned Punch and Judy performances. The school was very resistant to the film we wanted to make but we persisted and several police forces and social work courses ended up using it in their training courses, so we were very proud of it. While I was there, I tried to learn everything about everything and was lucky to learn across all disciplines. 

Louise Corin Redgrave Bluebell Steam Railway on Opium War, 1995

I also met my friend Naranhuar there and after Film School ended up being 1st assistant director on the British section of a huge Chinese/ British feature called Opium Wars that she was working on. At the time, it was the biggest budget Chinese film ever made. It was set in the time of Queen Victoria and was directed by a very famous director, Xie Jin who predated the 5th generation of Chinese Directors like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. It was such a wild time; we shut down Trafalgar Square, took over the Bodleian Library for our parliament scenes, had Bob Peck, Nigel Davenport and Corin Redgrave among others in the cast.

Louise, Bob Peck, Xie Jin Naranhuar in Opium War, 1995

It was a period drama where I got to organize big crowd scenes, and deal with every kind of problem around horses, carriages, steam trains, diplomatic incidents, actors breaking down, things lost in translation, incredible challenges every moment of the day with many unrepeatable stories that were so crazy I would not have believed it actually happened if I had not been there. It was huge and exhausting, but I learnt a lot not the least that I really liked big set ups! I went on to do various jobs in Film and TV including directing and producing documentaries, etc in various places including Ireland and Russia.
Did you meet your partner Jay during those years?

Jay and I met when I worked at the company she had set up for women electricians in London and we both worked on film sets as well as on domestic and Industrial installations. She worked with me on Opium Wars as a 3rd assistant but she was so much more than that. I would not have survived the experience without her. She had moved up to live in Yorkshire and after many years of back and forth, I came to live up here too. 
You came to live in Hebden Bridge more than 20 years ago. What drove you away again? 

I was so sick of getting sick every winter in the UK that I asked if we could go and live in Australia for a little while. We went to Sydney and somehow 17 years went by before we came back in 2017.  
Were you involved in film work back in Oz? 

I was teaching on various media and film courses in Sydney, while I did a masters in Scriptwriting as a way of writing a feature I had wanted to do for a long time. It did end up being a semi-finalist in the Oscar Scriptwriting Competition called the Nicholls but it was a huge expensive period drama that was going to need a big budget.

I ended up teaching script and film at Undergraduate and Masters level at a few of the universities as well as teaching at Sydney Film School for years, which I loved as it was so practical. I also got very involved in the Mardis Gras Film Festival which is a huge film festival and was on the board, which was very active. I worked as a script editor for other people on their projects and became known as the Script Doctor. Meanwhile I had decided I wanted to make my own feature and Jay agreed to produce it. It was a huge journey to raise the funds, get it made, completed and distributed. Our crowd funding campaign was one of the most successful ever run in Australia at the time. It's been surpassed by now but it was a big achievement in those early days.

I did everything you were not meant to do – we had dozens of locations including Sydney and the Outback. The script had animals, children, crowd scenes, fight scenes and chase sequences including one with a plane. I really don't know how we did it when I look back but somehow we did.

Louise Wadley, Mandahla Rose,Brett Rogers and Jay Rutovitz,
LA Premiere, All About E, 2015

We premiered All About E at OutFest in San Francisco, (the biggest LBGTQ film festival in the world) at the historic Castro Theatre and got a US distribution deal. The film was on Netflix for a few years then HULU, was distributed in European territories and we did our own cinema release around Australia and the UK. It was a crazy, difficult and wonderful experience all at the same time.

Outside Castro Cinema celebrating US distribution Deal, 2015

Perhaps the most surreal thing was screening my film in the Rio Cinema in Hackney in London and seeing graffiti on the wall in the basement with the old phone number for Women's Electrical from when we did some wiring work there in the 80s. The film is still being watched and I get the occasional email from someone who it has touched, which is nice.
When we met, you described the multi-disciplinary nature of film work. Which crafts and disciplines have you learnt over the years?  

Pretty much everything – starting as a gaffer was really useful, both learning about lighting but also how a set worked, the hierarchies etc. But then I devoured everything I could, sound, camera, animation, production design, sound design, editing, producing and directing. I still find it all fascinating.
You and Jay eventually returned to Hebden Bridge. When did you start making  a pitch to establish a distinctive, new type of film festival? How did you secure funding? 

We showed All About E in Hebden Bridge as part of our limited UK release in 2016 in a Picture House that was post the 2015 boxing day flood and still recovering. We asked the manager of the Picture House when is the film festival? She said there isn't one. We were already talking about coming back to the valley and said, we'd like to set one up here if we come back to live here.

She looked at us – like "yeah right, sure you do!" but we came back in 2017, and talked to lots of people and local organisations to see if they thought there would be enough support for a film festival. We asked the wonderful Maxine Peake if she would be our patron and she said yes. We approached the BFI and Hebden Royd Town Council for some money and in March 2019 we launched the first Hebden Bridge Film Festival. 

Some questions from readers:  
How was Lockdown for you? 

We were in shock like most people as we watched events unfold around the world. We were about to open our second Hebden Bridge Film Festival and had to make the difficult decision to cancel only two weeks out especially as we had already sold out our passes and almost all of Opening Night. Lockdown was weird.

Eventually, we decided we wanted to make a film about the impact of COVID on the valley coming after the devastating floods. We commissioned brilliant local poet Clare Shaw to write the poem The Picture House, employed local filmmaker Jenny Longworth to film and edit it and were thrilled when Maxine Peake agreed to narrate the poem for us. The film was our way of trying to express the complicated emotions around our losses in that terrible time. It was a success because of all those amazing talented people contributing to it and is still able to be seen on YouTube.

Louise Wadley directs Clare Shaw in Lockdown, 2021

What's the good and bad of Hebden Bridge? 

The stunning landscape of the Yorkshire Moors on your doorstep. The unique pre and post industrial character of the town. The privilege of a thriving independent Arthouse cinema like the Hebden Bridge Picture House in such a small town. The people, the community; it is a brilliantly generous and welcoming place to all sorts. Many people move to Hebden Bridge because of this. Conversely, sometimes is not welcoming or generous to incomers (confusingly called offcums). Seriously though, it is an amazing place with such a wonderful variety of people but the ongoing cost of living crisis, the pressure of housing versus tourism can cause conflicts.

I lived in London for years and I think for such a small place Hebden Bridge is extraordinary and deals with all the complexities pretty well compared to other places. And being within commuting distance of Halifax, Bradford, Leeds and Manchester is a bonus – when the trains work!  
How do you relax?  

Gardening, hanging out with friends, cycle touring on my e-bike in the summer. 
Do you have a hobby?

I am a one of the gardening tragics I am afraid. 
Favourite record? 

Equal tie with Blue by Joni Mitchell and The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett 
What is your all time favourite film? 

It changes all the time but The Piano would be up there 
Have you got a hero? 

Yes. My Father-in-Law, Jay's Dad. He is 95 and runs Edinburgh Direct Aid.
What's it like selecting the best feature and short film at festivals? 

Often very difficult with many long robust discussions as people have such different tastes. 
You asked for narrative driven films. Why? 

In my time as both a lecturer and film assessor, the constant challenge is for people to tell a coherent story or narrative. The highest form of film art in my opinion is the intersection of the universal and the specific. So I seek out films from around the world that are unique but have the craft that allow audiences to experience their story with all its complexity. There are many things a film can be, long or short, different genres, different styles, etc but calling it experimental because you haven't thought it through, would be a pet bugbear of mine.  
As you both live in Calderdale, have you had chance to watch TV series or feature films set around here? 

Yes – Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax are up there as is the early Emily Blunt film, Summer of Love. I love seeing the landscape we live in.
When the festival ends, what are your plans for the rest of the year? 

I will be working in our garden, cycling in Scotland and running some film workshops.  
Finally, what question do you wish I'd asked, and what would be your answers? 

The main question is - Who would I like to thank?

I want to especially thank our amazing hard working board, our team of festival volunteers on the weekend as well as those who do other things like door to door programme delivery, putting up information on our website, providing the snacks and nibbles at our events, putting up the bunting round town and lots of other jobs you don't see; and not to forget the filmmakers, our sponsors, donors, staff, funders, supporters and advertisers, co-presenters, (particularly our partners at the Town Hall and The Hebden Bridge Picture House) and of course, the town of Hebden and our audience. We could not do Hebden Bridge Film Festival the way we do without all of you.  So huge thanks to everyone. 

More HebWeb interviews from George Murphy

If you would like to send a message about this interview or suggest ideas for further interviews, please email George Murphy