We Chat to NTU Graduate and World-Renowned Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay About Her Long-Standing Connection to Broadway Cinema

Photos: Phil Sharp
Interview: Lottie Murray
Saturday 23 September 2023
reading time: min, words

One of the most notable aspects of Nottingham is the rich film scene and array of fantastic independent cinemas available in the city. We chat to NTU graduate and world-renowned filmmaker Jeanie Finlay about her long-standing connection to Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema, how she got into documentary making, and her latest award-winning film Your Fat Friend…

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How did you get involved with Nottingham’s film community during your time at NTU?
I came to Broadway in my first week of university. At that time I think it was a single screen cinema, maybe a two screen cinema, and it had a little cafe. I then started working there in my second year, behind the bar. I was able to get free film tickets, so even though I wasn't in an association, it was like getting a film education. I think I have been to see films in the cinema at least once a week all of my adult life.

How did your time in Nottingham impact your career and why did you decide to start a career here after your studies were complete?
I moved to Nottingham from Teesside, and I didn't go into halls or anything, I went straight into a shared house. I liked the city because it felt big enough to get access to good bands and gigs and things, but small enough to feel at home, get to know people and the little neighbourhoods. I think Nottingham is a really exciting city because it's somewhere that you can still take a chance. There's a lot of artists who live in Nottingham, lots of spaces where you can find other people and create things together. I think that's more readily available than if you were in London. So, it's a good city to stick around and make a creative career.

What would be your biggest advice for someone that wants to be in the film industry?
Get experience. Be nice and be someone that people want to have around. You want to work with people who are good fun to work with, and who work hard. In terms of making documentaries, you have to figure out what you want to say and sometimes that means making films for a low budget because that’s all you can afford. 

I would say find a gang. Join an organisation like the BFI Network, Shooting People, or the Broadway's filmmaking course for young people called BFI Academy. Find other people, pull your resources and make stuff together. If you can make mistakes, you'll learn more. But you've got to do stuff - a lot of people talk about being a filmmaker and they don't actually make any films. You've got to make films if you want to be a filmmaker. You've got to be prepared to own your mistakes publicly. And that's okay - it was just that film you made that one time.

What are the aims behind your documentary making and how do you select your subject?
The films I make take between two to six years to make, so I'm very intentional. I say no to so many projects.  I've really only said yes twice. Once to Freddy McConnell and once to HBO when they asked me to make a film on Game of Thrones. The rest of the time I find stories that I can't ignore and that I really want to explore. If I've got a lot of questions, then I know I want to make a film about it. The film is the opportunity to really dig deep and make something that's complex and beautiful and interesting. I firmly believe that how you spend your time is important, so you must spend it well. 

You've got to make films if you want to be a filmmaker. You've got to be prepared to own your mistakes publicly

Throughout your career, how have you seen the world of documentaries grow? And how have you adapted to those changes, both from a technological and societal perspective?
I think since I started making films, audiences for documentaries have increased massively. So, it's gone from being factual television to becoming a cinematic form, which in one way is really exciting. But in other ways, the dominance of streamers has made a lot of monoculture. We're in an age that has been described as the golden age of documentary, because there's more documentaries being made now than ever before. But the dominance of these streamers means that a lot of the same kind of product is being made. 

It's a good time to make films about true crime, famous people, murder stories, but it's not such a good time if you want to make observational, nuanced, emotional films. You have to look outside of the UK to get funding. We were speaking to a commissioner in Germany yesterday because they have a different relationship with documentaries. They're into films where the audience does not know the ending of the film before it has begun. We live in interesting times at the moment, as witnessed by the SAG strikes. Documentary makers have always had to be very tenacious and now it's no different.

What are you working on at the minute?
We are currently planning a cinema release of Your Fat Friend. That's the film that I just took to Tribeca in New York and we are going out to Seoul in South Korea soon to show it. We showed the film at the Sheffield Documentary Festival and it won the audience award. It’s going to be out in cinemas at the end of November, early December. I'm also making two more features at the moment.

Finally, can you give us some Nottingham recommendations?
I would recommend going down to the canals and exploring them on a bike. A local organisation called Women in Tandem offers guided bike rides, which is great if you’re on your own and you don’t know that many people. For students, I would particularly recommend Broadway Cinema - on Mondays it’s £5 for a ticket. And there's loads of film clubs here such as Lounge Trip - the fact that they commission young artists is fantastic. I’d also recommend exploring the various parks here. Forest Recreation Ground and Wollaton both have park runs each Saturday. Sneinton Market is brilliant, too. I really like going to Blend, Boulangerie de Saigon and the Breadmill Bakery. We’ve got loads of really amazing bakeries in the city - Small Food Bakery is my personal favourite.


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