Sam Bennett

Zoe Broughton at work

Zoe Broughton at work

Over 20 years ago, Oxford video journalist Zoe Broughton and Jamie Hartzell made a film about a group of women who wanted to stop some Hawk aircraft, being built in England, from being sold to Indonesia. These women believed the planes in question would be used for genocide against the people of East Timor. The women wrote letters, Zoe tells me, they protested, they contacted MPs– but none of this worked. Eventually they broke into a Lancashire hangar where one of the fighter jets was kept, and smashed up the plane, leaving a VHS copy of the film Zoe helped make in the cockpit.

The video was used as evidence in the trial of the women that followed. “They were worried that while they were in court,” she says, “they wouldn’t be allowed to say what their political thoughts were and they’d also be nervous.” The video, then, clearly provided the jury with background as to why they did what they did, and gave the accused “a voice at a time when they felt they may not be given that opportunity”. The film was also intercut with Max Stahl’s footage of killings that had taken place in East Timor (“It showed the jury what was going on in that country”). In the end the women were found not guilty, I learn, “on the grounds that they were trying to stop genocide”.

She’s “ended up in all sorts of scenarios” as a video journalist, she says, before recollecting her time documenting the struggle of the Burmese people. She was filming in Thailand, at a party celebrating the release from prison of two people (a “very moving” occasion), and was asked if she wanted to attend another party. She willingly went along, not realising this other event was actually inside Burma. “We were smuggled across the river in the middle of the night,” she recalls. “When I got to the other side of the river I was met by rebel soldiers, and ended up staying in a rebel soldiers’ camp that night – the party wasn’t actually until the next day. I remember thinking, ‘How did I end up in this scenario?’ I was looked after very well by these freedom fighters, but there were areas which were landmined and the Burmese military were never far away – so that was nerve-wracking.”

Closer to home, Zoe leads Film Oxford’s ‘Open Screen’ Film Networking Night, in which filmmakers of all abilities and experience join together every month to watch and discuss each other’s work. The participants range, she says, “from people trying to get blockbusters off the ground to people who have done a course and made their first film.” The night, she continues, can feature all manner of work – protest films (a keen interest of hers), mini-dramas, animations, music videos and more.


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From last year’s Film Oxford ‘Reel Women’ course

The film night helps make up the programme for Oxford International Women’s Festival this year. On 7 March (the date prior to International Women’s Day) there will be an evening of films that are either made by women, or that are about women or women’s issues. “It’s a celebration of women filmmakers,” says Zoe.“We also look at some amazing women that films have been made about.” In the three days leading up to the night, she is also running a women-only film course (‘Reel Women’), the resulting film of which will be shown on the night.

From last year's Film Oxford 'Reel Women' course

From last year’s Film Oxford ‘Reel Women’ course

She discusses how things have changed being a woman in the film industry. When she started out, she says, the industry was much more male-dominated. But she speaks the day after a Film Oxford Open Mic that witnessed “a good mix of men and women. When I first got into filmmaking there were very few camerawomen and now that wouldn’t be an unusual thing at all to see, so things have moved on and changed.”

We’re also speaking not long after the #MeToo movement has reared its head, and just days after the resignation of journalist Carrie Gracie over the gender pay gap. In light of all this, Zoe is sensing that the mistreatment of women is not going to be “brushed under the carpet” anymore, that people are standing together in solidarity against it. “It does feel like there’s a real change, a shift towards equality. We just need to make sure things continue to move in the right direction.”

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Women’s Film Night at Open Screen: Oxford’s ‘Open Mic’ film night | 7 March, 7:30-9:30pm | Film Oxford, 54 Catherine Street


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