Fashion film transparency and status. Interview with Mădălina Cozmeanu and Ioana Diaconu
Bucharest Fashion Film Festival has reached its fifth edition. Tell us a little about its journey, from its beginnings to where it stands now. Where did the festival initiative come from?
Ioana Diaconu: We started five years ago; I had attended the London Fashion Film Festival, which was mainly focused on the role of costumes in film, and I found it really interesting to have a festival revolving around production, set, or costume design. When I got back, we thought about trying out the same model and we started with a pilot edition that showcased fashion short films – which, in my view, lie at the intersection of advertising (as branded content), art film and experimental film. From that point, we’ve developed slowly but surely and we looked towards creating more sections, adding feature films in our program, as well as documentaries about the industry, designers, and the world “behind the scenes”. Plus, our interests took us to other areas, for example towards themes such as body image and sustainability; we didn’t want it to become a festival that is just about the industry’s “glam” or whatever falls in that category. Over time, we saw the emergence of sections such as Dressing the Cinema, where we turn our attention to costume in film, or Dressing the Body, where we explore clothing from a socio-anthropological perspective and the relationship between clothing and society. The festival grew organically and based on our interests and our personal research.
Mădălina Cozmeanu: Speaking of our beginnings, yes, it had to do with Ioana going to the festival in London at the time – and I find it really cool that two years ago we had Marketa Uhlirova, the director of the exact festival, on our jury, since that was out starting point – but at the same time, several fashion film festivals had appeared during that period, in almost all European capitals, or at least in places that have a more developed fashion industry. That was our ground zero for creating a festival that brings together people from fashion, film, and advertising. At other festivals of such, in Milan, in Copenhagen, we noticed the openness to collaboration shown by people from all three fields, and it seemed like fertile ground worth exploring. So what we set out to do then, and I hope it doesn’t sound too arrogant, is to tear down some of the prejudice that exists between these guilds. With the first edition, our pilot edition, we realized that the local industry is very small and that the audience for such films is also small, comprising mostly people working in the industry. So we added various types of content to reach a format that is appealing to a wider audience. As Ioana says, we have gradually changed our interests and I think that now the festival’s goal is to approach clothing from as many angles as possible: clothing as costume, clothing as fashion item, clothing as repository of social, cultural, and historical meaning, and so on.
As the festival grows and evolves, do you think that the public’s relation to the festival, but also to the idea of fashion films, has changed in some way? Would you go as far as to say that fashion film is maybe less of an outcast now or that maybe there are more people who now consider it closer to art, lying, as Ioana said, at the intersection of several fields and often having this contribution of a branded content?
M.C.: Locally speaking, we were glad to see that more and more fashion films are being produced and it shows in the number of entries for the competition – however, we can’t take this year as a reference, given that not many films were made due to the pandemic. Even though last year there was a great need for such content in the fashion area. That’s because, at least at the international level, it was among the only viable ways of presenting a line, because fashion shows were canceled and thus no more of the usual fuss surrounding the Fashion Weeks in various cities. Therefore, brands had to look for a different strategy and I think there has been a lot of experimenting as far as fashion film is concerned, seeing that besides the usual shorts, all kinds of hybrid forms have been created, such as was the first Gucci show after the lockdown – a live show combined with illustrations presenting most of the department heads, ultimately resulting in a mix between catwalk, film, and statements by Alessandro Michele (i.e. – the creative director of Gucci). Locally, at least this year, I would say there wasn’t much experimenting in this area, given that such productions do need a fair budget; then again, the whole film production in Romania was stalled last year. In fact, I think that Romanian designers had many other more serious problems to worry about during that period, such as the fact that the production cycle was shut down or that the factories were closed.
But, overall, yes, fashion films are on the rise in Romania and we even witnessed the growth of some people who started making fashion films around the time we started the festival, such as Raia Al Souliman or Horațiu Șovăială, who had their first fashion film in the first edition of the festival.
It really seems like a nice local spirit – a small industry, but with a lot of enthusiasm and a number of people who somehow seem very united by this interest in fashion film.
M.C.: A lot of these films are made through collaborations born out of friendships; the local scene is small. But I think this is a very good start and it would be great for more collaborations to start like this, from friendships, given that we don’t have an infrastructure to support local fashion. And if we were to consider the younger generations, I think there would be a better outcome if they don’t finish school with the idea that being a designer is their only option, but that there are several other jobs they could pursue and that there is also the option of collaborating with each other, in different roles.
Ioana, for you, have there been any other changes regarding the current status of the fashion film?
I.D.: I would add something that rather concerns the public than the industry itself. There has been a rise in the general interest and fashion films emerged at a time when at least the young audience was very reluctant to commercials and classic advertising. I think that fashion films have taken this concept of branded content to a more artistic area, which the public is more attracted to because they can connect more to the subject. Some films have a very important aesthetic component, but also an emotional one, or even a narrative one, which captivates more and gathers a larger audience. And from the traffic we had on last year’s edition that was held online, it seems to show the same thing, that there is more interest in this area.
How did you decide on this year’s theme of the festival, transparency, The See-through Edition?
M.C.: We decided on this theme starting from the communication strategies several brands have adopted during the pandemic. We noticed a certain direction – as in the case of the Gucci example, but not only – in brands relying on exposing certain vulnerabilities or the community. Fashion generally tends to bring the designers to the fore, who come out as some sort of demiurges, but now it seemed obvious that they were trying to present the others, hundreds of people who participate in the whole process, maybe out of a tendency and general need to rely on the community. I think the pandemic exposed part of our social fragility, in all areas, including fashion – so honesty came out as a good solution. Therefore, we began to ask ourselves to what extent fashion and honesty or authenticity make a good match; you would expect them to be opposite – fashion is based on spectacle, on presenting an idealized version of us, on wearing all kinds of masks. However, many brands have chosen to open up somehow.
So you also followed the idea of vulnerability or this opposition that the notion of see-through encompasses, between hiding and showing?
MC: We started precisely from this game of hide and show, for all the sections of the festival, but strictly regarding the fashion industry, we asked ourselves how real this branded vulnerability is, or you could call it branded authenticity, which is a contradiction in terms. I mean you have fashion houses that have started to include in their communication strategies words like “community” or “craft”, which have been buzzwords for a long time but have now become even more common. You have expressions where you no longer say “models” but “real people”, or they are no longer “employees” but “our family”. On the one hand, there is the brands’ need to get closer to their creators and community, but on the other hand, some of those employees don’t even know each other. So we came up with all these questions – about how real everything is, how real is the information communicated in the sustainability campaigns, how true are the statements of influencers who often say that they “felt vulnerable”, adding a sponsored or not sponsored hashtag.
That’s how we got to the idea of transparency, which we molded to befit each section. The most difficult – because it’s a rather abstract concept – was with the section Dressing the Cinema, where it was very difficult to find a common denominator until we reached the idea of the “veil” as a repository of several socio-political meanings. In the sense that, traditionally, the veil was perceived as a monitoring tool that removes the woman from society and hides her from men’s eyes, in particular, in order to protect her from shame. We can talk about the wedding veil, but also about the veil worn in the Middle East, where other meanings are involved. Even this choice relies on the game of hide and show. Moreover, the veil sparked much discussion in the area of politics of the gaze.
For you, Ioana, did the idea of transparency lead you to other areas?
I.D.: In addition to what Mădălina said, the subject also made me think about transparency in communication. I don’t know if sharing your problems is the right way to go, but we should be more open about the issues we deal with. Meaning that we should no longer cover or hide important stuff under the mat. We should no longer end up censoring ourselves. It’s still difficult to do that and has become even more difficult with social media, in the sense that you need to know how to present yourself. That, for me, also comes as personal – a challenge to be more open. That’s what I took from this year’s theme.
M.C.: From this point of view, of how we personally relate to the festival, it’s important for us to focus on a wider range of content, as we mentioned earlier. We have been told that when people first hear about the festival, they do not expect this type of program, that there isn’t necessarily a direct link between the title of the festival and the films in the selection. What we are seeking is to explore the concept of clothing in as many ways as possible, to unravel its meanings – I think the socio-cultural meaning of clothing is very little addressed and it touches on many other topics such as voyeurism or exhibitionism, surveillance systems, or oppression of women.
Do you mean that people do not expect fashion to be such a complex subject? I gather from what you’re saying that a lot of people came with some pretty low expectations, even if the subject may be closer to us than we think; it’s not exclusively related to the high-end and parallel world of designers.
M.C.: I think this is the best conclusion to describe Bucharest Fashion Film Festival. When you say the word “fashion”, people have a pretty clear picture of what topics might fall under its roof and many avoid an association with this term. I wish there were more people open to these areas, and I don’t think we can all shy away from whatever meaning clothing and fashion carry with them, because everyone… well, everyone wears clothes. We all make a choice in this sense, whether we want to look fashionable or not – and the latter too is very much a conscious choice.