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She Found It At The Movies: Author Christina Newland on Her Book on Female Desire in Film

16 April 20 interview: Jamie Morris

Nottingham-based freelancer Christina Newland has penned articles for film mags from Empire to Sight & Sound, but now it’s her turn in the editor’s chair. We spoke to her about her new collection of essays, She Found it at the Movies...

How would you describe She Found it at the Movies?
I’m posing a series of questions and trying to find answers. I knew when I started out with an interest in the topic of women and sex in the movies – and how female audience members respond to sex in the movies – that it was something incredibly open-ended because desire is very subjective. I needed to reach out to as many different people as possible, which led to a collection of essays rather than something from one author. It’s an attempt at blending critical analysis and personal essays to answer questions about how women relate to things on screen that aren't necessarily meant for them.

How did you approach the different writers to work on the project?
I knew a lot of women and non-binary culture writers that I already really admired, so I reached out to a few of them. I got quite a lot of submissions too, and had to narrow it down through there, keeping in mind that I wanted it to be as diverse as possible. 

Who is the book primarily aimed at?
It's certainly aimed at women, but I’d very much like to see film fans, people who are interested in feminism and people of all kinds to pick it up. We tried to keep in mind throughout the editing and putting-together of the book that even if you weren't specifically interested in the topic of female sexuality, or specifically a cinephile – a real honest-to-goodness film geek – that you could pick it up and start to think about the depictions of women on screen, who's making movies, and how that relates back to us being able to find something sexy on the screen, particularly when the history of movies has been about the male gaze. 

Which essays in the book are you most excited for people to read?
I would have to plead the fifth on that one, because I have really good relationships with a lot of my writers and I wouldn't like to pick favourites. But I would say that one I’d like to flag is one by a Canadian writer named Willow Maclay, who's very talented. She's written a lot for RogerEbert.com and has really deep knowledge of film and film history. She's trans, and wrote a little bit about what it is to try and identify with sex on screen; what her tastes are and what her experience of sex is, versus what she sees on the screen.

In fact, the film that she found herself relating to most was Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. It's an alien in a woman's body, and the confusion that results when she realises that she doesn't have all the same functions as an anatomically-correct woman. I find it very, very moving.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when putting this collection together?
I’m a freelance writer; I didn't have much experience in being in an editorial position. I've worked with a lot of different editors, but it's not the same as being in the editorial capacity and having twenty people writing personal things. To have the sensitivity to guide them to where I needed something to be, but also to be very sensitive to their feelings about the project and their comfort zone, was certainly challenging at times. It was rewarding, though; I wanted to feel that care was taken.

The great thing about cinema is that you really can be kind of an autodidact; you can read and watch to your heart's content, especially in this day and age

The book release was initially planned to coincide with a film season at BFI Southbank. What can people look forward to once this is rescheduled?
We had a couple of filmmakers planning to come out, which will be really exciting. We'll be screening some really fun mainstream movies like Dirty Dancing, Magic Mike XXL, but then a lot of lesser-known films as well; a lot of teenage coming-of-age movies like Diary of a Teenage Girl, and a film called Pariah by the director Dee Rees. One of her most recent films was Mudbound, which is a Netflix film.

We'll also have some older stuff like the 1931 film from Germany called Madchen in Uniform – that's one of the first films to ever depict a lesbian kiss. I would also say in the meantime, while everybody's stuck inside, there are quite a few choices across streaming platforms that people can check out. I believe Diary of a Teenage Girl is on BFI Player, and Dirty Dancing is on Netflix.

Do you have any plans to release another book?
I would say that the next book will be a real left turn from here. I have a variety of interests in cinema, and I think the next thing I do will not be a collection of essays but instead just a written book, probably more to do with film history. 

What advice might you give to aspiring film writers in Nottingham?
Nottingham has a really nice, small but close-knit community. You have Broadway Cinema first and foremost – which will hopefully re-open soon – and there's such a good community there: there are film clubs, a lot of events, the BFI-run classes for young people, separate film courses on film history. The best thing you can do is get talking to people. I really believe that, and that's how I got started: meeting people that worked at Mayhem Film Festival. The guys that run that, Chris Cooke and Steven Sheil, are two guys that helped me to orient myself within British film culture and Nottingham film culture. Watch as many films as you can. The great thing about cinema is that you really can be kind of an autodidact; you can read and watch to your heart's content, especially in this day and age. 

She Found it at the Movies is released on Tuesday 31 March

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