A veteran of documentary filmmaking, Noe Mendelle established the Scottish Documentary Institute in 2004 to nurture documentary filmmakers and audiences in Scotland and beyond.
Long an advocate for more women filmmakers in the industry, we spoke to Noe about how she got into filmmaking and her advice on working in the industry.
I started filmmaking at a very early age. A friend of mine at university tried to drag my to a film workshop in order to make up for numbers. And I did and it just changed my life. I completely and entirely fell in love with making films.
So then the idea was to practice filmmaking beyond that workshop. So I started … making short films…. slowly my films became well known in festivals and I wanted to get more films as a filmmaker. However, I couldn’t. The trade union kind of was blocking people outside of BBC in order to become part of you know, the industry.
I soon realised that the trade unions were meant to be representing members were blocking new members, especially when it came to women. The only way to do it at the time, was in order to go to national film school. But, at the time, I was pregnant. So I was quickly kind of you know told that national film school wasn’t the place in order to bring a child, even if I deferred my place.
So the only way was to carry on as a filmmaker, but carry on as a filmmaker without my trade union card meant that I could never be paid for the work that I was doing.
The one person who actually solved that dilemma was actually Margaret Thatcher. And I cannot believe that I have got to thank her in order to say that she is the one who allowed me to become a member of the trade union. She basically decided she wanted to break the trade union strengths in the film industry and elsewhere as we know [ahem], and very much set up Channel 4 in order to do that.
Channel 4 was going to be the new voice for filmmakers and new film communities coming on board and new ways of working and that meant working as short kind of you know small teams. And eventually I got my trade union card saying you know ‘Director’ trade union.
My advice to young female filmmakers would be not to give up. To find ways to juggle who they are with filmmaking. It’s not an easy life, but it’s possible.