The empowerment of women and their rights is a battle faced daily wherever you cast your eye and as filmmaker Serafima Serafimova was working on her latest film, The Unfair Sex, she couldn’t help but feel recent events such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade chime with the ethos at the heart of the animation. Serafima, whose films we’ve featured on multiple occasions, is a filmmaker driven by passion when embarking on a new project (including her role as editor on Matthew Harmer’s Immoral Code doc) and the strength of her creative voice and craft is undeniable in The Unfair Sex. Premiering on our pages at such an apt point in time, the film asks us to consider the often contradicting, archaic yet ever-present labels, pressures and demands placed on women. Serafima isn’t demanding that we go out and burn bras, which is a tidy yet paradoxically false impression of the continued battle for equality, but rather acknowledge that things are not improving and we all need to take time to consider that actuality. The Unfair Sex was inspired by a video she came across which immediately ignited the film’s momentum. It also stands out as a meaningful piece of work which invites you to re-watch and reconsider the images it presents and with a diminutive running time of just 69 seconds there’s no excuse not to. We sat down with Serafimova to learn about the film’s obsession fuelled rapid turnaround time, the delight in finding music which inspired the animation and the necessity of changing tempo even in shorter pieces of work.
– The following interview is also available to watch at the end of this article.
As a well-regarded alum and fellow DN writer whose work needs little introduction, why don’t you jump in and tell us about the film.
It had been quite some time since I finished my previous personal project and every few months or so I get this itch to do something else. I had been looking for inspiration and an idea but it just wasn’t there until a friend of mine sent me a video on Instagram featuring words written by Caylee Cresta. The words really hit home and I realised that this was my new film. I didn’t know what it was going to look like or what it was going to feature or sound like, but I knew that those words meant something to me and that it was time to work on something that had more of a message to it and that’s how it started. I edited and changed the original script and gave it the title The Unfair Sex but she deserves a part of the credit.
I knew that those words meant something to me and that it was time to work on something that had more of a message to it.
Why do you think Caylee’s words struck such a chord with you?
So I never really thought of myself as a feminist per se, there’s a lot attached to the word but there has been so much going on recently, including the debate on abortion and Roe vs Wade which actually came to a head at the end of my project. I knew I was missing the last 10 seconds of the animation as I didn’t know quite how to end it and then it all just came together with what is going on at the moment. I have to be passionate about what I am working on such as dancing or winter sports featured in my previous work and now I’m at an age where I experience so much pressure as a woman in her mid-30s from my family, friends and from my own self. There are babies popping out everywhere and there are certain expectations of me. I have friends who are going through IVF treatments, friends who miscarried, friends who don’t want children and are being judged. I am like a sponge absorbing it all and I wanted this film to resonate with all sorts of people.
Not just women because this film is not anti-men as some people might misconstrue. A lot of these questions come from other women and society in general. It’s the way we’ve been brought up and the way that we’ve understood the world around us and all of the added pressure we put upon ourselves. The ban on abortion seemed like such an insane and mad step backwards, it was like watching the Handmaid’s Tale unravel and spill into real life so it’s a scary time yet ironically gave me the perfect ending to the film.
The other part of it was wanting to highlight all the women who disappear and get raped and murdered. So many of them don’t even make it into the news. Just before Christmas, a woman was raped in the park outside my house as she went for an early morning jog which happens so often. There is a part of me that is scared to walk home alone and will call my partner or a friend or even pretend to be on the phone and then you find yourself so angry that you have to do these things and yet you don’t know what will happen if you don’t. It’s frustration, anger and fear which all combined together and this project is a way of getting it all out of me and has been therapeutic in a lovely way.
You spoke about editing the main body of text, how did you decide what themes to focus on and include?
The first thing I did was to give it the title. The script was longer and jumped around a lot. It would touch upon marriage and then move on to babies and motherhood, then it would jump back to marriage. So first off I simplified the text, cleaned it up then split it into sections. The first section is about your physical beauty and ageing and the expectations around that, then the next bit moves on to marriage and flows from there.
It’s frustration, anger and fear which all combined together and this project is a way of getting it all out of me
I added the last section myself, “don’t say that, don’t do that, don’t go there” which was giving a nod to the women who disappear from our streets and was so important for me to add in. So many tragedies happen on my doorstep, Sarah Everard was taken from Brixton where I go every week and these are my roads and my home so it always strikes a chord. I then added in the part about women asking for it if they are wearing the wrong thing or go to the wrong place or are drunk, then the blame is on them. This isn’t a male perspective but very much an all-encompassing notion also led by women, it is embedded in our culture. It’s not right but if we are still talking about these things we are not there yet.
The film works with two distinct colour palettes, moving from a lighter pink into the more foreboding red. Why did you decide on that shift of tones?
If you’re making a film whether it’s 1 minute, 10 minutes or feature length you want to hold people’s attention. Pace is so important, you don’t want it to be a monotonous one level story without any arc or pause or switch in tempo and I strongly believe even with a 69 second video this holds true. Right from the start, I planned for something to happen after the birth scene. That’s such a key part of a woman’s life when the babies come and everything changes so it felt like a really good moment in the animation to mix things up and I wanted the chaos to ensue from that point on. I wanted it to be bolder and brighter and louder and faster. I was very much working my way through that because, as you know, animating is a very long process. So I needed the change to avoid throwing my laptop out of the window at the end of the day. Another part of it was just to call people’s interest, to give you a little bit of a surprise and to mix things up, play with the energy and the vibe and the colours which matched with the moment when the baby comes.
I really wanted to have a real childbirth in the film. I think I have seen a lot and very little shocks me, I’m a huge fan of horror and the gory stuff but I watched a lot of horrible birth videos. In mainstream films you don’t see the extent of it and I also believed that babies start crying the moment they come out, which was going to be my moment where the music kicked in, but it turns out they don’t do that. From what I’ve seen in films and shorts, you don’t really see the extent of it and I wanted to get right in there, pun intended, and just show all the guts and glory.
The music track in The Unfair Sex sits so beautifully with your animation, how did you go about finding something so fitting to the film?
The music was actually such a huge part of the whole short film. Whilst I had Caylee’s words, and a title, I still had no idea what the visuals would be. I didn’t know what the pace or mood would be so I had these words and I had to figure out how they were going to be read. Is it going to be angry, sarcastic or is it going to be really moving, sad and poignant?
I started looking through royalty-free music libraries, and I genuinely spent hours and hours and nothing felt right. I didn’t know what I was looking for but yet I was hoping that something would click into place and it would feel right. Then, after almost losing the will to live, I decided to contact Joon who gave me her music for two of my animations Flawed and XX, she’s this amazing musician who writes and performs everything by herself. I didn’t initially contact her because I knew that she had a new album out with a new agent and was really burgeoning success but I messaged her mentioning my new animation and wondering if she had a track I could use and amazingly she immediately offered up anything from her new album. It was just such an incredible vote of confidence, the album is called Dream Again and after sending me the link, I heard the track it felt right and inspired the whole animation. I owe so much to her and the track, it completely inspired the visuals.
Pace is so important, you don’t want it to be a monotonous one level story without any arc or pause or switch in tempo.
How do you find your work as an editor influences your filmmaking?
As a rotoscope animator my projects always start with a timeline. I use DaVinci for my editing and so they all start as an edit. I grab videos and record videos of myself if I can’t quite find the right thing, such as the shot with the carrot, which is great as I can get away from certain copyright issues because I’m animating it. Editing plays such a huge part in the pace, the timing, the shots and the cutting. I knew I wanted there to be a lot of transitioning rather than straight cuts. I really wanted to have as many different women shifting into one another as much as possible so I avoided straight cuts and tried to morph everything which is always a lot of fun, trying to figure out how one shape becomes another. This is when you take it beyond the edit and rely on your artistic skill and then you export it and it looks awful so you do it again which is all part of the fun.
From the start of the project until having it ready for release how long did the whole process take you?
This one took five weeks which is all around my full time job. Bear in mind when I embark on these personal projects I become absolutely obsessed with them to an extent where I spend pretty much every spare minute of my life working on it. And if I’m not working on it, I’m thinking about it and I’m working on it in my head. It’s a very exhausting time, I normally start working on it from six until eight in the morning and then once work is over I’ll jump back into it and then later on in the evening I’ll be watching something yet I’ll be thinking about it. I am completely consumed by it and I get into a state where it’s almost physically painful not to work on it. If I was working on it full time I reckon I could have completed it in 2-3 weeks but this is now the best time, when I have finished a project and I can have my weekends back and it is a little bit magical.
So, now the mania has subsided, dare I ask you what’s coming next?
Well, personal project-wise I haven’t got anything. I’ve got a passion project starting which I will be directing at work. At Nice and Serious we are given the opportunity to pitch and then work on our own ideas and I’m going to be making a short film to raise awareness around drowning. I heard a podcast recently about the subject and it literally shook me to my core so with summer and everything going on right now I think it’s a very important thing to talk about, especially for people with kids.