Screen Queens Anniversary Zine

Page 1





Millicent Thomas


Caroline Madden


Juliette Faraone Brianna Zigler Alex Landers Marie-Celia



@OneCriticalBitch @MCeliaCR

Casci Ritchie


Daisy-Leigh Phippard


Kassandra Karlstrom


Catherine McNaughton Fatima Sheriff Megan Wilson Kacy Hogg


@lafatimayette @BERTMACKLIN


Holly Weaver


Chloë Leeson


Laura Venning


Haaniyah Angus


Anna Cale @real_meaning Sydney Urbanek @sydurbanek

Ell Hoffman


Tara Morden-Paino


Kaiya Shunyata @filmlesbian Shannon Watson


Thomas Atkinson Megan Scott



Allison Valiquette Alex Dewing Joe Lipsett




Lauren Entwhistle Bethany Gemmell Katie Duggan



Mel Sutherland Marina Vuotto Claire White


@mazsuds @sobmarina_


Naomi Gessesse


Maria Gomez Victoria Thompson Sasha Hornby Beth Inglis





NOV 2018


Hey there SQ readers.

idea of a zine, something I attempted back on our

Firstly I just want to say a happy 5th birthday to

1st year (seek it out if you want, I’m a terrible

this wonderful site and secondly, I’d like to thank

designer despite having a degree in a design subject;

everybody reading this, anyone that’s ever written

for me, more is always more). Thanks to her

for us and every filmmaker who has shared their

wonderfully restrained layouts and design bringing

work with us. The sense of community that has

peace to my chaotic brain, we agreed on a zine that

developed around Screen Queens is probably my

would be a collection of love letters to cinema.

proudest achievement.

I wanted to strip our passion for movies back to its The surge in demand for better representation

simplest form: pure love and admiration. Remove

within criticism and filmmaking itself within the last

the nagging criticisms we often seek out within this

year has propelled SQ further than I ever thought it

profession and throw ourselves wholly into the

would go (gotta admit, I’m a bit in over my head)

positive elements of the films and filmmakers we

and I still have so many goals I want to reach with

love the most. These letters are addressed personally

this amazing group of people. With 31 regular staff

to the film, character or director as if they are a lost

writers and countless other guest writers I’ve been

love, a first love or a difficult one you can’t seem to

so grateful for the support and impressed by

shake. I know that, personally, I tend to cling onto

everyone’s development over the last year, I hope SQ

anything negative for dear life, this zine is a way to

has given writers the space to refine their own

reconnect with the reasons Screen Queens was

writing style. We’ve had coverage from London Film

started in the first place.

Festival, Cannes, New York Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Seattle International Film

If there’s one thing that I’ve gathered from reading

Festival, Grimmfest, and Champs-Elysées - and we

through the submissions within these pages, it’s that

have even bigger plans for 2019.

representation matters so much. In some instances, it can change lives. I hope you are all as excited,

After such a jam-packed year on the site, nothing

moved and amused by the words ahead as I am.

felt quite fitting to do for our 5th anniversary. Our

Love, Chloë

Socials Editor Millicent approached me with the

You came to me at a strange and uncertain time in my life. Six months out of university, the freedom had worn off and I was getting restless, trying to answer the question “what do I do now?” It was the second time I had gone to the cinema alone, but it was one of the most profound cinematic experiences of my life. You cemented that I was on the right path, pursuing a life of film.

I see you as a love letter, to director Mike Mill’s own mother (who is deceased) but also to women in general. A woman in her mid-fifties, and single mother Dorothea (Annette Benning) enlists two young women to help raise her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and teach him to be a good man. A lot of this comes from Jamie embracing feminism. It's very rare to see a relationship between a young boy and the women who help shape him in such a way.

There are parts which make me positively ache just thinking about them. In one particular scene, fifteen-year-old Jamie stands in a doorway, reading aloud an essay about being an older woman. As the camera moves into the room where he stands, and reveals Dorothea, who sits before him, my heart catches in my chest: Jamie’s desperate yearning to connect with his emotionally distant mother, by reading the emotions of the forgotten older woman—who is never seen as a woman with emotions and desires—in the room which she inhabits, is so simple, yet the silence and denial from Dorothea speaks volumes.

Finding meaning through someone else’s words to find meaning for yourself, or others, is something I have done my whole life. It is one of the reasons why I love film. Abby (Greta Gerwig), an artist and boarder in Jamie and Dorothea’s house, aligns her identity with punk music and her photography. The way she finds artistic and somewhat physical manifestations to point at and say This is Me, is not unlike the countless lyrics I would scrawl across my schoolbooks.

It makes sense that I write my own love letter to film, to you. Mills’ filmmaking is intensely personal, and his connection to human emotion is incredibly visceral and universal. A beautifully and poignantly constructed film about people grasping to connect and hope to make it out ok, never fails to remind me of the beauty of cinema. It is the same feeling as the film’s final shot: Dorothea soaring across a blue sky and a golden sun.

Love, Claire White

Dear Paddington... When I was a child my parents could only get me to sleep by reading your stories. They often joke that they were capable of reciting the tales without even looking at the pages because I demanded their telling so often, and I still own every single battered book detailing your mishaps in London which once belonged to my own mother when she was a child: many people have grown up with you by their side.

As we grow older though we may leave behind the things we love and I have to admit a bear called Paddington was one of the aspects I left to collect dust.

But if you truly care for something it finds a way back to you, which is the case for you. I was working at a cinema when your second film was released, and I was quite surprised at the rush of nostalgia experienced when I went to check the screens. I caught only glimpses, but I could hear the reactions of the audience for the entire duration of the film. People were utterly smitten and their laughs and tears intrigued me.

I went home and immediately watched the first of your two films and fell in love with you all over again. Yours is a story of acceptance – of someone coming to a new country for the hope of a better life and being embraced by the majority of people there. Charming characters and whimsical happenings come together in this world of acceptance, and your found family from all walks of life truly allows us to believe that ‘if we are kind and polite the world will be right.’ How can you not embrace such joyous escapism with enduring good intentions?

What I really want to say is thank you for always been there for me: from guiding me through childhood to giving me a couple of hours of comfort in adult life. When navigating the world sometimes the best companion is a young bear with a troubling marmalade habit, and through your films generations old and new have been given a pillar of kindness to watch with great affection.

I just wish marmalade sandwiches were as nice as you made them out to be…

Love, Megan

Dear Dazed and Confused, I don't even remember the particulars of our first time, we embody that clichéd idea that “it feels like I’ve known you my whole life” except that I do remember life without you, it was just… worse. And you’ve stayed with me since, because you made me believe I have something to say; I have something worth saying.

My favourite memories, my own life story, the days that stick out to me are the days that share an atmosphere with an Edward Hopper painting. My friends and I being nothing but ourselves, doing nothing in particular. To see that - those kinds of days - those kind of memories on the big screen…well…

STARS man! Ben Affleck! Matthew McConaughey!! You set these guys up. Your films matter, man. You matter. And they made me realise that I can do whatever I want. I can write whatever I want. It doesn’t have to be jampacked full of action, or heartbreak, or whatever, it just has to be real.

Even before Gogglebox, Big Brother, Vlogging, YouTube celebs… people have always loved to watch people. Simply humans being humans, and well Linklater, that’s exactly what you’ve given us on the big screen. No need for fancy camera work, no fancy computer-generated imagery, no lavish set decoration or hours in a makeup chair. Just good, old fashioned people-watching (not that there is anything wrong with any of those things). But what could be more accessible, life-affirming or inspiring than a cinema experience of just two people talking?

For me, this is beauty. Life, simplicity and Led Zeppelin.

So thank you Linklater, and you, Dazed and Confused. You keep me seeing the wonder in my everyday life, and that inspiration can come from even the most mundane of places. You are my everyday reminder that you just gotta keep livin man. L-I-V-I-N.

Yours, always, Mel Sutherland. You cool?

Elio, Your story began somewhere in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Mine, too, began in summer – though not quite in the idyllic dreamscape of your villa. Like you, I was soaked by the sun and intoxicated by the romanticism of weeks spent in a haze, as if there were no real world beyond this summer to return to. You were seventeen, I was freshly turned twenty-one – perhaps I should have known better, having recently escaped my own adolescence, but I was just as consumed by longing and headiness as any teenager.

See, Elio, our lives ran parallel before either of us had even embarked on the dives that would shape the most significant summers of our youths. Before our days were engulfed by desire, I spent most of mine either reading, writing for myself, or relishing in the attention and affection of others. Like you, I was known as precocious. It was assumed by most that I was sure of myself – that, given my knowledge of literature and cinema, I would face no hurdles in articulating anything else. Yet, like you, it was soon revealed to me that I knew nothing. When my own Oliver – who would come and who would leave – arrived, I realised that everything I knew about books, about poetry, meant very little. Just as you did, Elio, I grew to want this person so much that, though it was neither of our faults, I was stripped of everything I’d ever built for myself. As Oliver was able to, this person could see straight through every single inch of the confident exterior I had spent years crafting. Where you had once sauntered around your villa as if you were a prince, you crumbled under the weight of your need for Oliver – reduced to convincing yourself you hated him, to ignoring him, as a child would. So did I. The words that you had become such a master in pulling together fell apart and slipped into nothingness, just as my own – which I believed I had perfected across my relationships – grew futile in comparison to the severity of my emotions.

I knew, as you did, that they would leave eventually. Every hour spent in rapturous bliss with my own Oliver was always tinged with the underlying sense that circumstances beyond our control would send her away. And yet, somehow, the universe has not collapsed. You were the star of your story, Elio. It was your name that was the last to be uttered in the finale. I, too, am the star of mine.

Love, Hannah Ryan

Claire Denis, Writing a letter seems almost futile. What good would a letter be to a person operating on a different playing field to the rest of us? Sending a letter to the heroine who made Beau Travail feels like lending a few coins to a billionaire. What do you give to the person who already has everything? Or, in your case, what do you say to the woman who has already said everything?

Should I instead send one to Galoup, the tragic commanding officer at the centre of your film? I might have asked what longing feels like, especially when the longing is simultaneously for the arms of another and for a better self. Or I could have interrogated what it was he saw in the young men whose bodies he made into outlets for military tribalism, and the jealousy he felt when Sentain brought some humanity back to their lives.

Or perhaps I should talk about those young men in a letter to the cinematographer who captured them, Agnes Godard. Your film is, after all, obsessed with the male frame, both in movement and in stillness. Scenes of repetitive military training equate to a beautiful hypnosis, even with their aggressive physicality. In fact, it is perhaps because there is so little emphasis on anything other than the physicality that Beau Travail is so graceful. Little prominence is afforded to dialogue, leaving only Galoup’s faceless narration to float detached above the drama.

And what would the group Corona have to say about that final sequence, and their song ‘The Rhythm of the Night’ being used to soundtrack cinema’s greatest ending? How would they feel that their kitsch, flashy single had been re-engineered to be as crushing and as melancholic as it was already rapturous? I might explain how Beau Travail is only the second film in my life (the first being Eraserhead) to give me The Feeling – the unexplainable emotion that signals a film has changed you as a person, and that the ending was part-and-parcel of your film’s triumph in doing so.

Yet, breaking down the different parts of the film and organising them, reasoning with them, attempting to rationalise them, doesn’t account for the power that they have altogether. They form a beautifully told, bleak story, hiding its deep, complex concerns in plain, glorious sight. I love Beau Travail, perhaps more than I love any other film. And that, Claire Denis, is why this letter is for you.

Thank you. Thomas Atkinson

Dear Crooklyn... When I first sat down to watch you, I was uprooted from my cold Glasgow flat and enveloped in the staccato of a warm Brooklyn summer. You are one of those films who sneaks up on its viewer, lulling them into a comforting rhythm before pulling the rug from under them. One of Spike Lee’s strengths is in how he captures empathetic and sensitive examinations of black masculinity, though it rarely feels afforded equally to the women in his films. The first time I watched you, I was at once perplexed and in awe of your women - fiercely rooting for young, cheeky Troy, while devastated for matriarch Carolyn.

Alfre Woodard crackles on screen as Carolyn, her frustration as a mother feeling tangible as she strains under the labour of running the family. Carolyn is by no means perfect, her temper often getting the better of her as the gruelling tasks of family life pile up. What becomes clear, is how love is Carolyn’s driving force, and how she’s torn between the need for independence. The dichotomy of motherhood and personal agency become realised through Carolyn, as well as the blistering heartache and relentless exhaustion that comes with it. Crooklyn, Carolyn’s death in your third act devastated me - disturbing the flow of the narrative so as to offer the viewer little time to mourn her. Although, this disruption to the film’s rhythm, felt necessary, viscerally translating grief on screen. But it’s impossible not to feel betrayal at your treatment of Carolyn. Her death felt like a punishment for her unapologetic anger and ambition, so rarely afforded to women on screen. Your beating heart, is the cheeky, curious Troy Carmichael, played by Zelda Harris. Troy is forced to navigate social and societal pressures during adolescence, aware of the gendered burden she and her mother share. The way you explore this ugly pubescent period resonated with me. Troy fights between emotional maturity and her desire to be a kid. While processing the death of her mother, young Troy vomits into a toilet in a moment of aching realism.

Crooklyn, there are few family dramas that stick with me, and finding you when I did was like coming home from the cold. Rarely does Hollywood portray a Black family with nuance. The Carmichaels -property-owning, artistic types - represent a class of people from the 1970s less concerned with upward mobility than with simply getting by. You explore the difficult, painful complexities of family life through the Carmicheal women, in a way that is at once poignant and painful.

Love, Naomi G

Dear Suzanne Vale... Is your name Suzanne Vale, or is it Carrie Fisher? You exist in two states. You’re fictional, an actress, but you’re an autobiographical insert. Your story is her story. You’re inseparable from your creator, entwined together. You both are and aren’t her.

I discovered you after Carrie passed away. Isn’t it typical how we only really appreciate things once they’re gone? You and Carrie would have a witticism about that. You’re fluffing your lines on the set of a huge film production because you’re high as a kite. You’re effortlessly charming but cracks are forming beneath your movie star veneer. You’re rushed to hospital after a drug-fuelled bender. “Suzanne, we're going to have to pump your stomach!”says the doctor. “ I have to be there?” you murmur. This is your postcard from the edge. You’re imprisoned in rehab, protecting yourself from your self-loathing with humour. Your mother, Doris Mann, is “really” Debbie Reynolds, Carrie’s mother, an old-fashioned Hollywood star forever pushing you centre-stage. She gave you everything, including a fractured identity: “I can't possibly compete with you. What if somebody won? You want me to do well, just not better than you.” You’re locked in permanent battle, but you, Suzanne, admit defeat.

The day Carrie died was terrible. On a break at work in a haze of post-Christmas exhaustion, I checked the news. I cried in the stockroom; I’d hoped she couldn’t be extinguished. Debbie passed away a day later. It’s heartbreaking and yet there’s dark humour in that final attempt to steal her daughter’s limelight. What would Carrie have said through you, Suzanne? In Postcards, your mother tells you “Ever since you were a little girl, I had this feeling...that I’d lose you, that you’d be taken from me early.”

Carrie lives through you and watching you feels so personal it’s almost invasive. You fall for a man who looks just like Harrison Ford. “I don't want life to imitate art, I want life to be art,” you tell us. I cling to you as I cling to the memory of her. A feminist icon as Princess Leia Organa, an advocate for mental health, a painfully honest and funny writer and so much more. You both remind me that I’m stronger than my insecurities and that every struggle endured makes me tougher, but I have to stay open-hearted.

Carrie gave you a happy ending in Postcards, singing your heart out while your mother proudly looks on. I hope she was happy too.

Love, Laura Venning

To Goodfellas... I want to tell you of the first time the music swelled just right and the lights inside the box were pulsing with reds and greens and a mist from a perfect mix of temperatures. My world was hot and sun-soaked; an afternoon in the pool followed by a flush of a tired air conditioner pumping an icy breeze into my childhood home. The sounds of you had filled my house for years previous; my Polish mother with an unexplainable affinity for Italian gangster movies, the music of you a memory of its own thanks to a grandfather with impeccable taste in doo-wop.

You were a series of perfectly curated songs on a soundtrack that lasted hours, so much that I hardly understood there to be moving pictures and dialogue underneath your layers of nostalgic sounds. I knew your music cues by heart before I had ever even watched you. You were like a home movie my mother played when she was feeling sentimental for some kind of time and place that she couldn’t quite pinpoint by name.

That afternoon I was exhausted from being young with nothing to really be exhausted about, throwing myself on the couch with a bathing suit a little too wet still while I took a break from the heat. The TV was left on the channel of whoever was there just before me, figures moving in familiar oversized suits. A grainy glow of old pictures with handsome people I didn’t know by name but understood right away. Billy Ward and the Dominoes started to play in a sudden edit over a courtroom scene, and as his voice reached a crescendo, the camera panned up the legs of a young Ray Liotta and expanded into stardust. This is the recollection of a perfect memory, of how a movie gets you to fall in love with it, how that was the closest a 14-year-old girl had ever gotten to actual magic.

What a movie like you does is rooted in things we aren’t ever conscious of. It’s the swirling, dizzying nostalgia of a time I’ve never even lived, but is as familiar as my own history. I’ve chased that feeling in every movie I’ve ever watched since, nothing quite comparing to you. Music and film so perfectly intertwined, a character all its own that creates a world I’m happy to get lost in, however bloody and imperfect.

The memories of your stories meld perfectly with mine. The melody haunts my reverie.

Yours, Allison Valiquette

Dear In Bruges... Can you believe that it’s been ten years since you came out? Since we first met? I’m ashamed to say that I struggle to remember the first time I watched you. I can vividly remember one thing: loving it. And now, I’ve watched you so many times that I can hardly distinguish each new detail, thought or feeling that you manage to evoke with every re-watch. And don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve listened to your score - Carter Burwell did you such a service!

You got nominated for Best Screenplay back in the day (and so deservedly I might add - Martin McDonagh you’re my favourite!) and, despite a not-so-great audience reception, you’ve grown into the borderline-canon cult movie you are now - but that’s perhaps one of the best things about you. Whenever I find someone who loves you as much as I do we have this instant connection, this understanding that only In Bruges fans get. Maybe it’s because as a film, you’re a bit of a weird one; hard to explain, even harder to categorise.

You’re a gangster thriller, a noir, and I could even go as far to call you a Christmas movie (you certainly sport the hidden melancholia of the season). But more than that, you’re a comedy - a very dark comedy. In your opening minutes alone you gave us beautiful shots of the city tainted by nighttime shadows, Burwell’s wistful ‘Medieval Waters’, and Ray coldly informing us: “After I killed them, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off my hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions…Get to Bruges.” This is a city of wonder and charm, but here it’s Ray’s prison. It’s not funny - it’s actually quite sad. But only seconds later you have me laughing again, and laughing hard.

It might say more about me than I’d like, but you manage to capture the darkness and hilarity of life at the same time - letting Ken, and especially Ray, move through humour to despair, desperation and ultimately acceptance. You’re a film that is ridiculous and yet somehow soaked in a reality we can all relate to. You taught me how complex film could be and how nothing in life is as simple as black and white - even assassins and ganglords have morals, regrets and hopes. Really, you’re a filthy film sweary, hyper-violent, and crude. And that’s probably why I love you.

Love, Alex Dewing

Dear Cameron Frye... I just wanted to say thank-you. There’s something strange about seeing “yourself” on screen, or at least a character that is so closely going through the motions that you are.

It was your characterisation, in all your uptight, anxious, depressive glory in which I saw myself. A mirror-me reflected on-screen that showed my stretched-thin, uncomfortable teenage years.

I’ve always believed that when people watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you get split into two camps- Ferris, those who freewheel throughout that hour and forty-three minutes of close-shaves and lip-syncing on floats in the middle of Chicago. They find your situation sad, sure, but the film isn’t titled “Cameron Frye’s Day Off” for a reason. Or then there are those of us who are shrinking, shaking partakers of your viewpoint. Those who come from households with guardians that see us as unwanted shadows. Who’d rather spend their time and efforts elsewhere, such as focusing on a very beautiful but decidedly not-a-son 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder.

It’s a suffocating environment. When I look back, I’m surprised I didn’t come out of my own experience a lot sicker than I was. I got out. It wasn’t easy, but I did. For years I tried and twisted to be the perfect child, the one that was “worthy” of attention, love and care. I was fourteen when I first properly watched Ferris Bueller and fifteen when your message kicked in. Your “take a stand” speech, which ends with the Ferrari screeching out of your Dad’s glass-coffin garage and into the forest below is life-changing. Nobody expects such an outburst. Everything about your monologue is pained but so very eloquent - like you’ve been rehearsing those cathartic words in front of a mirror for years. It still hurts to watch you.

But for those of us watching who have been in your shoes, it provides such a strange release. I used to curl in on myself imagining how terrible it would be when your Dad comes home (offscreen and after the credits, of course) but now I stand with you.

For those of us firmly in your camp, Cameron, it’s a revolutionary act. To go against years of ingrained anxiety, sadness and being let down by the people who are supposed to care for you is an act of defiance. It was a lesson I really needed.

So, Cameron - I really hope you got your Day Off after all. You deserved it the most.

And because of you, I now have an abundance of them.

Love, Lauren Entwistle

Dear Back to the Future... You are wildly inventive, a hilarious delight, and breathlessly designed. There is a magical quality to you that represents everything I love about the medium of cinema—its rapturous ability to transport you, the watcher, into another time and place, to sweep you away on a marvelous adventure that leaves you agog and yearning for more as the credits roll. After I first saw you, I devoured every 1980s film I could like a child scrounging for morsels. I soon began making my way through even more films, branching out into other decades and genres until my motion picture compulsion was irrefutable. Without you, would I be so captivated by the moving image? Would I be the writer or avid moviegoer I am today?

There was something about the acid-washed jeans, flashy synthesizers, and big hair of your 1985 setting that beguiled me. The Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack led me to other 80s music that, despite its cheesiness, I adored. I found Bruce Springsteen, my biggest hero, because of you. As a little girl who had a sock hop birthday party, I was naturally enamored with the visions of girls in billowing poodle skirts, jukeboxes, street corner diners, and Marty McFly blaring out Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Marty’s travels to the fifties spoke to my old soul and desire as a loner kid to live in another time where I might be accepted. Little did I know that the dichotomies you drew between these time periods—the idyllic baby boom decade versus the Reagan era—would become one of my greatest interests as a film critic.

Speaking of Marty McFly . . . the utter dreamboat Michael J. Fox was one of my first crushes and I blame him for my chief attraction to short men. I was as excited by the sight of his purple Calvin Kleins as his mother. (What a deliciously bawdy subplot that was —Lorraine having a weird attraction to her son from the future. You have such a clever script!) Back to the Future, I owe you so much. You shaped my childhood and the woman I would become. You introduced me to the interests and works that would go on to fascinate me as both a person and a writer. When I watch you, I am overcome with the unadulterated bliss of my youth.

Love, Caroline Madden

Dear Gurinder Chadha... The first film of yours I watched was Bride and Prejudice. I watched it for the first time with mum’s side of the family. All Fiji-Indian migrants. It’s a memory of joy and laugher. My mum bought me the DVD and I re-watched it so many times that the disc became scratched. I would watch it wearing my Indian attire, copying the dances from the musical numbers sometimes I would watch it twice a day. It inspired me to want to learn Hindi from my mum and for the first time in my life, embrace my Indian identity. I no longer wanted to erase my brown skin.

The next film of yours I watched was Bend it like Beckham. It was the first film I ever saw about Indians set outside of India and it changed my life. So funny and touching. Groundbreaking and reassuring. I remember my mum had to explain what lesbian and gay was to me, so I could understand the characters and the plot. She whispered the definitions, embarrassed.

At film school I decided to look further into your filmography and watched your debut feature Bhaji on the Beach. Beautiful, complex and funny. The scene in the cafe of the older Indian family members judging the young Indian girl and the white cafe patrons judging the older Indians is brilliant, complex and reveals many truths about the modern Indian experience.

You are THE filmmaker who showed me films that reflected my own family. Your films helped me process my differences and helped me form my identity. I grew up with your films. They taught me about the world and what it was to be a woman of colour.

Now as an emerging queer WoC filmmaker, I look to your films as guides for how to craft my own stories about my experiences as a young brown girl growing up in a global world.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Yours truly, Victoria Thompson

Dear Susan...

I just wanted to write and say thank you, just for being you really. From the moment I saw your character in Gregory’s Girl, I knew you would be important in my life. As a shy, awkward teenage girl, seeing you on screen was a moment of realisation and a turning point. You showed me that girls could rule the roost and run rings around the boys, but with genuine heart and kindness.

When I was young I watched the usual American teenage films, but they never really felt right. Those movies were usually focused on girls I couldn’t relate to, the ones that chased the boring, popular boys at all costs. I often identified more with the goofy best friend to be honest, they always had the funny lines. Those girls seemed vacuous to me and I wasn’t interested in their journeys. I couldn’t see ‘me’ there with them.

I was far more at home with the realistic romance of Gregory’s Girl. The script was intelligent and charming, the setting might have been Cumbernauld New Town rather than New York, but that was the perfect backdrop to such a unique film. The chemistry between you and Gregory was believable. You were shown as independent and clever, and the outcome felt like tangible teenage love between two equals. That gave me hope. You were funny too and I wanted you to be my best friend. I’d tell you my secrets and you’d understand. You wouldn’t judge me or tell me to change the way I did things just to make a boy happy. You had such a unique style too, Susan. It was the very early 1980s and everyone around you had dodgy hairstyles and outfits, but you transcended that with effortless style and cool. You fizzed with fun with your chic bobbed hair and pixie boots. I even tried wearing a jaunty beret for a while, but I couldn’t quite pull it off like you did.

But most of all you showed me that teenage love could be fun, that it wasn’t a tortuous battle to be won or lost. You were an inspiration and gave me the confidence to be myself. You took control and got the boy you wanted in the end, but you did it in your own way. I found comfort in that as a shy girl. It meant a lot to me then and now, and I just thought you should know.

With love and admiration always, Anna Cale

Dear Guillermo del Toro... You will never know the influence you’ve had on this weird, introverted, ginger girl from England, helping her accept herself and the world around her. From the creepy Cronos to the breath-taking The Shape of Water, you always find the beauty in the horrifying. Rather than vilify your monsters, you show them empathy, and often kindness. You embrace the peculiar, the broken, the creepy, the outsiders on the periphery of the zeitgeist. You make us feel welcome.

Pan’s Labyrinth was the first of your dark fables I saw. I was instantly drawn into Ofelia’s story, recognizing myself in her innocent desire to escape to a make-believe land, to be the lost princess, instead of facing her own harsh reality. The adversity you overcame to ensure this film was made to reflect your vision, never abandoning your passion project when it would have been so easy to do, is nothing short of inspiring.

When Crimson Peak was released, I felt like you’d made this gothic romance for me, and me alone. The ghosts are visually grotesque, yet their melancholy is heart-breaking. The love that develops between Tom Hiddleston’s Sir Thomas Sharpe and Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing, even in the face of true horrors, is hard to resist.

I fondly remember cheering you on, an emotional tear in my eye, when you won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for The Shape of Water. A culmination of a craft perfected over years as a movie lover and movie maker, The Shape of Water is simultaneously ugly and exquisite, perverted and beguiling, fantastical yet steeped in a gritty realism. The sincerest gift you have ever given is a genre-blending flick so richly detailed that I find something new to be fascinated by with each watch.

With a filmography that features kaiju-killing robots, comic book hell-spawn, bone-chilling baby ghosts, plague-ridden cockroaches, and vampiric worms, it is clear you have a penchant for playing in the backyard of horror iconography. Yet I think what I adore most about you is how you refuse to be pigeon-holed. Challenging the audience with juxtapositions of tone, theme, imagery, and sound. Perfectly balanced, always. Oh, to be inside your mind, Being John Malkovich style!

Thank you for your service to cinema and to story-telling, Guillermo.

All my respect and admiration, Sasha-Jade Hornby

To Charles and the X-Men... I’m writing this letter to thank you. To thank Logan, and Scott, and Jean, Hank, and Storm. You helped me make sense of the world. Through your experiences, I learnt about what’s outside my own doors. The darkest parts of my world's history were made easier to understand through your stories.

You taught me about family, tolerance, and empathy. How those who are different are to be celebrated. You see what is special in people and know that they can be saved, that they are worthy of everything.

Charles, you never once gave up on anyone. Decades went by and you still knew that Erik was a good man, you didn't lose hope. Your faith in people made it feel as though you could have faith in me. I just want you to know that your courage goes a long way through the pages of comic books and the light of cinema screens - because it helped this girl feel a little less alone.

I'll leave you with a quote from one of your own students, Storm; one which feels more timely than ever. "We live in an age of darkness: a world full of fear, hate and intolerance. But in every age, there are those who fight against it. Charles Xavier was born into a world divided, a world he tried to heal... a mission he never saw accomplished. Wherever we may go, we must carry on his vision. And that is a vision of a world united."

The world needs the X-Men.

Yours, Millicent Thomas

Dear Theodore... I know you’re used to writing strangers’ letters, but just for once, this letter is for you. I thought of you the other day. I remember how you were walking in front of the Los Angeles skyline at dusk, your hands crossed on your chest and the world passing by you, indifferent. You were hurting so much it was painful to see. All the letters you scribble, all the words that you write, make of you the comma in a sentence that is part of someone else’s story. You’re barely noticed yet you are so important and without you, the story would have no flavour nor pace. You really mean a lot to me. From you, I learned about melancholy, I learned about regrets, and how to face mine. I thought of the past constantly chasing us, the person we used to be face to face with the one we are, or pretend to be now. This world can be harsh sometimes, I understand you.

We feel so much, so fast, that we are hit by the sensation we fade a little more every time we meet someone new. After all, the people we know, we knew; they shape us and take a part of ourselves with them when they disappear. It can be hard to let go.

What a relief to bump into a truly attentive voice, finally listening in spite of the bustle of a buzzing surrounding. I’m happy you were happy. The silent void in one’s life can get incredibly defeating at times. You showed me a glimpse of how tremendous love can be despite true loneliness. Your story is unusual but it is no less beautiful. I know you’re heartbroken, so many people left you behind. But you taught me how important it is to feel, and that to do so is a thousand times better than numbness. You somehow carry on and I admire you. I try my best every day to follow this piece of advice. Your long lost Samantha said it well, the past is a story we just tell ourselves, details are blurred but it impacts us so deeply we forget to move forwards sometimes. It must not doom us, especially not you, Theodore. And as far as I’m aware, we are only here briefly. I guess we should allow ourselves just a little bit of joy, after all.

Love, Marie-Célia Cannenpasse

Dear Eighth Grade... My 20th birthday is nearing, and I’ve been coming to terms with getting older and figuring out my place in the world. People my age are a lost generation, not understood by millennials older than us while also having a vast generational gap with those born in the 2000s. I’ve grown up with the internet for almost my entire life, and social media was something I used at the age of 11. When I attempted to watch all the ‘teen movies’ made in the 2010s I came across a repetitive pattern. Teen movies hate teenagers. That might seem like a hot take, but most of the lazily written films (the majority) make us mean, vain, selfish and social media obsessed.

Your director, Bo Burnham did not.

Bo is a 28-year-old man who spent his teenage years in the 2000s. He never had a smartphone at 13, but he still grew up around budding social media sites and YouTube. It is for this reason that you work so well, Bo isn’t old enough to be parenting teenagers nor is he young enough to directly relate to our experiences. He’s at an odds with the two different generations much like I am, and that’s why he understood the anxieties and complexities of growing up as a modern day teenager. He didn’t take the easy route of shaming teenagers for using social media and made us as an audience reflect and examine the standard tropes and misconceptions used within ‘teen movies’. Bo made a film about youth culture within the digital age that wasn’t outdated and that in itself is a feat to accomplish.

I am 7 years Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) senior and yet everything she did I could call back on doing at 13. I had grown up in Saudi Arabia for most of my life, and due to how alone I felt, I gravitated towards social media for friend groups. Kayla embodied the anxiety I felt about friends, boys, body image and being liked. It felt as if someone had plucked my own school experiences into a film and I felt seen. Kayla for once wasn’t a critique on teenage girls but instead a character that teaches them to embrace who they are. The digital age gap is only going to become more extensive and with films like Eighth Grade being made I have hope that for once we will approach teenagers in this genre or any other with respect and understanding. For this Eighth Grade deserves to be applauded.

Love, Haaniyah Angus

Dear Pride and Prejudice... It is a truth universally acknowledged that you’re the chosen one of the Joe Wright/Keira Knightley literary trilogy, but articulating why is always something I’ve found challenging. Not because I don’t know why, to be sure – it’s my delivery that’s usually poor. I get overexcited, borderline incoherent; my conversation partner thinks I’ve lost it. In fairness to them, maybe I have.

I fell for you hard and instantly, not at all like how it is for your two leads. Their love story’s much more of a slow burn, rewarding the (very) patient viewer only once they’ve endured your two hours of stolen glances, giggling sisters, marriage proposals and Mrs Bennet’s poor nerves. But you’re not by any means a slog. You’re a lot of other things, though. A film I’m both quick to recommend and scared shitless to. What if they fall asleep? What if they wrongly side with Mr Wickham? A who’s who of English actresses. A master class in how the smallest details can make an entire scene. Like when Mr Darcy flexes the hand that helped Elizabeth into her carriage, almost as if he’s picked up an electric charge that he doesn’t know what to do with. Kind of like when you were eight and your teacher made you hold hands with your crush during a fire drill.

And then there’s that scene; when Mr Darcy reveals that he loves Elizabeth “most ardently” and is (understandably) met with her confusion and anger, since he’s been the literal worst this entire time. I’ll re-watch this one on YouTube, dragging my cursor along the red bar and watching in the thumbnail preview how Keira and Matthew gradually move towards one another during the few minutes they argue, until they’re practically face-to-face. I’ve seen it maybe a hundred times, yet still manage to convince myself – every single time – that they might kiss.

I’ve read the book on which you’re based, by the way. And it’s okay! It’s fine! It doesn’t have a Dario Marianelli score, though. Or Tom Hollander as the seemingly three-foot-tall Mr Collins, waiting for Elizabeth with a tiny flower while she hides from him. Or a terrified Mr Bingley jumping ship during his first proposal attempt so that he can practice his ask a few more times first.

So, while you’re partly to blame for the countless hours I’ve wasted on moody boys, you’re also a reminder of how much fun, if torturous, it is to have a crush.

With love and anticipation for our next date, Sydney Urbanek

Dear Harmony Korine...

I’d probably seen you before I knew your name- an image of Chloë Sevigny making out with a guy in a pink bunny ear hat, Tumblr indie kids ate that up. Embarrassingly, I was amongst this demographic. Your cool and reckless skater persona would have hated me.

I think a lot of us were introduced to you in 2013 ‘cause we thought James Franco was pretty cool (whew, big mistake). His stint as Alien in Spring Breakers was an indulgent and crazed view of millennial culture; dangerous, desperate and dubstep drenched in neon. It was too clean, though, too staged and pristine, not the real Harmony I would come to love. You create film images as an extension of yourself, messy, grimy and sporadic. A true fly-on-the-wall with zests of life and death, laughter and pain contained within the short bursts of madness you produce. Gummo was the changing point for me. I know people laugh at me for having such an art-student opinion but your twisted view of Americana and Suburbia shifted the way I viewed film as an artform. Personally, I think Jean-Luc Godard is boring, but he was definitely right when he said that stories should have ‘a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order’. You showed me a slice of life, one that almost felt too real, it was visceral and uncomfortable and lacked all of the flashy notions I’d come to associate with the films I loved. And whoever secured the rights to Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ for your film's trailer- an utter genius.

I wish I could be inside your head and talk no sense but perfect nonsense, tap dance on curbsides and pick fights with strangers just to see how funny it would be. To live so free and wild as you do. You’re a master of the moment, any film fan, regardless of being a fan of yours, will know an image you made. Balaclava and bikini-clad women surrounding James Franco playing piano, nuns skydiving, Werner Herzog drinking from a shoe, a boy eating dinner in a dirty blue bathroom. You capture the absolute beauty and deranged simplicity of this world.

A milkshake and spaghetti used to be my idea of the perfect meal, now all I see is grimy bathwater and bacon taped to a tiled wall, thanks for that.

Love, Chloë Leeson

Dear Miyazaki-san... Growing up with Western filmmaking, all I knew was movement. Action, explosions, cameras on dolly tracks and cranes that dove from great heights- and I loved Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, XMen and The Mummy as much as the next girl. But you, Miyazaki-san, taught me to love stillness. To appreciate pauses. To watch the grass grow back over the once barren mountains of an ancient forest. To see dragonflies drift over the plants, the man-made debris, and a human and a wolf-girl dozing in the green. Somewhere there is a glider and its passengers strewn across the grass as the clouds part and reveal the ruins of a castle floating in the sky. There is a painter’s cabin nestled in between trees, with a flock of magpies on the roof, watchful for a young witch in a purple dress. Somewhere, a train glides over the sea as the sunrise colours the stretch of water blue, then purple, then pink. These moments in between the seconds, where all the story asks of you is watch for a moment, is something I had never seen before. So when I talk about the works of Studio Ghibli, and its cofounder Hayao Miyazaki, what they mean to me and how they began my love affair with storytelling - well, I can’t describe it as anything shorter than revolutionary. A lot has been written on the ‘essence of humanity’ that prevails in your films, and that is what touched me before I realised what art as a medium was even for. The focus on a person, maybe not a hero in the mainstream sense of the word - but definitely in the traditional. A person who, in great conflict, changes a great deal.

This fascination with the streak of human nature in people, and the stories that spin out of it, make these films. When we get to pause on these people, lost in their environments for better or worse, in those indescribably beautiful hand-animated frames, we get to be as close to them as any camera quirk a Western filmmaker chose to use for that kiss scene. We get to see them sit on the sand plains under a poisoned forest, or opening a door onto a vast field of flowers to watch the clouds float past like leaves on a river, or sitting high up on a tree branch, blowing through an ocarina tunelessly in the moonlight. These are the moments we witness people unobserved, and actually see them for themselves.

Signed, Daisy-Leigh Phippard

Late in the summer of 2011, I was sat on the dirty floor of the biggest thrift store in my hometown, rifling through shelves of used DVDs as if I hadn’t done so at least five times already. My eyes scanned over the names of films I had seen and hadn’t, my neck arched to the right to accommodate the strain of reading titles on the spines of cases aligned vertically, while my bare legs accumulated the special kind of grime that can only come from your hometown’s old thrift store. I’d carried with me my wallet full of leftovers from last week’s allowance. The used films were only 99 cents there, so it wouldn’t have made much of a dent in what little I’d saved. I had only come to find one film, anyway, and there were no definites when it came to thrifting.

As it was back in high school, I acquired film recommendations through scrolling endlessly on Tumblr, suggestions found in the form of GIF-sets and quotable dialogue that at one point, I would have considered tattooing onto my arm or leg. What it was about you that drew me to you initially, I can no longer say. Perhaps it was the image of a svelte, chiseled young Christian Bale covered in blood and wielding a chainsaw, that titillated my worst desires and inspired a long-lasting devotion to the horror genre. But if not for you, I might never have come to love film, to study film and then to hate film, to love again and allow film to guide me and inspire me in the way that finally felt right.

Perhaps if I’d never come across you on my adolescent Tumblr account dashboard, another film would have piqued my interest and spurred my deep dive into the anoles of cinema – but I came across you all the same. And thus, late in the summer of 2011, I sat on that dirty floor in the biggest thrift store in my hometown, a thrift store that no longer exists. I rifled through the shelves of used DVDs, scanning my eyes over the names of films I had seen and hadn’t, cricking my neck into oblivion in the slim hope that I would find you resting there, on that day, in that thrift store, of all the possible unwanted DVDs that could be abandoned in any thrift store, in anyone else’s hometown.

But there you were. You’ve been in my bookshelf ever since.

Always with love, Brianna Zigler

Dear Mamma Mia!... I knew all about you long before you made your way to movie theatres, thanks to my mom. She had the cast album from the Broadway production and would play all the songs from the bedroom stereo on weekend mornings. I didn’t know much of the plot details that tied the music together, but after singing along to a few lines of “Dancing Queen” or “Take a Chance on Me,” I understood all I needed to.

When you finally hit theatres, I was twelve years old, and I already knew I was in love. But I think everyone first meets you knowing something—it’s impossible to escape hearing ABBA at some formative point in your life. As I sat in the overly air-conditioned theatre with my mother and sisters, it was pure escapism: we were instantly transported to a beautiful Greek island with sparkling blue water and spontaneous dance breaks and singing Meryl Streep. What more could anyone ask for?

But the world hasn’t always been kind to you. Some of the colourful descriptors I’ve heard are that you’re a chick flick, a star-studded bit of drunken karaoke, or a glorious ode to excess. And you are all those things—but that’s part of why I (and millions of other people) love you so much. You are a beautiful, purely fun and over-the-top celebration of women and their friends and families. How did you manage to get so many incredible women—director Phyllida Lloyd, writer Catherine Johnson, and the imitable characters, Sophie and Donna Sheridan, and Tanya and Rosie—all in one place? Anyone who can resist bursting into song along with the characters is either completely dead inside or lying. Anyone who would make you doubt for even a second that you’re a perfect film has never been more wrong. Why are they so afraid to love something wholeheartedly, and take a chance on Mamma Mia?

It makes sense that your title literally means “my mother.” I can’t think of you without thinking of my mom. I am fully indebted to her for introducing me to you. Just start playing “Slipping Through My Fingers” and I will cry alongside her, and I’m sure all the other mother-daughter pairs who went to see you, again and again, would agree. It’s time for everyone to just get over their fear and let themselves admit they adore you. And it’s also time for platform boots and bell bottoms to make a comeback. I love my mom, I love ABBA, and I love you.

Thank you for the music, Katie Duggan

Dear Harold and Maude...

My memory isn’t great. I don’t remember exactly when I first watched you, where I was or who I was with. You’re loved well but not widely, and I don’t even know how I first heard of you. Maybe the copy that takes pride of place amongst my many (many) DVD’s just materialized out of thin air one day in an act of cosmic/cinematic divinity.

I’d fallen in love with your spiritual successors first, offbeat-romances like Submarine and Rushmore. But there was something about you – your treacle-black humour, maybe, or Cat Stevens soundtrack – that sent me head over heels. I had all the symptoms of lovesickness, including an inability to shut up about you, even though I knew other people were totally uninterested. The honeymoon period ended eventually, as it always does. You remained a favourite, obviously, but there are always new films to discover. Yet during a recent rewatch, I was reminded that occasionally, you can find something new in an old favourite too.

As a recent university graduate (who’s wondering how much longer I can justify calling myself that), these days I find it reassuring to watch films about characters experiencing quarter-life crises, making misjudged decisions - or no decisions at all. For me, the latter is a little more relatable, as I’ve found that there’s a kind of comfort in stasis.

Harold is in stasis. He lives with his mother. He has no discernible career ambitions. He’s also obsessed with death and spends most of his free time frequenting funerals and staging mock-suicides. And what’s death, if not permanent stasis? I guess the point that I’m (obliquely) trying to make is that I connect a little better with Harold now that I’m older, existential dread and all. But when Harold meets Maude, everything changes, including him. 79-years-young, a robber of cars and dispenser of sage advice, she’s his own personal ray of sunshine. She shines briefly, albeit, but oh-so brightly, and their love story is an all-time great (in my mind, at least.) Their final exchange breaks my heart every time.

Harold: I love you! I love you. Maude: Oh, Harold. That is wonderful. Go and love some more.

I’m yet to totally grow out of my youthful nihilism. Lacking a Maude, I guess it’s something I’ll have to work on by myself. But I’m grateful to have a film like you in the meantime, reminding me not to back away from life. Otherwise, as Maude puts it, “you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.”

Love, Beth Inglis

Dear Scott Pilgrim vs. The World... I don’t remember seeing you for the first time. It’s as if I’d carried you with me my whole life. A feeling I can’t quite put into words. You’ve only been here for eight years, I was fourteen when you arrived.

I’ve always loved art. Telling stories. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to movies, so drawn to you and your creator, Edgar Wright. I love when images move you even though they don’t change at all. How something that grew from something so static into something as dynamic as you. Stock images of lightings come alive with you. It struck with me, even if I didn’t quite know it then. Your story, so fast, it made me feel understood and hopeful and brave and excited. A perfect dance between the quickness and groundlessness that life might behold.

I don’t remember seeing you for the first time, but I carry you with me. The number of times I reference something fun you said you won’t ever know. You’ve given me something I can’t say of many other films. A certain awareness of what comes into play in movies. It shattered like glass: Oh, yes, sound and picture and movements are equally important for a good movie! It sounds so obvious, I know, I was just oblivious to it. Only being fed movies that tell, don’t show. Jokes and characters only through exposition, and not through visual clues or beats. I count myself lucky to have met you so early in my life. I’m grateful for you. Your humour and smarts, your beauty, too, as superficial as that might be. Even if I don’t remember seeing you for the first time, it still feels like the first time, every time I do. I remember feeling understood and excited and hopeful that pictures and icons could move so much, so loudly and unapologetically. Because that was my mind, too. Loud pictures. Jumping from A to B to C. Skipping thoughts, skipping explanations. Seemingly skipping exposition but the truth is, and that I learned from you, is that it all makes sense in the end.

You’re so much fun and move so fast and I’m thankful to know you; and I think I love you, as much as I understand of love. I come to see you when I’m feeling bad, because I know you cheer me up, understand me on such a profound level. You make me feel at home, and calm and for all of this, thank you.

Forever charmed by you, Ell Hof

Dear Sandi Tan... Forgive me for addressing you so casually, and not using the more proper ‘Mrs. Tan’ that would fit the professional film critic, novelist, writer, director, and producer you’ve become. The Sandi to whom this letter is addressed is eighteen-year-old you, the you who’s just made a movie that is so unique and special that a man had to take it away from you so that you couldn’t take over the world without him. I am familiar with the particular kind of heartbreak that comes from pouring your whole self into a project only to watch it vanish into thin air; I am also familiar with grown men trying so hard to preserve their egos that they will patronize, gaslight, and silence every young girl who’s more talented that they can ever hope to be. And they’ll get away with it, as they always do.

I’d love to tell you that, twenty-five years later, things have changed; but no, middle-aged white men are still pretty much in control of everything. My heart aches for all the Shirkers that could have been and never were, and for how different movies could be today if young girls were given the same credit and opportunity as boys. I’m sure you feel this way, too. And I’m sure you’re even angrier because you know how much you’re worth, and because you know how game-changing Shirkers would have been. I’m writing to tell you that, to some degree, it still was. You’ll have to look for it, and you’ll have to fight for it, but Shirkers will exist in some form and thank God for that. You can’t possibly know this now, eighteen-year-old Sandi, but people will still talk about Shirkers twenty-five years after you’ve made it, and young girls everywhere will be inspired and moved by it. I know I am.

“When I was eighteen, I had the idea that you had to go backwards in order to go forwards” you’ll say, one day. You’re right, because this is what I’m doing now, sending this letter to the past. Things haven’t completely changed yet, but they are, slowly, changing. The creative industry is still dominated by men, but we are coming for them. The amount of talent, strength, ideas, and mutual support I witness in young girls every day is such that it can’t be ignored or silenced anymore. And fragile male egos will just have to deal with that.

Love, Marina Vuotto

Dear Love, Simon... You weren’t the first. There had been Breakfast Club’s and Twilight’s, before you. There had been kids in love before you. Girls kissing boys and boys kissing girls, all before you. I had seen so many big studio happy endings but not my own, never my own - not before you. I remember when I first saw you; a crowded screening at the most mainstream cinema in the city. I was on the edge of adulthood, teetering between being a teenager and someone fully grown, so I had thought nothing of you at first. Screen teens weren’t meant to make my heart pitter patter, I had thought. But then I watched you.

You told me that I deserved everything I wanted, that I could have a great love story, that I shouldn’t be ashamed of myself, and it was overwhelming. Hollywood had never thought to tell someone like me something like that, not before you. I remember how I had cried and how I had tried to hush myself with the popcorn in my lap before I heard people around me doing the same. A hundred or two others sitting around me, and I could hear sniffles from every direction. It hit me then that I wasn’t the only one who had missed out on a happy ending. Then, at the end of you, there had been clapping, cheering for two gay kids on top of the world as they finally got their fairy-tale moment, and that had meant even more than the tears.

I watched you far too many times after that. I could count the number of ticket stubs I acquired with your name on it with two hands and yet each time I felt a pang in my chest like it was the first time. You aren’t for everyone, you aren’t even wholly mine, but Simon; before you I had never felt as joyous or as seen or as full. Before you, I never felt like I could exhale. I only wish you had come into my life earlier, into the world a little sooner, been there for the terrified version of myself who was stuck in a closet. But I realise that for so many, you are here right when they need you.

You weren’t the first in so many ways but in the way that mattered most: you were.

Love, Tara Morden-Paino

Dear The Wizard of Oz... I’ll start this off by saying The Wizard of Oz is not my favourite film - if I can even pick one. But, you are an example of cinema in its finest form - escapism, social commentary, innovative effects… you encompass the ‘golden’ era of Hollywood. You would be hard pressed to find an individual with any inkling of Western Cinema who had not felt the iconography of The Wizard of Oz.

Film may have developed as a format to interrogate your preconceptions of the world, but there is something to be said for the comfort of The Wizard of Oz and the grandeur of your sweeping soundtrack, otherworldly sets and familiar characters. It instilled in me a sense of home’s importance and a lifelong fear of getting lost.

This is not a letter to the Wizard himself as such. But, he did teach me a valuable a lesson; men who are idolised in positions of power are often disappointing. This is something we particularly see in cinema and in the wake of the #MeToo movement. A feminist reading of The Wizard of Oz does reveal some truths about the inherent sexism of cinema as a whole, particularly in retrospective accounts of Judy Garland’s experience on the set. However, on a surface level, Dorothy is a determined young woman, who in the face of adversity, is the master of her own destiny. She was an important character for me in understanding my place in the world.

As a child I also loved the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, viewing them as crucial characters alongside Dorothy on her adventure. However, in watching as an adult, it’s Dorothy’s relationship with her Auntie Em that is fundamental to her characterisation. Dorothy’s time in Oz is a vehicle to repair this relationship. In its absence, its importance is realised. The Wizard may take the title but Auntie Em provides Dorothy with the resolution and safety we all crave.

It is not in the overhyped promises of magic (or Brains, or Heart, or Courage) found in the technicolour world of Oz but the existence of these elements in the humdrum black and white world of Kansas that Dorothy finds her sense of self. It is the immersion of cinema into reality - something we can all take away from you.

Love, Catherine McNaughton

Dear Matilda... You were one of my first best friends. Someone who once existed within the pages of a book, then suddenly came to life on screen in the form of a little girl who looked just like me. She loved books, adventures, and always felt a little bit different to everyone else around her. But most importantly, she had a teacher who believed she could do anything. I have been lucky enough to have a few Miss Honeys in my childhood that I owe a lot to. I even had a best friend like Lavender; my extroverted other half. Though I am fortunate enough to not have parents like the Wormwoods, I’ve always felt that reading was my escape from the real world, when everything made too much sense to me. My childhood was full with adventures amongst the library aisles, and wobbling home carrying stacks of books almost heavier than my skinny arms could manage.

Though my devotion to reading has been usurped for the most part by my love of the movies, revisiting Matilda always feels like I’m getting to relish both at once. Danny DeVito’s thoughtful narrator makes me feel like I’m being read a familiar story – one I know cover to cover, but like to hear anyway. I am still lured in by its magical realism; I’ve sat staring at glasses hoping they’ll tip over more times than I care to admit. The fact that Matilda’s mind, and her unwavering kindness, was her superpower is a lesson that I’ll always keep close to my heart. She got a happy ending on her terms, and found her chosen family. No matter how old I get I’ll always find comfort in the warmth and familiarity her story provides. And I’ll probably never be able to make pancakes without humming “Send Me on My Way” to myself.

Love, Megan Wilson

Dear Purple Rain... You were a surprise hit in 1984 to everyone (except Prince, of course). Your (sort of) autobiographical story of The Kid and his efforts to win over the hearts of Minneapolis and bodacious leather clad Apollonia immediately resonated with me. Your erotically charged soundtrack and outfits forever imprinted themselves to my memory. You’ve taught me a lot over the years from learning how to purify myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka to finding the perfect single gold hooped earring.

Growing up I had no choice really than to be a Prince fan - thanks Mum and Dad! It wasn’t until I was 14 that I first saw you. I distinctly remember receiving a text on my Millennial Motorola phone letting me know ‘that guy you like Prince has a film on later’. Wait, Prince had a film? Why didn’t my parents tell me this? Probably all the nudity… Naturally, you were playing late night on Channel 4 and as I peered through my purple bed-bunks I remember feeling that I was witnessing something incredibly lewd - a bit like when I watched Eurotrash with the volume down low. I was already obsessed with His Royal Badness but by the time I saw him gleefully hump the floors of First Avenue in Purple Rain dripping in pearls and lace, my obsession had turned into full-blown purple devotion.

Prince had already spoken to me through the headphones of my Walkman but he literally blew my mind visually for the first time with Purple Rain. Stylistically you are a love letter to Prince’s very own Revolution with hair teased to the gods, stockings ripped and eyelids painted. I immediately ransacked my nearest charity shops for any garish 1980s fashion I could find and I’m happy you’re still inspiring countless costume changes to this day. Your electrifying live concert footage never ceases to jolt me wide awake and by the rolling credits, I’ve done about 60 minutes of solid cardio dancing. And that feeling isn’t exclusive to diehard fans. You helped me make lifelong friends on the first day of university after I suggested watching you following a tear-soaked viewing of The Notebook. Prince over Gosling always.

Things came full circle this year on April 21st when I found myself dancing deliriously to your soundtrack in First Avenue - that very same club in Minneapolis that Prince deliciously gyrated upon. To this day Purple Rain reduces me to a screaming, fanatic mess, usually covered in rhinestones and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Love, Casci Ritchie

Dear Meet Me in St Louis... My introduction to cinema came by way of the MGM musical. When I was a child, my mother and I strolled through the aisles of our town library, and though she would half-heartedly gesture at rows of available children’s movies, I was always more intrigued by the films she herself gravitated towards. These films featured covers with people in strange and brightly-coloured clothing singing at each other, usually all with a similar facial expression. My interest was captured, and my mother recognized and encouraged this interest.

Invariably, we’d return home from these treks to the library with armfuls of Judy Garland, Ginger Rogers, and Doris Day--all conveniently on VHS. Today I suppose certain elements of Old Hollywood musicals like you appear outdated, but at the time they were a revelation. The female characters had conviction and agency, and they provided the foundation for my interest in film studies and its numerous intersections with gender and the self. Since age six, I have doubtless evolved in many of my thoughts and aspirations; still, in my attempts to identify some back-aimed trajectory of taste, a pattern emerges: I'm a fan of families. More specifically, I'm a fan of the female relationships within the family unit. This holds true whether presented as comedy (Hanging Up), horror (The Haunting of Hill House), or even reality (it's true, I keep up with the Kardashians). The root of it all, though--apart from my own mother and sisters--is you, Meet Me In St. Louis. I say apart from my mother and sisters, but of course, this isn't true--it's very much alongside my mother and sisters I've taken you in throughout the years. And your form encourages this sort of revisiting: at five I was Tootie, at ten Agnes, and now that I'm at least partly grown I identify with Judy Garland's Esther (with equal parts those younger selves, to be sure).

When I watch you, I keep a close eye on the organization of the mother and daughter figures- they're inseparable much if the time, and quite literally, with bodies touching and emotions mirroring each other. Now that I'm away from my own mother and sisters, I'm grateful for the opportunity to reconnect that you offer. It's love.

Love, Juliette Faraone

Dear Moonlight... I remember the first time I heard about you. I got a text from a friend, “Have you heard of this movie, Moonlight?” she asked. I replied that I hadn’t. She answered “You need to see it, Kaiya. You’ll love it.”

Four months later, and you’re nothing but a lost memory. I’m home from my first year of university for Christmas break. I don’t feel like I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on. I feel lost.

It was my first time staying at my mother's house since I was kicked out two years before. I’m uncomfortable, nervous and angry. I felt like I didn’t belong, but I was trying to be a good daughter. As my mother goes to sleep, and I make myself comfortable on the couch, I get a text from another friend; “Watch Moonlight. It reminded me of you.” I recognize your name and decide to put you on the television.

Little’s chapter is heartbreaking. His mother breaks the silence of my living room, screaming, “Don’t look at me!” and I curl into myself. Chiron’s chapter has me biting my cheeks, trying not to cry. The close up of Chiron's mother talking to him in a drug-filled haze is so intimate it feels like she’s reaching through the screen and staring at me. It feels like I know her, and she knows me. Finally, Black’s chapter is where I break. The coldness, the loneliness he exudes; that’s who I’m afraid I’m becoming. I remember uncurling from the couch and sitting with my elbows on my knees - infatuated. Finally, it’s his mother’s shaky voice uttering; “You ain't gotta love me, but you gonna know that I love you,” that causes me to unravel. I remember crying until I couldn’t breathe. Crying so hard I thought my mother would hear me. These words, something I so wished my own mother would utter to me, spoken to me - not by whom I wished - but still spoken out loud for me to hear, meant so much.

Until you, I hadn’t connected with anything so intimately. In a dark room, alone, in a house that carried so much pain, I now think of you whenever I’m there. In a time where I felt alone, you gave me answers. It took me another year, but I’m now pursuing film. It took time, as everything does, but the initial push was you. I want to create something that makes someone feel how you made me feel. Thank you. For everything.

Sincerely yours, Kaiya Shunyata

Dear Star Wars... I watched you, frequently, throughout my childhood. I sat with my legs swinging on my grandmother’s bed, eating my favourite ice cream, laughing at Jar-Jar and dropping my jaw whenever Darth Vader revealed his paternity (no matter how many times I had seen it before). So why did it take me until 2015’s The Force Awakens, aged 17 years old, to look back on all your films and declare myself a fan, and ultimately, declare my love for you?

I like to think it was maybe because I always grew up with Star Wars from a male perspective. Everyone I went to school with who liked you talked about lightsabers, spaceships and minor, but very cool looking, characters like Boba Fett and Darth Maul. Of course, girls can like these things too, but I think the fact I only knew boys who talked about this spoke for itself. These discussions only ever got a “cool!” out of me and I resumed playing with Barbies.

It wasn’t until I watched the original trilogy with a friend a few years ago that I felt the same kinship with you that I felt in watching my shamelessly girly films growing up. I’ll spare you a comparison to Matilda and the High School Musical trilogy, but just know my heart soared in a similar way. Instead of just seeing cool designs and hearing PEW PEW PEW! (but there was a perfectly kitschy amount of that too), I saw compelling, complex characters, and heard philosophical and political ideas that I learned, and loved to study at school. The characters were no longer just action figures, but people to identify with, and sometimes even admire.

So when The Force Awakens actually came out, I did not have thirty years’ worth of other people’s ideas about the film projected onto me. It was a fresh story for me to get lost in, and allowed me to appreciate Star Wars on a level I hadn’t before.

Two elements I was especially touched by. One was Rey and Finn’s scrappiness and anxiety, trying to make sense of a world that was against them. The other was, as much as I disagreed with him, Kylo Ren’s desire to dismantle the legacy of those who came before him and set what he perceived as wrongs to rights. The film was a loving tribute to everything that came before it, and even though I do not like every Star Wars film, any time spent in a galaxy far, far away is time well spent.

Love, Bethany Gemmell

Dear Kevin Williamson...

I never saw Scream on the big screen. My sister ruined the ending for me, so I bailed on seeing it in theatres. After Scream exploded, I was so mad at myself. When Scream 2 opened a year later, I was first in line to buy a ticket. Ironically my moviegoing experience mirrored Maureen and Phil’s. No one was murdered, but there was a lot of screaming. My audience was so invested that it was impossible not to get swept up. Scream 2 proved that there’s nothing better than seeing a horror movie with an enthusiastic crowd.

Sequels are notoriously difficult to pull off: it’s not enough to follow the first film’s formula. Your script manages to perfectly recapture the original’s sparkling wit; it also nails the meta-commentary and, in the process, evokes the horror zeitgeist of the late 90s with its feast of scares, laughs and just the right amount of camp. From Maureen’s searing exposé on the depiction of race in horror, to the “sequels suck” discussion, to the pitch-perfect casting of Tori Spelling in Stab - you highlight that Scream 2 is aware of the shortcomings of sequels while deftly avoiding them. The core cast returns comfortably to their roles, particularly Cox and Arquette, whose romance clearly informed your script (their relationship is the beating heart of the film). And as much as I love the supporting cast, they only work because of the memorable script. The dialogue is a perfect blend of wit, sarcasm and cattiness (Randy, when asked to name his favourite scary movie: “Showgirls. Absolutely terrifying”).

Scream 2 is a really audacious film. Your willingness to kill off Randy, an original cast member and fan favourite, is ballsy. You elevate the scares with two of the best setpieces in modern horror: the police car escape and Gale’s game of hide and seek in the AV room. The former sequence made my audience so tense that the temperature in the theatre spiked; several people audibly screamed “Hurry up!” as Hallie climbed over Ghostface. Also seeing Sidney transform from meek wallflower in the original to badass fighter in the sequel is transformative, especially in the climax, which – naturally – takes place on a stage. Subtle? No. Effective? Absolutely.

Scream 2 remains my favourite theatrical movie experience of all time. It’s also my pick for best Scream film (controversial, but true). It is the perfect sequel.

xoxo, Joe Lipsett

Dear Singin' in the Rain... I truly believe that certain films come into one’s life when needed most, bringing comfort when one feels out of depth, providing inspiration and motivation in times of stagnancy, or perhaps just teaching a much-needed lesson. You gave me all of this, and more, when I saw you for the first time in May 2017. I was four weeks into my term abroad in Spain and was still struggling to settle in. I discovered you by way of La La Land, a film that I was desperate to re-watch but which hadn't yet been released on DVD, so I decided, out of curiosity, to check out one of its inspirations.

I don’t often cry out of pure joy at a film, and when I do, it's usually at a cutesy Disney movie that’s wrapped up in the nostalgia of a carefree childhood. But you filled my homesick heart with such unadulterated happiness that I couldn’t help but be reduced to floods of tears. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor’s musical number ‘Moses Supposes’ has always been the scene I hold most dear. Never before had I seen such a mesmerising dance routine: two pairs of tap shoes clicking along the floor in perfect harmony, showing off choreography whose vibrancy is amplified by the unshakeable energy and charm of the two men. Every time I watch it I get an itch in my feet that makes me want to get up and dance too, and by the end of it my face aches from smiling so much.

If ‘Moses Supposes’ is the most infectious dance number, then ‘Good Mornin'’ - performed by all of your three leads - is definitely the most infectious song and the one you'll catch me singing on a regular basis. Although I wasn't aware when I first watched it, I've since learnt how hard Debbie Reynolds worked, particularly in that number, to reach the same standard as her two male co-stars who had decades more dance experience than her. Seeing her match them step for step, not to mention while dancing in heels, never ceases to inspire me.

While I’ve since seen countless other musicals from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Singin’ in the Rain still reigns supreme. You make me laugh and cry, you lift my spirits and teach me to laugh at the clouds “so dark up above” every once in a while.

I am eternally grateful that such a wonder exists.

Love, Holly Weaver

To Aamir Khan... For shaping my childhood and Indian pride.

My parents dislike fiction, dislike fantasies they think detract from reality: the root of our perennial disagreement. But the film we have watched for the longest, time and time again, is Taare Zameen Par (2007, translation: Like Stars On Earth): the story of Ishaan Awasthi, a boisterous nine-year-old (Darsheel Safary) whose dyslexia is undiagnosed, so he hides his inability to read behind disobedience. The animated sequences of his daydreams and his stunning art suggest his talents lie elsewhere…

My mother and father were always telling me to respect my culture and my language, and in your films, the poetry of the Hindi enraptured me. Having grown intellectually in English, I was avoiding Gujurati more and more at home, but the eloquence in the script and lyrics, especially seeing it again with the Netflix subtitles, brought me to tears.

Without shying away from depression and disability, and the judgemental, overly academic culture that worsens it, you completed the picture with the love and support that stops it becoming all-consuming. As my housemate reminded me, the conversations about parenting are a necessary Q&A within the reality of mental health stigma and toxic masculinity in India. Certainly, your choice of Nikhumb, the insightful art teacher was a brilliant way to do so, enabling his students to express their emotions healthily.

I was never terrible at school, more the jack of all trades, master of none. Even now, seeing Yohan in ‘Jame Raho’ up at 6AM working like a robot is somehow a productivity goal for me, the ingrained Asian mentality of imperfection below 99% kicking in. But hearing ‘Kholo Kholo’ again made me realise, writing is what makes “my heart happy”, and I’m so glad, it has saved me the way Ishaan’s painting saved him.

Taare Zameen Par is a clear, beautiful chronicle on the value of individuality and the friendships that we make to help us be our best. Not The Best, but our own finest, at peace with our family and ourselves. Having watched it almost annually, it reminds me to value myself and to bring out the best in everyone.

Thank you for creating this colourful universe of youthful curiosity and for resurrecting childish humour within your viewers. For putting your passion for nurturing imagination into every frame of this journey, and saluting every kid who inspired you. I consider myself one of them.

Love, Fatima Sheriff

Dearest Don Hertzfeldt... My feelings have but intensified since your seventeen minute short, World of Tomorrow, first set my heart on fire. This was at the age of eighteen. Each subsequent viewing thereafter – and, trust me, there have been plenty – has never failed to move me to tears (admittedly, I am a crier, and not much is needed for me to let it out).

Thank you, Don – if I may informally refer to you as such – for engendering a framework for such chaotic stick figures to live and breathe in. For, God knows, are these circles and straight lines alive! What you have contrived here is so inexplicably perfect. If I had not been afraid, I would have had each word tattooed onto this flesh prison by now, for I have lingered on every single one.

I see myself in Emily. Both the original and approximation. The innocence, the indifference. I, too, used to be so lonely; falling in love with rocks and unintelligible moon-creatures. Now I have a love, reminiscent of that of an original. Although it has no physical form, your film has held my hand throughout many of my own internal, as well as external, navigations. It has taught me to not dwell on the past, and to live well and to live broadly. World of Tomorrow, quite literally, shaped (excuse the wordplay) the twenty-one-year-old girl that I am today, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Love, Kassandra Karlström

Dear Rocky... Like a good ‘how we met’ most couples have, I love a ‘how I got into films’ story. And I’d like to explain how you were the start of mine.

Every Sunday my dad worked night shifts, something he absolutely hated. He started at 10:30 pm, a shitty time to start a long shift. As a trackman for a rail company, he had to repair train tracks, among other uninspiring tasks, most of which involved heavy-lifting and loud machinery- so Sunday wasn’t his favourite day of the week. It wasn’t mine either. As a 13-year-old self-confessed inbetweener (not a loser but not popular), school was ok. I didn’t dread it as some did and luckily, I wasn’t bullied. But even for an inbetweener, Sunday nights were dismal. The weekend whizzed past and I had double maths on Monday morning. So to keep dad company before he went to work, I watched TV with him.

I will always remember the Sunday my dad asked if I wanted to watch a film. He meant a ‘real’ film. The film in question was Rocky – the ultimate underdog. I loved every second. So much so, the very next day, I re-watched it. Before that night I’d never heard of Rocky. I certainly didn’t know there was more than one. And I didn’t know my dad was really ‘into’ films. This started Sunday-night film club. But the really special thing? My dad had seen them before. He re-watched hundreds of films just so he could show them to me. After that Sunday, I fell in love with everything about film, from micro to macro elements. But as I really got ‘into’ films, I needed more.

I live in the East Midlands. It’s great, but lacks creative opportunities. And while growing up, I was all too aware my dad didn’t enjoy his job – he had to do it to support his family. Often he’d tell me to work hard and not be in the same situation.

So by him showing me Rocky - a film about someone wanting to do something they never thought possible, was inspiring. It made me think (crudely at the age of 13) if Rocky Balboa can give the heavyweight champion of the world a run for his money, why can’t I do something creative?

So I did. I took Media Studies at college. Then a Joint Honours degree in Creative Writing and Film & Television Studies. These were the best decisions I’ve ever made – so far, anyway.

And it’s all thanks to you, Rocky. And my dad.

Love, Shannon Watson

FILMOGRAPHY 20th Century Women (2017, Mike Mills) Paddington (2014, Paul King) Dazed and Confused (1994, Richard Linklater) Call Me By Your Name (2017, Luca Guadagnino)Â Crooklyn (1994, Spike Lee) Postcards from the Edge (1991, Mike Nicholls) Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese) n Bruges (2008, Martin McDonagh) Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, John Hughes) Back to the Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis) Gregory's Girl (1981, Bill Forsyth) X-Men (2000, Bryan Singer) Her (2014, Spike Jonze) Eighth Grade (2018, Bo Burnham) Pride and Prejudice (2005, Joe Wright) American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron) Mamma Mia! (2008, Phyllida Lloyd) Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010, Edgar Wright) Love, Simon (2018, Greg Berlanti) The Wizard of Oz (1939) Matilda (1996, Danny DeVito) Purple Rain (1984, Albert Magnoli) Meet Me in St Louis (1945, Vincente Minnelli) Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins) Star Wars (1977, George Lucas) Scream 2 (1997, Wes Craven) Singin' in the Rain (1952, Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen) Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)

THANK YOU. Letters curated by ChloĂŤ Leeson Design by Millicent Thomas

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