Laila Dickson and the Oz Film Festival in London
Laila Dickson is an Australian woman who lives in London. She is Director of the Oz Film Festival. I caught up with her following her hugely successful event over the weekend 30 June - 2 July.
From Melbourne to London
Laila Dickson is a Melbournian who grew up in the seaside suburb of St Kilda. "I was born in Melbourne and grew up there too. Dad was in St Kilda way before it was groovy and Mum was in the Caulfield-Prahran-Elsternwick area. We moved quite a bit. As soon as I was old enough, I moved to Fitzroy to be with all those crazy creatives that I love!”
London has been a part of Laila's life since her twenties. "I first came to London when I was 24 and fell in love with it. You know when you go to certain cities and just breathe out with relief? It felt like home right from the start. It took me 10 years to come back and I felt exactly the same way the second time. I was going around the world and got stuck! I couldn't leave, I got a fabulous job in publishing in my first week and the rest is history."
Oz Film Festival
Apart from her day job in publishing, Laila is also Director of the Oz Film Festival in London. I asked her why she decided to put on the festival. "I've been running the London Australian Film Society for six years and it felt like the next natural step. We've been building a loyal audience over that time and then the right people started appearing to form a cohesive team with the same vision. It almost feels like a dream - it's all happened so easily."
Hosting any event in such a huge city brings numerous challenges and I wondered what Laila thought were the keys to a successful festival. Plenty of good research seemed to be her answer. "This has been such a wonderful learning curve. I used to work in marketing and PR so branding was our first major focus. I did over 250 vox-pop style interviews with non-Australians all around central London asking ‘what's the first ten things that come to mind when you think of Australia?’ That helped me enormously with the logo brief and selecting the films. Then the next thing is getting the right people around you - you can't push this, they have to come to you.”
Curating Australian films for a festival is no mean feat, and Laila’s research paid off. The Oz Film Festival was beautifully programmed, presenting historical and contemporary films. I asked Laila how she selected the work. "We're really proud of the festival offering. We decided early on that the only classic films we'd show would be celebrating anniversaries. As we were running over a weekend, it needed to be a balance of diverse but commercial films with a real hook to each of them. We wanted to showcase the diversity of Australian cinema. There were a lot of films we personally loved but had to let go. We still hope to screen them throughout the year, under the Film Society banner to keep the momentum going - Regent Street are very keen for us to do this and we've already locked in Australia Day.“
Many Australian films have been hugely successful in Britain and Australian films resonate well with British audiences. Laila explained how she took into account the inter-generational love of Australian film when organising the festival. "There's been a long relationship with Australian film over here. There used to be Australian seasons of film on TV so older British people have fond memories of that. The younger audience relates to our fantastic list of Aussie Hollywood actors and the soaps they grew up with. Many of the people we vox-popped had friends or family living in Australia or had travelled there themselves (or wanted to but were terrified about the long flight and creatures that can kill you). There's a huge love for our country over here - and that translates to their love of our films.”
The festival was held in the very beautiful Regent Street Cinema - quite a coup for the organisers. I asked Laila how she scored such a beautiful space. "I have to thank Justin Davies for that. We worked together on the Australian (Film) House Project, an off-shoot of the Film Society. He went to the cinema for a premiere and loved it so emailed them instantly to see if we could screen films there. The theatre manager was really impressed he did that but also has a deep affection for Australian cinema. It was a match made in heaven and we feel incredibly privileged to be partnered with such a prestigious venue.”
Finally, as a Londoner, I asked Laila about some of her favourite places. Luckily for us, Laila replied at length!
"Gosh, I have so many favourites! If I had to choose one place above all else, it would be the Victoria and Albert Museum - I find something new every time I go there. Some of my other London favourites are Dennis Severs’ House. It's so uniquely British and their Silent Christmas tours are magical. Steer clear if you have a dust allergy though, it's VERY authentic."
"The Palm Tree pub in Mile End is a wonderful traditional, Grade II listed boozer where old-time jazz musicians jam every weekend. My other favourite watering hole is the oldest wine bar in London, Gordon's, but get there early if you want a table outside! Folks tend to bed in for the night.”
"For something a bit swish, head to Sketch on Conduit Street for afternoon tea or a drink in the evening in their sunken bar. The loos are fabulous. For some amazing free art and science mixed in together, head to The Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, just opposite Euston Station - it may sound like a weird combination but it really, really works.”
“And definitely join the mailing lists for the China Exchange. I just saw Dame Judi Dench and Richard E. Grant in conversation for £12 each! There's about twenty minutes of question time from the audience, but be warned, if you're brave enough to ask one be sure it's intelligent or you will be unceremoniously passed over by the chair.”
“Visit the White Cube for incredible openings of their exhibitions with artists such as Tracey Emin (I literally rubbed shoulders with Jerry Hall at her last one), Antony Gormley and Gilbert & George.“ If private clubs are your thing then join up to The House of St Barnabus. Your membership supports London's homeless and it has the most gorgeous art inside in their oasis-like garden.”
“And finally, if you are still to discover Regent Street Cinema you're in for a treat. It's where the Lumiere Brothers came over to screen the first moving picture in the UK and has just undergone a glorious revamp. Go early for a drink in the bar and chat to the wonderful staff.”
While I look forward to seeing Laila at the next film event, I can’t help but wonder that, given her amazing insider knowledge, she should be taking private tours for Australian women around London!