Tribeca 2021 Women Directors: Meet Laura Fairrie – “Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story”

Laura Fairrie previously directed “The Battle for Barking,” an observational feature documentary about the far-right in Britain that screened at The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

“Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story” is screening at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, which is taking place June 9-20.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

LF: “Lady Boss” tells the story of a woman who defines her own idea of a feminist fairy tale and sets about molding her life in that image. It’s the story of an author who dreams up female characters who consistently turn the tables on men and gives her millions of readers the chance to escape into a world where women have the lives, careers, and sex that they want.

It’s ultimately a deeply moving and inspiring tale about the private life of a woman who created a powerful public persona in order to survive in a man’s world.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

LF: I was immediately drawn to the prospect of making a surprising film that turns on its head the expectation of who Jackie Collins was. I was excited to tell the untold story of a woman who had created such a powerful public persona. I also loved the creative potential of the themes of fantasy, reality, fiction, and fact that form the heart of this story.

As soon as I started researching, I just fell in love with Jackie Collins — her private vulnerability and her courageous life journey are truly inspiring. It was an irresistible opportunity to tell the story of a feminist with vulnerability and soul — as well as leopard print shoulder pads!

W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?

LF: Let’s think about the fact that during her lifetime, Jackie Collins was dismissed both as an author and advocate for women, despite the fact she sold over 500 million copies of her books and made feminism accessible to so many women across the world.

Jackie was ahead of her time in many ways, but she was also human and had her flaws. I would love people to think about her achievements and vulnerabilities, to recognize that women don’t have to be perfect and that our lives can be messy. Her personal brand of feminism was born out of her own life experiences, and I love the idea of seeing feminism in this way — as a tool of survival and a necessary act of defiance and freedom.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

LF: Producers John Battsek, Lizzie Gillett, and I pitched the project as a feature doc with a bold, cinematic vision and incredible access to personal archive. CNN Films and BBC Arts committed to it straight away and our third partner, AGC came on board a little later. It was a brilliant combination: they were all passionate about the film from the beginning, supported us through a rocky phase when COVID affected production and then all the way through to where we are now.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

LF: It’s the intoxicating combination of visual creativity, the search for truth, and sharing the emotional experience of what it is to be human through storytelling.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

LF: Best advice: “Follow your instincts.”

Worst: I have three children, and I was once asked, “Shouldn’t you do a job that’s more child-friendly?”

W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?

LF: Work with people you trust, who support and lift you up. Grasp this moment in time for female filmmakers — women’s stories need to be told and the female perspective is to be celebrated.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

LF: This year it’s Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” which is original, brave, shocking, and beautiful.

Other years, I always go back to Jane Campion — “The Piano,” “Holy Smoke,” “Bright Star,” “An Angel at My Table.” She consistently conveys the female perspective in stunning, raw, funny and profoundly moving ways.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?

LF: I was lucky to be editing “Lady Boss” through the first half of the pandemic, so that kept me totally focused and obsessively creative. But during the bleak winter lockdown in London, I tried to grasp the chance to read, think, and imagine new ideas while also looking after children! I’m currently working my way through Joan Didion’s ultimate reading list — the books that have inspired her — and I recommend it.

W&H: The film industry has a long history of under representing people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?

LF: It’s about opportunity, support and experience — it’s time to actively give young people of color, from all backgrounds the chances in the industry so they can build the confidence to tell their stories and make their films.

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