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'If men menstruated, we would not be having this conversation'

Short film Absent turns our attention to period poverty and period shame in the modern day. The team behind it tell us more ahead of a screening at Sheffield Short Film Festival.

Freedom For Girls Absent CLEAN Still 9

Still taken from the short film 'Absent'.

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I truly believe if men menstruated we would not be having this conversation.

Libby Burke Wilde, director of Absent

The short film Absent, created in conjunction with the charity, Freedom4Girls, explores issues of period poverty and period shame. Screening this month and already nominated for Best UK Short as part of Sheffield Short Film Festival, this film is set to be recognised for its invaluable contribution to ending period-related stigma.

Given that almost half of the population experience periods every single month and still feel the need to conceal this out of fear of their menstruation being considered ‘gross’, it’s completely necessary to start this discussion in the public sphere.

After nattering about life in London, Absent writer Lucy MacCarthy and director Libby Burke Wilde told me a bit more about the film.

Absent is available to view online already. Why is that, when it’s about to be screened as part of the Sheffield Short Film Festival?

[Libby Burke Wilde, director:] With film festivals, usually everything is kept private. But because this is such an important issue, we released it immediately. You’d ordinarily have a premier at the festival, but when you’re making social action films keeping them back, to me, is so counterproductive. If you’re doing it just for your career then you’re not doing it for the right reasons. It premiered on Dazed last year, at a time when the government was receiving a lot of pressure about providing menstrual products. It was the perfect storm for the film.

[Lucy MacCarthy, writer:] Definitely, with this type of story, it is important to make it as accessible as possible. I’m very proud of the fact that it's just out there. Anyone can watch it, whenever they like.

[Lucy:] The point of this film was to break down the stigma around periods, full stop. Also, letting people know that period poverty exists in the UK. So many people didn’t even realise that it is a thing, especially young men. There is just so much silence around it.

It’s a strange one, isn’t it? I noticed it when I was in a cafe recently, me and my friend lowered our voices when we started talking about periods. Why do women feel like they have to hide it?

[Libby:] I know, right! Even just hiding getting your tampon out of your bag. There is so much secrecy. I don’t know for whose benefit either.

[Lucy:] When we were reading true stories of period poverty, the through-line was the secrecy and shame. It’s swept under the carpet. Hopefully the film has gone some way in saying that there’s no reason to feel that way.

Freedom For Girls Absent CLEAN Still 2

Still taken from the short film 'Absent'.

dogeatdog.co

The film is based on true stories. Whose stories are they?

[Lucy:] We worked with Freedom4Girls, a period poverty charity based in Leeds. We really engaged with them and they told us so many stories.

[Libby:] It’s almost like the bigger the cause, the smaller you want to tell that story so people really connect with it. It was super important for us to learn as much about the charity as we could, because it's not our story to tell and we had to get it right.

[Lucy:] Particularly the Josh character. He really helps this girl out of a tricky situation. Even though we didn’t want it to be about a male saviour, we were really keen to bring young men into the conversation. Those are the people that need to be educated to break to stigma.

How did you two first come to collaborate on the project?

[Lucy:] We knew each other through the producer. We’ve been friends for about 3–4 years. When the project came to us it was a no brainer, really.

[Libby:] I don’t really write. I can come up with ideas, but if it was down to me the film still wouldn’t be made now. She really wanted to write it and it just seemed perfect.

What are you working on next?

[Lucy:] I’m getting ready to plug it, because it's coming out pretty soon.

[Libby:] During lockdown, I was volunteering at a charity called Chefs in Schools, based in Hackney. They help to teach kids about nutrition. During the pandemic, they had amazing chefs that had been made redundant batch-cooking dinners for these kids. Although it became apparent that the whole of the family was relying on these food parcels, not just the kids.

Me and Lucy have teamed up with the charity to make a new short. It will be released in three weeks. It’s been a crazy quick turnaround. We’re so excited about it.

Learn more

Absent screens at Sheffield Short Film Festival, which runs from Friday 30 October to Sunday 1 November.

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