Befriend To Defend – Esmé Hicks – Sophie Ablett – UK

Rich feminist poetry and snappy, colourful visuals combine in this 3.5 minute spoken word short. Based on lived experience and featuring over 20 women, the film tackles the notion of the “correct” way to respond to threats and assault. A collaboration between award-winning director Esmé Hicks and actor-writer Sophie Ablett

Esmé Hicks is an award winning film writer/director/editor. She is currently Co-Producer on her first feature film, All My Friends Hate Me. The first short film she directed and edited, The Old Woman and the Sea, screened at festivals including Barnes Film Festival (Best Narrative Film), Thunderdance Film Festival (Runner-up for Best Narrative and Best Director) and Women Over Fifty Film Festival. She has also directed and edited comedy sketches for feminist sketch duo Egg) and music videos. She co-ran production company, The Hideout, for two years, filming online content for companies such as Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Entrepreneur First.

Sophie Ablett is an actor-writer who trained at École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq. Her spoken word performances include: the UN HeForShe fundraiser at VAULT 2018; Rebel Fest, Playground Theatre; The Big Red Poetry Tour with Errant Stage & Helsinki Poetry Connection; an Arts Council funded tour of Are There Female Gorillas? (Brighton Fringe & CPT). Her spoken word in films includes Lines (2021) and her film, Befriend To Defend, which premiered at FilmBath Shorts and was selected for Feminista Film Festival alongside the 9th International Video Poetry Festival. Under her production company, Rabbit & Rooster, she produced and starred in short film LifeLine. Her other acting work includes Taboo (BBC1/FX), The Railway Children (King’s X Theatre) and Secret Cinema’s Stranger Things. Her work under her theatre company, Klein Blue, has been staged at London’s top fringe theatre venues including VAULT, Theatre503, BAC and The Cockpit. Sophie’s new spoken word show with Klein Blue has just been programmed in the Fringe Futures Festival at The Pleasance. The Independent named her ONE TO WATCH.

Director Statement

This is a really special project for me. Not only an exciting collaboration with actor-writer Sophie Ablett, but a project tackling issues that are so relevant, relatable and important. Based on Sophie’s lived experience, this film looks at society’s understanding of the “correct” way to respond to assault or danger — the fight or flight binary. The poem goes on to challenge that binary as limiting and gendered; it seeks to include other defence mechanisms like befriending a potential predator to de-escalate a situation or freezing under threat. The challenge of blending the rich poetry with visuals was an exciting one; Sophie and I came up with three interweaving threads: a poetry performance, a stylised flashback to an assault, and poppy commercial-style images and women’s smiles. We also chose to include subtitles both for accessibility and to place special focus on the words of the piece. Delivering this film with a female DOP, producers and writer was particularly rewarding; having so many women involved in the project, including over 20 women who lent us their smiles, contributed to our understanding of the universal significance of the issues we explore in the film. Using the interplay between the visual layers, we seek to portray a woman who has survived an assault and has processed those events. Now she is in a position of power; she has agency as she talks directly to the audience and educates them, contextualising what happened to her into society’s broader gender dynamics. With the audio of the poem driving through the whole film, and the decision to depict an assault in a non-graphic manner, giving the victim the ability to not forever be a victim, this film is unique in giving a voice to the survivor, not just to tell her story, but to look future-wards and make real change.

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