Q+A With Director Ursula MacFarlane
Ursula Macfarlane is a UK-based filmmaker whose candid documentaries have gained multiple wins and nominations for the BAFTA, Grierson and Royal Television Society Awards.
Her films include One Deadly Weekend in America, a feature documentary tracking gun violence over one July weekend; Captive for Netflix, Charlie Hebdo: Three Days That Shook Paris; and Breaking Up With The Joneses, a feature documentary about a couple going through a divorce.
End Rape on Campus (EROC) sat down with Director Ursula Macfarlane to chat about her latest documentary, Untouchable. This documentary, available on Hulu, centers survivors of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse and tackles the entertainment industry’s long overdue cultural reckoning with sexual harassment and assault.
End Rape on Campus (EROC): As survivors, we continue to resist, and also we must intentionally create space for healing and to celebrate our resilience. How did you think about incorporating the resilience that survivors exhibit while directing Untouchable?
Ursula Macfarlane (UM): I think that every single one of the survivors in Untouchable shows a resilience that is moving and inspiring, no matter how devastating their testimony. The simple of act of sitting in that chair and speaking demonstrates unbelievable courage. For me it was about enabling them to regain their power through storytelling, the power that was stolen from them. And we made a very deliberate decision to film them in the most beautiful way, not to glamorise them but to allow their inner beauty to shine through. There is certainly another film to be made, following on from the Weinstein story, which talks about life beyond abuse and shows the incredible activism by many survivors. But I hope that in our small way, Untouchable has been able to encapsulate the profound resilience of our contributors.
EROC: What is your philosophy on storytelling? How do we illuminate the individuals that wish to share their stories, while not putting the onus and weight of change solely on survivors?
UM: When I make a film I try to make testimony as direct and unfiltered as possible. No narration, no ‘experts’ contextualising testimony. Raw, pure interviews. During the editing of Untouchable we made a decision to cut away from the survivors’ testimony as little as possible. It meant that the audience had to sit with them, and their pain, and experience it directly, no matter how difficult and troubling it was for the audience. And yes, the onus to change things is not solely placed on the survivors – in Untouchable we make it clear that a whole group of other people, including reporters and former employees, are also flying the flag for change.
EROC: There’s one line in Untouchable, “It’s much easier to go with the flow,” said when explaining the decades of Weinstein’s abuse that went unquestioned. In directing this film, you are staunchly going against this “flow” by exposing Weinstein’s abuse of power in such an honest and powerful way. Why do you think you are the director doing this important work?
UM: I never think of myself as a particularly brave person – there are filmmakers out there in war zones who are truly courageous – but I guess my strength is enabling people to talk freely and deeply. My subjects are the courageous ones!
EROC: It’s clear that we need to work together across industries to create a world free from sexual violence. How do you see media, documentaries, and pop culture contributing to culture change—specifically dismantling rape culture and supporting survivors?
UM: I think the media has a hugely important role to play in highlighting abuse and helping to initiate change. And anyone who can speak to a wide community – whether pop artists, actors – has a role to play too. I think the particular role of documentaries is to allow time and space for people to tell their stories, and for context to unfold slowly. The newspaper investigation of the Weinstein allegations was ground breaking and vital, and I want to thank Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey and Ronan Farrow in particular for bringing the story into the light. But I believe there is nothing quite as powerful as capturing those testimonies on film, in a way where we can see and hear the palpable pain of survivors, and empathise in a much more direct way. If we’re moved by something, we are more likely to act. I hope that the viewers of Untouchable will watch, be shocked and troubled, but also inspired. Inspired to speak out about their own experiences of abuse, and call out of the abuse of others where they see it.
EROC: What’s your favorite empowerment anthem? What songs or artists get you ready to sit in your director’s chair and soar?
UM: Wow, that’s such a difficult question! I love music and play it as loudly and often as I can when writing and thinking and prepping. There are too many favourite tracks to choose from, but here are four: ‘Sull ‘Aria’ from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Mozart clears my head and brings me to tears all at the same time, and gives me a sense of purpose. When I’m feeling the need to convey sadness through my work, I listen to Max Richter’s ‘On The Nature Of Daylight’. ‘At Last’ by Etta James inspires me to think about the purpose of what I’m about to do: quite simply, to tell the truth. And then for an injection of energy and dancing to set me up for the day, ‘Love On Top’ by Beyonce.
Untouchable premiered on Hulu on September 2nd and is now available for streaming. Planning to watch? It is okay to take breaks. It is okay to ask for help. You are not alone. There is free, confidential, 24/7 support. Reach out to the RAINN hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat live here. End Rape on Campus is not a financial beneficiary of Untouchable and this is not sponsored content.