Award-winning film maker Vicki Psarias has returned to Yorkshire and is finding her career going from strength to strength. Catherine Scott met her.
VICKI Psarias was just 11 years old when she made her first film.
“I pestered my dad to borrow a VHS video recorder because I wanted to make a film about litter on the streets,” explains Vicki.
“I directed him and he shot the film. I kept telling him ‘shoot this’ and ‘shoot that’. But I wasreally quite mature; I knew what I wanted to achieve.”
Vicki admits that back then she did “enhance” the litter to make her point, although stresses that they did tidy it up afterwards.
From those early seeds as a budding-film maker, oak trees have grown. Her short film Broken, gained her the accolade of Best Filmmaker in Channel 4’s 2007 Talent Awards . The same piece – telling the story of what it means to be an immigrant in London through the eyes of a teenage Greek Cypriot girl – went on to win four more awards. Just last month Vicki was named the winner in the Entertainment, Media and the Arts category in the The Square Mile Magazine Worldspreads 30 Under 30 London Talent Awards, which celebrates the best young talent the UK has to offer. A major achievement as the only woman to be nominated in the category.
“Film-making is still a very male dominated industry,” admits the 30-year-old who recently returned to Leeds after 11 years in London.
“Backers seem less keen to take a gamble on a female director, it is sad but true.”
Vicki believe it is her inherent tenacity and her upbringing which has helped her succeed.
Born in Leeds in 1980, Vicki was brought up by her Greek Cypriot parents, who own the successful Olive Tree chain of restaurants.
She says she got interested in the workings of film and television when her parents appeared on the BBC2 Food and Drink show in the early nineties.
And it’s clear from her impressive repertoire that her family and heritage have had a huge impact on her work. Broken was inspired by her mother Vasoulla’s own story of coming to England as an immigrant at the age of 12.
“My family and my heritage has a great influence on my work. The family were very moved and happy with the final film which was a huge relief as there is a certain responsibility with writing stories close to home,” says Vicki.
And Rifts, which she made back in 2003 when she was studying for her MA at Goldsmiths in London, centres around two warring kebab shop owners. BBC Comedy optioned the rights to the short film for a TV series which she is currently working on now she is back home in Alwoodley, where she is working on a script for the series and looking after her one-year-old son Oliver.
It was Rifts that really lead to her big break. After leaving Goldsmith’s College with a Distinction she struggled to find a job and ended up working in a wine shop to pay the bills. She read an article about the founder of Redbus Film Distribution company, Simon Franks, and decided she wanted to work for him, even if it meant starting at the very bottom.
“I had gone from graduating with a distinction to making the tea. On my third day Simon Franks called me in. He had watched Risk and really liked it. I was really green; I didn’t have an agent. He gave me a big office one day a week and I was meant to write a full film – I was just 22.”
Although Vicki progressed well, she struggled juggling the rest of her work and decided to leave and concentrate on her film making. “I got an agent and shot Broken.”
Moving out of London back to Yorkshire for an up-and- coming film director may sound like a gamble, but it is one that has paid off so far for Vicki. Rather than feeling like she has taken her finger off the pulse, she believes that it no longer matters so much where you are based.
“Lots of things are moving out of London and I have never been so busy since I returned to Leeds.”
Since moving back, her career has gone from strength to strength. As well as writing, she’s been shooting fashion commercials for plus-size clothing brand JD Williams and working on a documentary about the West Yorkshire Playhouse for its Transform season in June.
She is also making a short film to raise awareness about a pregnancy condition she experienced herself, obstetric cholestasis. It may be a less glamorous side to film making but one that is close to Vicki’s heart.
“One in 100 women get the condition, but it is not very well known about. I was eight months pregnant and started to itch all over; it was OC affecting my liver.”
The condition can increase the risk of stillbirth,but with management this risk reduces. “I was treated at Queen Charlotte’s in London, where we were living at the time. As soon as I had Oliver everything went back to normal. But there is very little information out there and so I suggested making a film for the charity which is trying to raise money and awareness of the condition.”
Vicki has a strong sense of social conscious which she believe she inherited from her mother, a sociologist. She has also benefited from an interest in all things Greek.
“The influence of My Big Fat Greek Wedding did help me. Suddenly people started to become interested in the Greek culture and the strong sense of family.”
Although proud of her Greek heritage Vicki admits sometimes it was difficult growing up.
“Then I started to attend Greek School every Saturday – where I met my best friend Yiannis who really made me proud to be Greek. I was about 10 or 11. As children we all want to fit in so it was amazing to have a friend who really made me proud of my heritage. For any immigrant, especially second-generation they are really keen to retain their cultural identity. I want Oliver to fully understand his heritage. I went to Greek school and he will go to Greek school. His Greek side is as important as his English side”
Vicki says she is now grateful that she is bilingual, but says that being British is also important to her.
“There is no doubt that I feel very British. I have now yearning to go to Cyprus.”
She may have found life as a Greek immigrant quite easy, but she is well aware that not everyone does and is this that she explores in a lot of her work, often in a very humours way. “I don’t think you have to be Greek to enjoy my films. There are things happening that everyone can identify with.”
Family is clearly very important to Vicki and is one of the reasons she and her husband Pete decided to move back to Yorkshire.
“It is hard in London with a baby and no family support network. Having my family around me has made things easier although it is still a juggle between work and looking after Oliver.”
Vicki hopes that her continuing success after having Oliver can help other women succeed in the film industry,
“There are still very few female film makers and it is an issue when you want to have children. I just hope that people can see what I am achieving and that it helps to spread the message that you can be a mother and a successful film maker. So few women film makers have a voice.
“I have had to prove myself and never take no for an answer. I don’t want to win things because I’m a woman I want to win things because I am the best.”
ONLINE DIARY OF A WORKING MUM
As well as being an award-winning filmaker, Vicki Psarias has won awards for her blog honestmum.com which takes a humourous look at how she successfully juggles her career and looking after he young son Oliver. She refers to it as “honest and funny musings of a filmmaker and first time mum”. In it she also draws attention to the pregnancy condition Obstetric Cholestasis.
If you are worried or know someone who may have OC, please urge them to request a simple blood test to diagnose this from their GP or midwife. Visit www.ocsupport.org.uk for information and support on this condition.