In The Movies That Made Me, we interview creative individuals on how cinema has shaped and informed their body of work, exploring how film can descend its medium and influence other areas of art, as they ever so often intersect. This time we turn to one of the boldest and brightest talents within the London film network – dubbed as the “Mariah Carey of film criticism”, Grace Barber-Plentie is a programmer, critic, marketing assistant, podcast host, and between you and me, a fashion trendsetter. Her latest podcast show You Oughta Know features witty conversations over a variety of pop culture gems, such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, Tejana pop icon Selena, and cinematic masterpiece of the early Naughties, Shrek. You can experience You Oughta Know in all its glory at this year’s fourth season of Pilot Light TV Fest, where Grace will be hosting several panel discussions and shows, including a live episode on Parks & Recreation with Perd Hapley himself.
Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?
I’m Grace Barber-Plentie and I’m a jack of all trades whilst also not really doing much at all. I work full-time in marketing for a UK film distributor, and in my spare time I occasionally programme film screenings. I founded the film club Reel Good Film Club with two of my friends and we screened films, music videos, tv shows and web series together for five years across the UK before deciding to end this year. I’m also in self-imposed retirement from journalism, but I’ve previously contributed work to Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Dazed and Confused, and The Independent among other publications. I currently programme for Manchester’s TV festival, Pilot Light, and run a podcast, You Oughta Know, with my good friend Sarah Sahim, where we invite brilliant and witty people of colour on to talk about subjects they love but normally wouldn’t get a chance to talk about.
Have any films directly influenced your career? If so, which ones and why?
Yes I guess so as I now work in the medium day-to-day! I guess loving film made me decide to do Film Studies at university, which led to my current career. So in terms of films that inspired me to do that, I was hugely inspired by Pedro Almodovar’s films after studying Talk To Her at college. Then when I got to university, I discovered so many exciting filmmakers (through my university’s library and recommendations from friends/lecturers, our actual course was white AF) such as Killer Of Sheep, Claire Denis’ Beau Travail and Trouble Every Day, Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners And I and Le Bonheur , as well as fostering in me a great love of Classical Hollywood musicals and Barbra Streisand – in particular Funny Girl!
How do you engage with cinema on a day-to-day basis?
I work in film so I’m pretty much dealing with it 9 – 5, 5 days a week. But I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love film so much! I’m genuinely passionate about film – as well as my job, I go to the cinema regularly because I’m luckily enough to live in London where there’s such a rich film culture and so many great cinemas. I also read a lot of reviews and essays on film – partly because I like to know what’s coming out, but also because there are so many writers whose work I love, and I love the form of film criticism itself. I love reading good film reviews but I also take a bit of a peverse pleasure in the bad stuff too…
Have you ever seen yourself represented in film? Are there any characters in particular, fictional or real, who you identify with?
I’ve seen parts of myself represented – being a fat black queer loser I’m sadly yet to see my full self represented! But I very much see myself in the characters in Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, I see some of myself (not the peach stuff) in Call Me By Your Name, and I see a lot of myself in Tootie from Meet Me In St Louis.
If you had the opportunity to make a film about your own career and personal life experience, what would this film look like, and what story would you want to tell?
I’d love to tell a story about my coming of age – I went to school in a small town, Lewes, just outside of Brighton. Some of the things that happened to me and my friends while we went to school were so bizarre and funny that I feel like they need to be captured on film. But then at the same time I was this black girl who was obsessed with indie music and was surrounded by white people, and I really want to portray how difficult that is. I also want to write some kind of pastiche or satire on working in film distribution. From having worked in a few different companies over the years, it’s such a weirdly under documented industry – nobody actually knows what we do!