the gentlewoman

Reader of the Month

Amy Basil has an encyclopaedic knowledge of film. Appropriately, she’s brand manager at MUBI, the on-demand video website that specialises in art house, independent and cult classic films. Previously a partner at the New York-based independent production company Lucky Monkey Pictures, Amy has also produced documentary and feature films in political hotspots such as Lebanon and Argentina. Now, she’s tackling her most daring filmic challenge yet: a balanced portrait of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Amy, 28, was among the troupe of readers who braved last winter’s blustery cold for The Gentlewoman Running Club’s inaugural session. Fellow runner and Club member Jacqueline Marcus spoke to her, reliving their athletic triumphs in a conversation that takes them from the West End to the Middle East.

Amy Basil

Jacqueline: Did you enjoy taking part in The Gentlewoman Running Club?

Amy: Far more than I anticipated. When it comes to fitness I’m not really a self-starter, so committing to do it every week really helped.

J: There was something quite cinematic and inspiring, running by all these London landmarks at night. It’s not something I’d usually do on my own.

A: I never go to Buckingham Palace or run along the riverfront to look at Big Ben. I remember running up Haymarket and there were all these people everywhere, all these lights, and I was just like, “Yeah!”

J: I must confess I’ve let my running slip a bit though, as I’ve become a bit of MUBI obsessive! I got hooked after watching an Eric Rohmer double billing. But, in general, I worry I’m becoming less discriminating. I end up watching something terrible and feel guilty afterwards.

A: In an age where so many films are instantly available for free, they’re becoming somewhat devalued. The question is: how do you restore their value? Through human curation. It’s becoming far more common for audiences to look to editors to filter out the noise. So the purpose of MUBI is in framing and editorialising a film. For example, we had this wonderful film called Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y by the video artist Johan Grimonprez. It was made in 1998 and tells the history of hijackings through archival footage. We featured it around the anniversary of 9/11 last year.

J: That’s a bold editorial context.

A: Well, that film is pretty thought-provoking: you want to challenge your audience too. You could probably find it on YouTube, but you’d have to be directed to it by someone who was into that stuff. So at its best, MUBI is about unearthing those kinds of unique independent films for a wider audience.

J: What can you tell me about the documentary you’ve been working on?

A: I spent the last 18 months working with the journalist Joshua Baker on a documentary called The Process about the little subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

J: Gosh, how do you even begin to approach something that complex?

A: I’m interested in just laying it out as simply as possible and illustrating it with human stories from both sides to hopefully show an unexpected corner of that conflict. One of the most difficult things was gaining access for Joshua to film, but I managed to secure an Israeli press pass for him that enabled him to shoot in places not often seen by Western eyes. We ended up with three different stories: a young Israeli settler who’s kind of this misfit called Lola; another of a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, Abu, who lives in Ramallah – he’s all leather jacket and aviator sunglasses; and a mother and her son, Manal and Samer, who live in a village in the Palestinian hills so have experienced violence and protest as part of their daily lives.

J: Storytelling is such a powerful tool to understand how people build their worldview or the degree to which they humanise the other side.

A: Two of the subjects in the documentary, Manal and Lola, meet each other, and talk about the situation, but they tiptoe around each other and it’s an incredibly awkward exchange. Clearly, one encounter, however intimate, isn’t enough to trigger anything fundamental in the real world. I think, on aggregate though, you can accumulate enough from those conversations to at least get people to question things or to look at things differently.

J: When I think of a producer, I have this idea of a brash, bold personality.

A: I’m not the typical belligerent producer, but I’m very good at arguing my case. I come from a family of scientists – my six times great-uncle is Michael Faraday – so my background is in rational thought. My dad has an incredible scientific brain. Growing up in Hampshire, he’d start every dinner discussion like, “Okay, today we’re going to talk about the justice system. What is restorative justice? Should we punish people?” Conversations were very philosophical and you’d have to argue your side. So for me, being a producer’s more about being strategic; making convincing arguments and winning people around.

J: Are you good at managing confrontation?

A: I’m not afraid of confrontation, but don’t subscribe to it for its own sake. It can sometimes be helpful in terms of getting what you want quickly, but I’d rather achieve something because it was the right thing to do rather than because I shouted the loudest.

Interview by Jacqueline Marcus. Photograph by Liliana Greenfield-Sanders. Since The Gentlewoman Running Club, both Jacqueline and Amy have bought some proper outside running gear in preparation for the running club’s return this spring. Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!