Director Biography – Ania Smolenskaia (HIGHER GROUND)

Ania Smolenskaia is an award-winning editor and film-maker. She began her career in news in 2007. After several years of producing and editing news reports and documentaries for an independent online news service in Toronto, Canada, and Washington, D.C., she moved to London, where she soon joined WING, a creative agency specialising in content creation for some of the biggest brands in the world. In the ensuing years Ania has edited and post-produced numerous short and long form films, from TV ads and music videos to documentaries and narrative drama.

Higher Ground is her directorial debut. Currently Ania is back to the world of freelance editing, and is also developing a narrative film and a documentary.

Director Statement

When I read Higher Ground I knew this was not just a funny and original script, the subject matter was extremely timely and important. The main character, Hannah, is whisked away on a holiday by her handsome new boyfriend, but mid-flight she gets her period and embarks on a covert operation to locate a tampon, but her mission fails, as she comes up against indifference, unease and awkwardness.

The effect that the cultural shame around periods has on women and girls cannot be understated. I myself am too familiar with the idea that the “problem” should remain hidden or you risk total humiliation, so it’s even more satisfying when Hannah finds a way to turn the tables and not just speak up but to rally all the women on that airplane! Yes, periods are still a taboo but let’s be honest, this bodily function is essential for the survival of the human race. So the message I’m trying to communicate with this film is that speaking up can help us fix this issue.

Through a lengthy casting process we found Abigail Davis, an incredible actress, who gave Hannah such a wonderful combination of vulnerability and spirit. Finding the right airplane set (and the one we could afford) was quite a big feat, but once we did, our hardworking WING crew transformed an old plane into a perfect film set for a day. I was lucky to have a brilliant co-Director, Will Ingham, who alongside his wife Tessa also runs WING, and who self-funded this short.

Our hope is that this film lets everyone see the absurdity of stigma surrounding menstruation. From horror films to violent computer games to contact sports, blood, wounds and cuts surround us everywhere, so isn’t it strange we still have trouble accepting that period blood is simply… normal.

HIGHLIGHTS, WINNERS & VIDEOS: April 2021 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival

Best Short Film: JEN, 28
Best Performances: THE HIDEAWAY
Best Cinematography: WHEN I BECOME WHO I AM
Best Sound & Music: MR. SEEK
Best Direction: 4X4

Theme of night: Starting over after trauma.

NOTE: Festival took place during the COVID-19 virus lockdown so all screenings were held in private.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Videos:

festival posterJEN, 28, 13min., USA, Drama
festival posterPALM SUNDAY, 7min., USA, Drama
festival posterWHEN I BECOME WHO I AM, 10min., Denmark, Experimental
festival posterCOFFEE WITH EXES, 10min., USA, Comedy/Relationships
festival posterCHLOE, 7min., USA, Drama
festival posterTHE HIDEAWAY, 15min., USA, Drama
festival posterOLIVE, 12min., France, Drama
festival posterDANA GAVANSKI – I TALK TO THE WIND, 5min., Italy, Animation/Music Video
festival poster4X4, 16min., Ireland, Drama
festival posterART FOR GEORGE FLOYD, 19min., USA, Experimental
festival posterMR. SEEK, 6min., USA, Drama

The beginning of a (temporary) new era.

See you at the festivals. Whenever that happens!

– Matthew Toffolo

Female Festival WINNING SHORT Screenplay: BURN WITH ME, by Simone Warrick

In the aftermath of a racially charged murder in the pre-civil rights South, young, white, and morose Willa Mae reckons with the role she played at the center of the trial. Meanwhile the twin brother of the victim is determined to get the truth, something he may only get from Willa.

Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Rowdy Boy/Clerk/Emmett: Bill Poulin
Willa: Hannah Ehman
Judge/T: Julie Sheppard
Prosecuting Lawyer: Shawn Devlin

FEMALE Festival TV 1st Scene Screenplay: Sweet Valley Spy

Liza has a budding career at a pharmaceutical company. Her twin sister, Jess, talks to a bottle of tequila and dates a guy who tells dead-baby jokes. When Liza mysteriously disappears, Jess gets a crash course in the family business – espionage.

Narrator: Allison
The Narrator: Geoff Mays –
The Spy: Andy Kamp
Rick Astley: Rick Astley
Jess: Hannah Ehman
Liza: Julie Sheppard

HIGHLIGHTS, WINNERS & VIDEOS: March 2021 Female FEEDBACK Film Festival

Best Short Film: THE LAST RIGHTS
Best Performances: IMMERSION
Best Cinematography: 303: ENDLESS NIGHT
Best Sound & Music: MY FAMILY TREES

Theme of night: Attempting to connect.

NOTE: Festival took place during the COVID-19 virus lockdown so all screenings were held in private.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Videos:

festival posterMY FAMILY TREES, 18min., Documentary

festival posterIMMERSION, 7min., Switzerland, Mockumentary

festival poster303: ENDLESS NIGHT, 26min., South Korea, Drama/Fantasy

festival posterTHE LAST RIGHTS, 17min., India, Drama/Family

festival posterDOROTHEA AND THE MYOTRAGUS, 60min,. Spain, Documentary/Animation

The beginning of a (temporary) new era.

See you at the festivals. Whenever that happens!

– Matthew Toffolo