REEL WOMEN: Award-winning director Emily McDonald

(REEL Woman: Emily McDonald)

Emily McDonald is an award-winning director based in London, UK. Her work focuses on uncovering honest and unique stories that challenge our cultural ideas and broaden our view on humanity.

She’s directed powerful brand documentaries for Nike, Netflix, Facebook and Vogue; the acclaimed “Looking Back with Pride” campaign for Vogue features septuagenarians shedding their guard to share their coming out stories, and the remarkable change they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes.

Receiving recognition for both her documentary and commercial work, Emily has won a Gold Young Director Award at Cannes as well as Best Micro Doc at Discover Film Festival. Her films have screened at numerous festivals including the BFI London Film Festival and Flare Film Festival where she was selected as one of six emerging LGBTQ+ filmmakers.

Let’s meet Emily

What is your origin story?

I am originally from Glasgow— home of the deep-fried Mars bar. We moved to England when I was 12, but I didn’t really enjoy school or learning in that way so I left and came to London when I was 16.

I worked in hospitality and wasn’t thinking about what I wanted to do long-term until I met a friend who thought I’d enjoy film/production so he got me an interview at Wieden + Kennedy.

How did you get into directing?

I was an editor at Wieden by this stage and made friends with a man named Tim who was homeless in North London where I lived. He was funny and charismatic so I borrowed a camera from work and made a short film called The Pitch.

People watched it and fell in love with Tim, partly because the film had no agenda and just focused on who he is as a person—that’s when documentaries first felt powerful to me.

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Who were your mentors?

Always my friend Martin who got me that first job—I really don’t think I would have ended up in this industry if not for him. In fact I know I wouldn’t have! Also, my friend Bunny Kinney, a filmmaker and creative director I met when we were in our early 20s at Vice, who is the smartest person I know. 

While there will be others, what do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

Winning the British Short Film award for “Looking Back With Pride” with British Vogue. I’m proud of that film in general because of the story we were able to tell.

What drives you to create?

The possibility of changing someone’s perspective on a topic. 

What shows are doing the best job of portraying strong women on tv?

I May Destroy You is a show that got everything right. If you haven’t watched it already it’s a must. 

Coffee, lunch or happy hour. Name a famous woman you would like to attend each function with.

Coffee with Michaela Coel, lunch with AOC and happy hour with Kim Kardashian.

What is the biggest challenge to women in your industry?

That there aren’t enough of us.

When you’re not creating, what do you do in your off time?

I love a solo cinema mission, and try to go pretty much every week. I’m not very good at winding down but something I got into during lockdown was building Lego. It’s pretty much the only time my brain switches off.

Predict your future! Where are you in 5 years?

I will hopefully have released 2 x feature docs and be working towards a feature film. 

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