Exclusive: Spotless director Emma Branderhorst interview

Still from Spotless with Alicia Prinsen as Ruby
Alicia Prinsen sits pensively as Ruby in Emma Branderhorst's potential OSCAR winning short Spotless (Picture: IJswater Films)

Spotless could be a serious OSCAR® contender with its short film about period poverty, as director Emma Branderhorst discusses.

Spotless, directed by Emma Branderhorst, tackles the worldwide issue of poverty, and humiliation around period product accessibility.

Please note the short film and the interview quotes with Emma Branderhost are told from a cisgender woman’s perspective, and this article does contain gendered language as a result.

Speaking exclusively with Cinamore director Emma Branderhorst discusses the short film, its conversation around periods, and the hopes it may have in diminishing the taboo.

The Netherland-based film begins unashamedly with a shot of our lead, Ruby (Alicia Prinsen) laying in bed with bloodied nightwear. The disgust felt as the scene lingers becomes exactly the point with Branderhorst sparking the thought and debate as to why we are so quick to find disgust in periods.

Yet, as the film develops, we learn the truth behind why. The unaffordability to purchase sanitation products means they have to make do with whatever they can find, or, in the instance of the opening shot, go without altogether.

When asked about the unaffordability, Branderhorst spoke candidly about the Netherlands’ outdated perception of sanitary products.

“Sanitary products are seen as a luxury product, there is a 21% tax on the products. There are big companies making a lot of money on it, while it’s just a necessity of life.”

Research by the development organization Plan International shows that roughly 9% of Dutch women between the ages of 12-25 do not always have money to buy menstrual products.

Comparably, here in the United Kingdom, Scotland in August 2022 became the first in the world to offer free period products to all citizens.

Yet, in this documentary-like short Branderhost lingers on the continued global dissonance between people and products.

“During my research on the taboo on menstruation, I found an article about period poverty. It has a double taboo, first menstruation and second poverty, that’s why people don’t talk about it.” Branderhorst developed, explaining the processes behind Spotless’ inception.

“In the research, I found out that it’s way more nuanced, it’s not only about having money for period products, but it’s about consideration.

“Imagine when you have two daughters, and you all have the period at the same time, but you also need to buy laundry detergent or pay for the school trip. For people with a weekly budget of €50-70 (£42-60), it’s a lot.”

Reminiscent of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Emma Branderhorst’s Spotless may be set in the Netherlands, but its universality will ripple across the globe with families and individuals identifying with the truthful story of the struggles of accessing period products without stigma or humiliation.

“In every shot, we want to show the soberness [of the situation],” Branderhorst explained.

The soberness is felt in every scene with digital noise, a byproduct of shooting with digital cameras in lowlight settings, lingers throughout.

Often digital noise is seen as an amateur result of low-budget filming, and yet, with Spotless, it adds a dirty sensation to the scene, as if symbolic of the subject matter. Dirty, disgusting, and all the better when removed, or covered up as typically done with advanced cameras or editing.

“The character is stuck in her own world and there is nowhere for her to go, there is no brightness for her to follow,” Branderhorst stated. While the film itself may lack brightness, the dialogue it hopes to be a part of is the favourable light in the tunnel.

As mentioned, steps are already in progress for how period poverty is being fought, however, more still can be done.

“You can also start small yourself. Keep your eyes open; put tampons on your toilet, or if you work at a school or a public place, put [them] on the toilets there. So people who don’t feel comfortable asking, still have access.”

The PE class sequence set at school during Spotless will truly resonate like no other in this film. When teenagers are so emotionally unaware, insensitive and uncouth, Spotless understands it and uses it as a perfect opportunity to explore the sensitive taboo of periods with many pushing its uncomfortable conversation into humiliation.

“What we noticed from research is that there’s still a big taboo on being poor, but there is also a taboo on having your period.

“People don’t like to talk about those things. But I hope with this film people open up a little bit more. All women have their periods so please don’t be ashamed! You are not the only one.”

Within the global world of politics, hopefully, the accessibility promise made by Scotland in 2022 should act as a catalyst for conversations to occur as to how the focus should be on abolishing the period of poverty, yet meanwhile Spotless will continually serve as a reminder to the importance of why this matters, and why conversations surrounding period poverty need to occur.

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By Conor Riley

Conor is the Founder and Editor for Cinamore, a publication focused on giving power back to journalists. As a portmanteau of the word 'Cinema' and the Italian word for love 'Amore', Cinamore aims to highlight the love that we all carry for the art of the moving image.


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