First period in school: award-winning UK film upends bloody shame

LONDON: The award-winning short film, "My Time", was inspired by seeing a friend being bullied at school for having a period stain on her clothes, its director Giulia Gandini said on Tuesday.

The young girl had just started her first period but the teacher refused to allow her to use the toilet during class - a rule that applies to seven out of 10 girls in Britain today, according to the children's charity Plan International.

"I wish that I had seen this film when I was 12," the London-based director, who grew up in Italy, said at a screening on Tuesday. "I developed this relationship to menstrual blood that was very negative."

Gandini's film is the latest to tackle the stigma around menstruation, following last year's Bollywood movie "Padman" and the Netflix documentary "Period. End of Sentence.", which won an Oscar this year.

Shame can be deadly. In Nepal, the centuries-old Hindu practise of "chhaupadi", where women are banished from their homes during their periods, has led to numerous deaths from suffocation and snake bites.

Despite government schemes to provide free sanitary products in British schools, "period shaming" persists, with one in three women saying they have been bullied, isolated or joked about over "the curse", research by the charity ActionAid found.

"It was a deliberate choice to set it in the UK - you still have this kind of shame and taboo," said Gandini, adding that she only "started questioning why I was feeling so awful about something so natural" years after her friend's humiliation.

Gandini said her goal as a filmmaker is to dispel stigmas and show the reality of young women's lives in a positive light.

"Films don't only reflect culture but they have the power to shape it," she said, highlighting negative comments she received from men while making the film, with some asking, "Why should I care about menstrual blood?"

"My Time" has won multiple awards, including at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, London's TweetFest and Sweden's BUFF International Film Festival.

Gandini said her film has a happier ending than the event she witnessed at school, with a clear feminist message of "being proud of who you are".