EXPANDING THE NARRATIVE
We meet the five queer filmmakers shining a light on the LGBTQ community.
Meet the future faces of queer filmmaking; the five creatives shining a spotlight on queer culture with their explorative filmic endeavours. From the insightful screenwriting of Amrou Al-Kadhi to the explorations of race, sexuality and youth culture by Stephen Isaac-Wilson, we profile the best of the next generation of queer filmmakers.
We are living in the age of media saturation. Thanks to the iPhone, at 2am on a Saturday night, we can all turn into aspiring filmmakers, and share with the world footage of whatever flora and fauna we find on a club floor. Everyone from your lesbian friends’ dog to your other lesbian friend’s baby has their own Instagram page (both, infuriatingly, have more followers than you). And for every single episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, there are approximately 5,000 memes. In this climate, you have to ask what compels people to want to archive the present – to chronicle contemporary LGBTQ culture.
The five UK filmmakers here do just that, making documentaries, profiles and art films about characters that keep our community ticking. They argue that, while representation of LGBTQ people on screen has improved across both soap operas and cinema, there’s still work to be done in order to ensure representation is insightful, honest and accurate. Look no further than Amrou’s Al-Kadhi’s filmic portrait of nonbinary drag performance artist Victoria Sin, or Samuel Douek’s five-minute films about gay nightlife scenes around the world (which look more like music videos than documentaries).
We asked them why they make work almost exclusively about queer issues, and the responsibility, challenges, and moments of beauty that come with it.
SAMUEL DOUEK: Sam didn’t set out to be a filmmaker. After seven long years of architecture training, he had a change of heart. Learning through YouTube tutorials and making mistakes with a camera, Sam filmed the gay bars he loved going out to, and more specifically, the ones that were closing down in his home city of London. “My early documentary shorts were about the people trying to save these spaces,” he says now. “I’d say queer issues have definitely remained my main subject matter – a constant source of inspiration. Write what you know.”
After building up a portfolio, Sam now works on a mixture of commercial and editorial jobs, encompassing writing, directing, producing, editing and designing everything from fashion or music video to documentary and narrative features. He regularly creates content for Grindr’s new content channel Into, such as a series called Prolific that profiles queers of note, from Paper Magazine editor Mickey Boardman to New York drag queen and opera singer Shequida Hall. “My approach to film is humanist,” Sam reflects. “I want to feel immersed in the experience of the person you see on screen, every bead of sweat, every shiver of excitement.”
His ongoing CAMPerVAN project might be the closest to his heart, as it blends his love of filmmaking and architecture. He built a travelling queer performance space in – you guessed it – a camper-van, and in 2017 took it on a tour of Europe, asking local performers to take to its stage as he filmed the
whole thing for a documentary series. “It was definitely an experiment, but amazing to be so involved in every aspect of the project, both behind and in front of the camera.” Watch: Prolific on Grindr’s Into or visit www.samueldouek.com Follow: Instagram @samuel.douek and Twitter @sbdouek
AMROU AL-KADHI: Modern day polymath Amrou Al-Kadhi, also known by their drag queen pseudonym Glamrou, is not only a contributor for Gay Times, but a talented scriptwriter and filmmaker. “Being British-Iraqi, I was only getting cast as terrorists on film and in TV, so out of frustration I wrote myself a part in a short film and raised the money to make it. I realised creating film is such an important tool to tell the stories I really care about, and affect to change in social representation. I realised you can imagine the worlds that you feel are denied from you.”
Today, Amrou is dedicated to making work that deals with issues affecting queer people, and most often, issues intersecting across queer and racial minorities. They are part of a new wave of queer people of colour using film to take up space and make themselves heard. “Film is a really powerful way to occupy space,” Amrou agrees. “I’m really interested in using myself and my life as a canvas from which to highlight intersectional issues that don’t get represented. After all, film really allows audiences to empathise with diverse characters they’ve never considered before, like the black trans prostitutes in Tangerine or gay black drug dealers in Moonlight.”
The answer to growing as a filmmaker is just to watch as many films of as wide a variety as possible, says Amrou. “It’s a way I’ve been able to pick up visual tropes and think about what kind of filmic tricks I like.” Films that manage to hit me with as little dialogue as possible and through embodying the visual material with devotion and confidence, those are the films that teach me a lot.” Watch: Victoria Sin for NOowness, and Run(a)way Arab at the London Short Film Festival in January 2018. Follow: amroualkadhi.com / @glamrou
STEPHEN ISAAC-WILSON: You might recognise Stephen’s films from their sensitive and lyrical studies of race, sexuality and youth culture. But despite his raw talent for the visual image, and his glowing CV, getting into filmmaking was a gradual process for Stephen. “I did work experience at loads of production companies while I went to Goldsmiths, and after leaving I got accepted on the BBC’s graduate scheme. There I worked on documentaries, current affairs and Radio 4 as a researcher. I then moved over to Vice to work on Ellen Page’s Gaycation, before moving to i-D.”
Stephen no longer works at i-D, but his legacy is story-producing a beautiful 40-minute documentary film hosted by the rapper Myyki Blanco and is about queerness and race in South Africa. “I would say my queerness, like my blackness, helps form the prism tI view the world through, and the way the world views me,” he reflects. “That’s something that I can’t, nor would I wish to divorce. I feel my work is an opportunity to re-imagine a future for my peers and myself, and therapeutically process past and present experiences. It’s an important way to feel like you have a place in the world, and that your ideas and opinions are valid and valued.”
While representing queer people of colour on screen is a good start, alone it isn’t enough, says Stephen. “Support needs to be multifaceted and, most importantly, constant in all areas of the arts, and society, for meaningful progression to be possible.” Earlier this year, Stephen shot a short film about the artist Isaac Julien, who he cites as a major influence: “I’m inspired a lot by black queer filmmakers like Isaac, as well as the late Marlon Ri©s.” Watch: His video for Jay Boogie’s Body Principles at stephenisaacwilson.com. Follow: @stephenisaacwilson on Instagram and @stepheniw on Twitter
EMILY MCDONALD: Originally hailing from Glasgow, but now London based, Emily McDonald is a lesbian filmmaker who had the good luck of falling into filmmaking by accident. “I left school at 16 with one GCSE and a pretty bad attitude problem, then came to London and started working in restaurants. I met an amazing guy through a friend who told me that he essentially thought I was a bit weird and creative and that I should try working in production. I got
a job as a runner and then spent the next four years working as hard as possible, meeting loads of people, and learning anything anyone would teach me.”
Queer issues aren’t Emily’s main subject matter as a filmmaker, since her work covers all sorts of social issues. “I like to teach people about subject matters they wouldn’t usually take notice of, giving people that don’t have a voice a voice,” she explains. Part of that is about correcting the lack of representation of gay people online and on TV that she experienced as a kid. “Other than Bad Girls – lol – there wasn’t much. Making short films that people can find online to feel less alone or more represented as a community is so important and it would have made my life as a young gay girl a lot easier.”
For that reason, she encourages the queer community to get into film or more people to make films about queers. “The more work out there that helps open people’s minds, the more accepting others will be of the queer community. People are often scared of things they don’t understand, so it’s good to teach.” And the best thing about the job? “Once I’ve finished a project I always stay in touch with people I’ve made films about. Asking someone to divulge both negative and positive experiences about themselves is a big ask and I’m always surprised and grateful by how brave people are in handing over their stories to me.” Watch: The Hardest Word, about George Montague fighting for an apology. Follow: Instagram emily_mcdon and hilowfilms.com
ASHLEY JOINER : London born and bred director Ashley has just finished his first feature film, Are You Proud?, a brilliant documentary about the place of Pride events among Britain’s diverse LGBTQ communities today. To be released in 2018, it asks that age old question: should Pride be a protest or a party, or can it be both? For the film, Ashley met countless brave people who’ve been fighting for equality over the past 50 plus years in the UK. “It’s been a huge honour to help tell their stories,” he grins.
Ashley left art school with no “skills”, but picked up a camera and collaborated with a couple of friends who’d each just launched their own fashion labels. “It was the perfect way to develop on the performance work I’d been making throughout my degree,” he says now. “Then I went to New York for a year and that’s where I started to learn the technical side of filmmaking. I worked for this really small boutique agency for free and in return they taught me the basics and let me crash on the office sofa.”
Two years ago, Ashley had the epiphany that he wanted queer issues to be at the centre of his work. “A lot of changes were happening in my personal life and I was having to ask myself a lot of serious questions about who I was.” He started to surround himself with activists and campaigners, and with that, learned that we all have a responsibility to help others. Today, he tries to do that through film.
“The representation of any marginalised community is of utmost importance,” he says, but even more important is that the representation is truly reflective. “All too often representation can be stereotypical and one dimensional. Yes, I’m queer, but that’s not all that makes me who I am. We need to create space for real representation; space that allows for the realities of what it means to be LGBTQ today to be discussed, challenged and understood.” How? “I think collaboration and versatility are the key.” Watch: Are You Proud? when it’s out in cinemas in 2018 Follow: Check out ashley-joiner.com in the mean time