EX­PAND­ING THE NAR­RA­TIVE

We meet the five queer film­mak­ers shin­ing a light on the LGBTQ com­mu­nity.

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - Words Amelia Abraham

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

STEPHEN ISAAC-WIL­SON & EMILY MCDON­ALD

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