In Conversation: Pride Parades Through Barnes

We enjoyed the privilege of hosting Barnes’ first LGBTQ+ event on Wednesday 19 June at Olympic  Studios

In  honour  of Pride Month, and to reflect the festival’s forthcoming theme of UNITY, we gathered four respected up and coming filmmakers of the LGBTQ+ community.

There followed an intimate evening  of  exploratory and open discussion of their experiences, opinions, and stories as members of the LGBTQ+ filmmaking world.

The Pride Panel

The event was brilliantly hosted by BBC journalist, presenter, and economist Evan Davis (BBC Radio 4’s The Bottom Line, PM) who is also an ambassador for National Student Pride, helping bring LGBTQ+ students together across the United Kingdom for debates, parties, and entertainment.

Our wonderful panel featured writer and director Marco Alessi (toni_with_an_i), actor, producer, and  writer April Kelley (Treacle), editor and filmmaker Oliver Mason (Have We Met Before?), and writer and director Matthew Jacobs Morgan (MINE).

The Conversation

The evening kicked off with a showreel of these great young filmmakers’ notable works, then it was time to knuckle down to some in-depth dialogue on how these works came to be, and what a time it has been for LGBTQ+ film and filmmakers.

Davis and the panellists discussed what categorises a film as LGBTQ+ and the root of their inspirations for their projects.

This panel found solace that these films are purely an exploration of another aspect of society, similar to hundreds or other films not considered LGBTQ+. Some of these films are for this specific LGBTQ+ community, some are for those outside of this realm, whilst others opt for a more political awareness and engagement to entice audiences.

Alessi and Mason were part of the British Film Institute and BBC’s partnership, the Born Digital scheme, earlier this year – requesting filmmakers to produce a short film surrounding the theme of the internet, in light of its thirtieth anniversary this year.

The BFI and BBC received over 400 submissions, with only 11 short films chosen to be commissioned; part of this collection were Alessi’s toni_with_an_i and Mason’s Have We Met Before?.

In this sense, the inspiration of the internet is the clear melody through each of these works. Alessi wanted to explore a positive influence of the internet  on those not quite so ‘popular’ in high school with his short film.

An advocate for studying and educating audiences on queer films, Alessi examines a character he terms as ‘protoqueer’ – signifying a phase in a young person’s life when they feel the beginnings of certain interests or behaviours that ignite a certain energy, but are premature to the vocabulary to be able to express this.

Alessi notes on his protagonist, Toni, that her classmates at school are fairly cruel to her, however ‘the queer internet comes to save  her’, therefore encapsulating the potential positivity of the internet, online communities, as well as the LGBTQ+ population.

Mason’s piece of the same commissioning scheme, Have We Met Before?  is a docudrama which studies and educates the audience on how homosexual men have met over the ages, providing an in-depth presentation spanning almost five decades and how the internet has influenced this. 

Mason and his team planned to explore a topic of interest in accessing the way dating has continued to shape and adapt to various cultural and historical influences. 

Somewhat of an educational piece, Mason has received grand reviews on this short film but stressed to the intrigued Barnes audience that he ‘did not set out for it to be an infomercial’. Davis stressed the  importance  of  viewers needing to understand the social history behind the ‘forms’ of ways gay men met over this time period.  

Kelley’s Treacle is her first written and directed piece and the influence of this was  to  write what she  knew and could relate  to. The short film conveys a drunken hook-up between two friends, one straight and one  bisexual, on a weekend away. 

A buddy film at heart, Kelley wanted to show that sexuality can, in some situations, prove as the reasoning behind a ruined friendship. She wrote on the basis of experience and the notion of justifying one’s self   through sexuality. The understanding of sexuality between friends holds the capacity to betray a friendship or, as Kelley summarises, ‘be treacled’.  

Jacobs Morgan’s short, MINE,  inspects multiple layers to a small family unit consisting of a same-sex  couple with a new-born  baby. Forms of post-natal depression, uncertainty of belonging, and the connection to a new-born baby are issues expertly conveyed within this short film – a theme that may  not be an obvious choice. 

Jacobs Morgan chooses to explore concerns that require more exposure in society and the media,  with his previous and current writings considering those of the LGBTQ+ community at the heart of his stories.

For the majority, filmmakers create, produce and write what they know and how they feel certain  individuals or groups should be represented. 

Alessi suggests that ‘queer characters are justified on film by trauma on the whole’, suggesting that  characters  cannot  simply be, but  feel the need to almost rationalise their behaviours or manners as a result of their sexual orientation. Kelley agreed there’s an energy and somewhat sad undertone for these characters, but not for any specific reason – it’s simply just the way it is.

Similarly,  Jacobs  Morgan wishes for one’s sexual identity to not be at the forefront of a plot or someone’s story, remarking, ‘we need to  get to a place where it isn’t a thing’. Furthermore, Jacobs Morgan makes a paramount comment that an abundance of coming out stories are explored, however ‘what happens after that?’ – presenting the necessity to investigate beyond this initial stage.

Mason added he, ‘longs for the comedy queer movie’, referencing that Olivia Wilde’s latest film Booksmart portrayed the buddy film, including a homosexual character, presented this perfectly in that the best friend’s lesbianism was not at the  forefront  of  her  storyline.   

Perhaps this is inclusion of the character’s sexuality but distance from her main plotline shows a great demonstration of society’s improving tolerance and acceptance that this character just is.

The festival is delighted to have had these filmmakers at this panel event and we, as well as Davis, were intrigued to know their aspirations of where they would like to see their careers go. Mason expands that he has a strong connection to what he knows, so would like to explore what he would ideally like to see presented on screen, that being explorations of the LGBTQ+  and  homosexual community. 

Kelley commented that, in terms of acting, she is willing to emulate whatever the script has on the page, whilst in her producer role, she wishes to cover everyone’s stories and convey a representation that  all  individuals  have the ability and platform to connect with. Jacobs Morgan and Alessi, identifying as ‘storytellers’, both affirm they wish to produce films on their interests and where their experiences lay.

A  common  topic  of  discussion amongst the filmmaking  community is that  of opportunity. Jacobs Morgan comments the emergence of new distribution platforms shows the ability to commission a wider variety of projects – demonstrating a positive change. Kelley remarks this is most certainly one that’s bittersweet. 

Whilst the act of recognising and supporting these filmmakers is paramount, the necessity to not be it through segregation indicates there are still steps to be taken.  

Jacobs Morgan also raises the question of representation and opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community  –  noting  that  ‘there  is no shortage of heterosexual  roles’. Alessi observes everyone will have had some kind of heterosexual experience  (at  least  second  hand) in their  lives,  whilst  there’s almost an underlying need to negotiate, find reason or explanation for certain homosexual behaviours. 

This being both the festival’s and Barnes’ first LGBTQ+ event, we feel honoured to have brought this to life.  Davis summarises the event simply by underlining the generational differences of connotations from the term ‘queer’ and that this is a definite breakthrough that has taken decades to get here. 

He emphasises the need to move on and hopes this generation, as these filmmakers  have demonstrated through their works, will ‘have it better than me’ and the generation before him. This poignant message is certainly one to make note of from this event and we hope to have inspired many from this.

Overall, a takeaway  from this panel event is the absolute need to explore and recognise films  centralising on the LGBTQ+  community. These stories matter and, just like the rest of the filmmaking public, these individuals have stories to tell and messages to send, and voices to be heard – loudly.

By Mickey Catelin

Mickey is currently working as an Events & Marketing Manager, as well as freelancing with the British Film Institute, being Course Manager for Barnes Film Academy, and also working with the Barnes Film Festival.