Caleb J Roberts
From His Perspective
Section: THE REAL ME 

From His Perspective screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

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From His Perspective is a queer-focused short that combines the seemingly harmless; the often deliberate, the purposefully ignorant and the scarce compassionate moments that dominate the life of a young, transgender man. In this story of gender dysmorphia, isolation and masculinity, trans narratives are placed centre-stage, as the young man navigates a world that does not understand him.

Hi Caleb thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

It’s been tough! The first few months of the 2020 lockdown were the worst. I’ve managed to (just barely) keep my head above water.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

It has, surprisingly. I figured that being stuck in one place would make me completely stagnant and for the first while, it did. But that’s OK and I think people initially put too much pressure on achieving great things during lockdown. It wasn’t until October that I started to get back into the swing of things. This burst of creative energy out of nowhere resulted in me writing/directing my first stage-play for the Outburst Queer Arts Festival, writing my next short film Homebird and working as a Director’s Assistant on my first feature film! So, all in all not too bad by the end of it.

Congratulations on having From His Perspective selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of The Real Me section?

Thank you! It feels great to have this film in particular be included in a lineup that promotes the importance of autonomy and self-acceptance/love!

From His Perspective has been called a masterpiece, did you ever imagine you would get this type of reaction for your film?

Hahaha, I personally wouldn’t put such a grand sounding title on it – nevertheless I do feel like the film is important in its own way, both as a piece of ‘art’ and as a story that needs to be heard. The reaction it’s received is incredibly heartwarming. I didn’t think that there was a place for a film like this, and I’ve thankfully been proven wrong. 

Can you tell me a little bit about From His Perspective, how did this film come about?

The film came about as a response to my own experiences trying to navigate the world as a transgender man during the earlier stages of my physical transition. I felt isolation, pain and sadness – but I also felt warmth, acceptance and love. It was a difficult time that I still don’t feel any trans person truly escapes from. But I used those feelings to create this film almost as a form of therapy, both in a creative and personal capacity. This was my first funded short, a ‘directorial debut’ in a way and I wanted that to means something to me.  It took be until I was 22 to be able to feel confident enough to tell this kind of story, but I’m ultimately glad I did.

What where the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

The biggest challenges were honestly internal – a sense of fear and sickly dread in exposing such a vulnerable part of myself. Although not autobiographical, I knew that it would be an emotional struggle to direct; and I purposely only used dialogue that was as close to verbatim from situations I had experienced. This character wasn’t a fictional one – and the challenge of balancing the reality vs the artistic vs the educational (?) was tough. I think we managed to hit that as well as we could. And I still experience that same fear when watching it! I think that’s always going to be the challenge of creating work that so intrinsically linked to my own identity. 

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

I don’t think I would change anything personally. It feels like a strong piece, and one that I’ll always look at fondly as the time I roped my best mate into standing in a freezing cold shower for an hour and a half. Considering the time constraints placed on the piece, this not-quite-two-minute masterpiece conveys a lot in a really short time frame and that was what I always wanted to achieve!

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making From His Perspective?

The most valuable lesson I’ve taken away from making From His Perspective, is surrounding yourself with a team that really cares for and respects the story that you are trying to tell. If you don’t feel that kind of support, especially with a project as emotionally raw as this one it would be a lot more difficult. Having that network of super talented and considerate crew behind you is something you want to be able to fall back on. 

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I was always a fan of sci-fi/adventure films as a child and was really big into animation. It wasn’t until I got to study Moving Image Arts at GCSE that I fell in love with making the adventures myself! They were bad (dear god, they were bad). I had everyone from my dad to my dog in these DIY short ‘films’ shot on my mum’s digital camera, but they were what gave me that joy to create things. I also was very bad at everything else, so I kind of had to make it work.

What do you think the creative industries could do to encourage more films and stories from and about the trans community?

I think first and foremost, allowing trans people to tell their own stories is a must. If an audience are constantly subjected to the idea of what a trans perspective is, from a cisgender perspective they are never going to truly understand the realities of what it’s like for us. When non-trans people tell a trans-focused narrative or include trans characters, it’s normally a plot device to further the narrative of the non-trans protagonist. It doesn’t have to be this way.  Put us in your writer’s rooms! Give us the funding to make a trans-inclusive story that isn’t dripping in tragedy, because our lives are so much more than our rejections and death. My own film ironically falls into the latter category, but at least from a realistic and authentic perspective. Finally, I think that making the film industry more trans-inclusive in all departments is a natural way forward to getting a more diverse bunch of people through the door. The best stories come from the most unique places and a film relies on so much more than the director alone! I don’t meet many trans people in film here and it would be great to see that change.

"That and the catchphrase from my dad which is, you only need two things to succeed – clean knickers and a plan."

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been give?

I can’t pinpoint one exact phrase that’s rattling around in my brain, but the general advice of trusting yourself as the person who knows what you want more than anyone else is so important. Staying true to what you want to do, the narrative you want to convey and the feelings that you want to evoke are vital no matter what art form you want to create. That and the catchphrase from my dad which is, you only need two things to succeed – clean knickers and a plan.

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

Oh of course they should! Now more than ever! Film feels genuinely exciting right now! The difference in representation that I am seeing across the board since I was a teenager may be slow, but it’s getting there! And that couldn’t be possible without for example, the LGBTQ+ filmmakers, the POC, the women of the world doubling down on their need to convey these stories and speak without fear in the form of film. 

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

The thing that has helped me the most is practice. Don’t be afraid to make things that are bad! Everyone starts somewhere and it’s a constant journey that never ends. You’ll always move on to your next project and feel a sense of growth, and that’s what’s so fun about making film. I love watching over my old stuff and feeling a sense of pride in how far I’ve come, and how much further I still have to go from here! Other than that, it’s a personal manifesto to stay true to the story you want to tell, no matter how many people tell you that there isn’t a place for it. There always has been, we are just now starting to see it. 

What do you hope people will take away from From His Perspective?

I hope that people will come away from this film with a new sense of empathy for the trans community. It was intentional to have this protagonist stare down the camera, without creating a connection to anyone else. When you’re forced to humanise someone that is so often demonised, it makes you subconsciously re-evaluate the prejudge you feel towards them. If it makes even one person reconsider their actions, conduct themselves in a kinder way or reach out to someone for support then I’ve done my job. This is the kind of short I wish I could have shown my parents to make them understand what I was going through on the day to day and maybe, it can be that resource for someone else.

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