SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Documentary / LGBTQ+
Sat 22.1. 18:00 / Sputnik Kino 1
Everyman: A personal, visual essay about gender transition – focusing on the social context and implications and exploring how the world is different living as female compared to being perceived as male.
Hi Jack thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?
Thanks for having me! It was really tough initially but it’s been okay since work started picking up again towards the end of 2020. It’s kept me busy and distracted which is probably (definitely) a bit of a head in the sand approach but necessary for me.
Has this time at least been able to offer you some new and wonderful creative opportunities or the chance to take up some long dormant hobbies? I was going to read...I didn't. I wasted my time watching reruns of Murder, She Wrote and grew to really dislike Jessica.
I do love Murder, She Wrote but am very suspicious about Jessica always being in the right place at the right time. Seems off to me!
Creatively I’ve been surprisingly productive, but I think that’s very much been despite the pandemic rather than thanks to it. I’ve filmed two shorts during covid (‘Everyman’ and ‘Who I Am Now’) because both of them got commissioned right at the start of 2020. I have to admit I felt a bit cursed after many years of failed funding applications to suddenly get them under these conditions. But I think ‘Everyman’ especially benefited from it as we had some extra time to develop it when we weren’t allowed to do any filming. Then last year I also received early development funding for my debut feature ‘Boifriend’ so it’s been busy.
Your award-winning film Everyman has had an incredible festival run since its World Premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and went on to win Best Short at SQIFF. What has it meant to you to get this type of reaction and response to your film?
It’s been fantastic to receive such a positive reception. Especially with a personal film like this where I feel very exposed and vulnerable, it’s a relief to find that people resonate with it. SQIFF in particular is an LGBTQ+ festival that I attend myself every year so it’s been amazing not only to be part of the line up but also to win their award. It’s especially meaningful because it comes from the community - it’s like getting recognition from your family.
Congratulations on having Everyman selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
Thank you! The British Shorts festival is one of those festivals that I keep an eye on every year because they always curate the most promising talent in the UK at the moment. I’ve submitted to them before and been unsuccessful so it’s an enormous honour to be part of that list myself this year!
Can you tell me a little bit about how Everyman came about, what was the experience like being part of the Scottish Documentary Institute's Bridging the Gap programme?
I had the idea for ‘Everyman’ many years ago when I started transitioning and I noticed that I was getting treated differently. I would bring it up regularly with people as it was often on the forefront of my mind. It was actually a really good way to talk about what it means to be trans and what I was going through in a way that was relatable to people who aren’t trans.
When I found out about the Bridging the Gap programme, I submitted the idea to the Scottish Documentary Institute. Over the course of several months they helped me develop and hone the idea along with several other filmmakers and their projects. Through this process we learned a lot about filmmaking/storytelling and the industry as a whole which has been absolutely invaluable. At the end we all had to pitch our film to professional industry commissioners. It’s been an incredible opportunity and I recommend anyone do it!
Did you have any apprehensions about making such a personal film?
Yes absolutely, for my initial idea I actually wasn’t going to appear in it myself. I was going to speak to others in the community about their experience. Through the development process I realised that I had very specific things that I wanted to talk about and it didn’t make sense to use other people as a sort of mouthpiece so to say, when I could speak for myself. Moreover, it’s a very unique experience to go through and everyone’s story is very different.
Where did the idea come from for you to use an all-queer cast to help tell your story and did this process give you the opportunity to discover anything new about yourself, where you have come from and the journey you are on?
There are a lot of discussions at the moment about whether cis people should play trans roles, straight people can play gay roles etc. It’s a very complex, nuanced situation but for me at the moment it’s really important to cast trans people in trans roles. There are a lot of reasons for this including authenticity, opportunity, representation etc. For ‘Everyman’ specifically, most characters represent me and my transness at different stages of my life so I wanted to catch the essence of that and create authentic imagery. I’m telling a trans/queer story from an insider’s perspective and filmmaking is a collaborative process so I needed other trans/queer people to tell it with me.
In addition, with it being such a personal film, I wanted to be comfortable and not have to have in-depth conversations on set explaining feelings that are very difficult to verbalise. With trans actors in particular there is a sort of shorthand, they’re living it themselves, so you don’t have to explain it.
Even with everything that was going on with lockdown did you allow yourself much flexibility with this film or did you have a set plan of what you wanted to do and stick to?
Lockdown meant that I had to rewrite the entire script, particularly for the visuals. But I actually think this extra time to think about it benefited the film more than anything. Documentaries aren’t thought of as scripted, but since I was ‘interviewing’ myself combined with my style/background in narrative (and consequent budget pressures) it made more sense to approach it like a scripted drama. Despite that, I actually think having a solid plan helps you be flexible because you know what is essential and what isn’t and where you have time/space to play around. Once in the edit is where I’m most flexible and I look at what we have and what works, what doesn’t and how to fix that. It’s always a bit of a magical process.
What was the hardest part of making Everyman and is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
The decision to appear in it myself was probably the hardest of the entire process and there were many times where I didn’t want to do it. In the end I’m glad I did. Otherwise I’m not sure I would have done anything differently which is maybe a strange thing to say. Of course it’s not perfect but I’m happy with the result and perhaps the only thing I would want to do differently is be less stressed and enjoy the process more.
How important is it for LGBTQ filmmakers to continue to use their platforms to open up new dialogues about their experiences and stories?
I think it’s very important but also a very personal decision because not all filmmakers want to be political. I think LGBTQ+ filmmakers can also use their queerness to show a different perspective on traditionally non-queer stories. We essentially need diversity in every sense of the word.
Inversely, one of the main reasons I wanted to make this film is because most trans stories are still being told from an outsider’s perspective by people who aren’t trans. Similar to the trans casting situation, I think there is a place for those stories but maybe more selectively. There is too much misunderstanding and hostility towards trans people at the moment and I think the world would benefit from more trans stories from an insider’s perspective i.e. trans stories told by trans people. I hope ‘Everyman’ illustrates this point.
"It’s shown me the basics that are needed for a scene but also different ways of approaching it."
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint it to one moment. I was a pretty socially awkward child and I grew up a bit out of town so there weren’t any other kids around to play with. This meant I was either watching TV/films or playing make believe with my sister or on my own. I think that probably planted the seed for storytelling.
Since Bouba & Kiki won the Glasgow Short Film Festival Production Attic pitch in 2018 how much has your approach to your films changed?
Very much, in particular ‘Bouba & Kiki’ was a huge learning curve. It was my first film that received industry support and a very ambitious project. I think it was the start of defining and using my style consciously, rather than it being something that always just ‘happened’ to come through.
But it’s specifically impacted the stories I tell. I wanted to tell ‘Bouba & Kiki’ because it told something very personal through metaphor. I was scared to be directly open and vulnerable after a few bad experiences on previous projects. To my surprise this felt worse because holding back like that is detrimental to what I set out to do, whereas I’ve realised a rude response actually has very little to do with me and my work. In that respect, ‘Everyman’ is at the other end of the spectrum.
Has your background as an editor helped you in your directing style?
Absolutely and it’s actually one of the reasons I work as an editor. When I work with directors as an editor I get to see/ask exactly how they do things and why. It’s shown me the basics that are needed for a scene but also different ways of approaching it. I always like to joke on set that I’m the only person who may coin the phrase ‘we can fix it in post’.
You have just finished 'Who I Am Now', which is written by BAFTA winning writer Michael Lee Richardson, without giving away any spoilers can you tell me a little but about this film, what can we expect?
‘Who I Am Now’ is about two trans refugees sharing their stories and experiences. The film is about family - the families we're born into, and the families we make out of our friends. Something that is really important within both the LGBTQ+ and refugee community. It stars Adam Kashmiry (from ‘Everyman’! and the BAFTA winning ‘Adam’) and Talisa Garcia (‘The Girlfriend Experience’, ‘Baptiste’ a.o.). It’s a mixture of live action and animation. We’re still working on our festival strategy but it should come out at some point later this year.
Do you have any tips to advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking?
I would say just do it! The biggest mistake people make is being held back because they want it to be perfect. But the good thing about making films is that no one will watch the bad ones especially early on. Just move on to the next one - it’s the only way to get better. Another thing that holds people back is money, but you have to be inventive. Nobody likes to talk about it but we all need a day job.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Everyman?
I always described the film as a conversation about gender that includes everyone and that’s something I hope continues after the credits have rolled. People questioning and talking about gender roles and how they fit into that themselves or have contributed to it. And above all I hope it creates a bit more understanding for trans people and our experiences.