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BFI FLARE 2024
Interview

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DAVID
LEDGER
REJOYCE!

After the death of her husband, an elderly vicar's wife re-discovers a book of erotic fiction that she wrote in her youth.

 

Hi David, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here at The New Current. What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out Rejoyce was selected for BFI Flare?

 

You’re very welcome, thank you for having me. I was honestly just very surprised! It was the very first festival I’d had a response from, so it took me a while for it to register as I was reading the email. When it did sit in, it was pretty profound thinking about my little film going to the BFI. I’ve seen so many films over the years that have inspired me on that NFT1 screen, where ‘Rejoyce!’ is showing, so to have something of mine there is incredibly special.

 

What does it mean to you to be having your World Premiere of your debut short film Rejoyce! at one of the biggest, and oldest LGBTQ film festivals in the world? 

 

It’s such an important festival, at such an important institution, so to have been invited to be a part of that at an early stage of my career is extremely exciting. When I think of how many incredible voices at Flare have done so much to progress the representation of the LGBTQIA+ community within the visual arts and, of course, beyond, it’s humbling to know that ‘Rejoyce!’ is now a small part of that history.

 

It’s also very affirming in terms of how I was aiming to pitch the film specifically: I always wanted Winifred’s queerness to just exist within the story, rather than being a key plot point - a form of representation that we are beginning to see more of. So, being selected for Flare does feel like a bit of a seal of approval of where I wanted Wini’s journey to sit.

I know it’s corny to ask but will there be any nerves ahead of the screening and Q&A?

 

Not a corny question at all! Whenever I’ve directed or acted on stage, there are, naturally, plenty of nerves, so when we had the first private screening of ‘Rejoyce!’, I really didn’t know how I’d feel, since it was just a case of someone in the cinema hitting play. But I was definitely nervous. And that was with a room full of people that I knew personally. Given everything mentioned above, I’m definitely predicting some nerves.

 

What was the first LGBTQ+ film you saw that really left an impact?

 

This is a tough one. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s my favourite LGBTQ+ film but possibly the first I remember seeing when I was pretty young was The Birdcage. Looking back, I think there’s a kind of sweet simplicity to how ridiculous and unfair I felt it was that Armand and Albert had to upend their entire lives just to facilitate these other people. That obvious physical representation really stayed with me. Armand’s son Val remains a cinematic supervillain.

 

Also, the last couple of years have been fantastic for queer cinema. Just want to shout out some of my faves: Blue Jean, Joyland, Kokomo City, Passages, The Blue Caftan, Titane, Flee.

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"It always struck me how much she dreaded outliving him something she vocalised regularly."

How did Rejoyce! come about, what inspired your screenplay?

 

‘Rejoyce!’, really, is an ode to my grandma, Joyce, who passed away at the end of 2020. I wanted to write about the period of her life after my grandad had died (he died about 6 years before she did). It always struck me how much she dreaded outliving him – something she vocalised regularly. I’m sure that’s natural for someone who’s been married to a partner for over 60 years, but it wasn’t something that he expressed. It made me think about how her life and work was very much lived vicariously through his career in the church and what that must have done psychologically when she imagined her life without him. It’s a pattern that I know is true for a generation of older women. And then I looked at how echoes of that pattern reverberated down the generations of my family with my mum and my sister. There’s a bunch more I could say but ultimately, I wanted to honour the individuality of my grandma and a timeline that perhaps wasn’t allowed to exist.

 

When writing a character like Winifred Joyce did you have in mind you wanted such an esteemed actor like Amanda Walker to take on the role?

 

Because it was based on such a close family member, I don’t think my brain had moved past just seeing my grandma. It wasn’t until I’d locked the script and started moving closer to production and I knew it was actually going to happen that I put my head into casting. When Amanda agreed to do the film and I met her for the first time at her house, it was a bit surreal as it was a bit like my grandma opening the door to me. She’s just the most wonderful actor and an even more wonderful human being and I feel incredibly lucky to have not just worked with her, but to have her as a friend.

 

Was there any one scene that was especially tricky to shoot?

 

I’m not sure if it ended up actually being the trickiest scene to shoot, but for me, the most important scene in the film is the one with Wini in bed at night. It was perhaps the trickiest in that it was the most important scene to get right, both on and off camera. Without giving too much away, I felt like it was a vital component of the film, as we barely ever see the sexuality of older people on screen. So much so that it’s easy to forget that it even exists! Amanda and I spoke about the scene at length and those conversations were essential when it came to its shooting. Her openness really took a lot of the ‘weight’ out of it. I also have to shout out DOP Abi Hurcomb: Abi was incredible throughout but this scene was shot with just Amanda and her in the room, with me watching outside on the monitor – in fact, with Abi shooting handheld on the bed. That intimacy was crucial.

 

With this being your debut short how much flexibility did you allow yourself and your cast with your script?

 

We played around with the dialogue a bit in the read through we had the week before the shoot and I was keen for Amanda, Sian (Jo) and Jodie (Laura) to continue to make any suggestions for dialogue tweaks leading up to the shoot, which they did. Even as we were shooting, some phrasing and some dialogue changed here and there as they continued to make the voices their own. On the whole though, what ended up on screen was pretty close to the original script. In an ideal world we’d have had more rehearsal time and I’m sure we’d have played around with the script further if that had been the case.

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken from this whole experience?

 

An actively empathetic approach to storytelling can unlock so much for a writer and director. I settled on a film based on my grandma because I wanted to better understand someone I realised I didn’t entirely know; something that was outside of my younger perception of her but within the orbit of my life. And realising that I had an opportunity to tell a previously untold story really drove me on to get the film made. If what you have to say is interesting and authentic, people will listen. There are a lot of truly amazingly talented people out there – from cast through to crew – who will relish giving so much if they believe in what you’re trying to do and say. If you’ve got an actor in mind you think would be perfect for a role, even if they feel unattainable, just email their agent! You never know how much what you’ve written might resonate with them. And that actively empathetic approach is so important on set: When your back’s against the wall, don’t forget there are a lot of people working very hard to fulfil your vision. The environment on set flows down from the top and kindness goes a long, long way.

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Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

 

I’ve always loved entertaining people. Or at least trying to entertain people. My route to film writing and directing has gone via theatre acting, theatre directing, making and editing silly videos with friends, studying at drama school and making music. Filmmaking feels like those roads finally converging. I love being able to work with all the various different departments to bring an idea to life in a process that feels like the pinnacle of storytelling for me.

 

I also think it requires a brain that can one day day-dream and invent the bizarre and the surreal, and the next day fastidiously draw up a shot list. That juxtaposition of energies used to leave me feeling confused as to who I intrinsically was. Turns out I just needed to try and make films.

 

Also, sitting in a cinema by myself is my happy place. I like going with friends sometimes too…

 

How much has your background in theatre helped prepare you for moving behind the camera? 

 

Lots of ways, but the first word that came to my mind was graft! I co-founded a theatre company in my late teens and then went to the now sadly closed Drama Centre where we used to do these mad 11-hour days. As much as that was probably a bit excessive, it did instil a certain work ethic which I can feel myself relying on daily. 

 

My theatre background also means that as a director I’ll always think first and foremost in terms of character, performance and the actor. And that translates to writing as well. I’ve had to play catch up on my technical camera and screen lingo!

 

Is there any advice you wish you had been given before you started making Rejoyce! that you would like to pass on to someone about to start their own film journey?

 

I’d say, do everything you can to give yourself as much shooting time as possible. We shot ‘Rejoyce!’ in three (very long) days but it could easily have been a four or five-day shoot. The reality for many people making shorts, ‘Rejoyce!’ included, is that you’re going to be pushed for time because small budgets dictate that. But if there’s any way at all you can facilitate an extra day or two than the bare minimum you need, you’ll have more time to play, more takes to choose from in the edit, less risk of having to work overtime, probably a happier set and maybe actually get to take lunch breaks.

 

I also want to say just what a remarkable job the cast and crew of ‘Rejoyce!’ did with the time that we had.

 

And finally, what message do you hope you audiences will take away from Rejoyce!

 

Go and speak to your grandparents before they move on. You never know what you don’t know about them and what stories they’ve never told. The younger generations have been afforded an emotional vocabulary that perhaps our grandparents weren’t. You never know what divides good conversation could bridge.

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