Iris Prize 2021
Best British Shorts
Why does the word “lesbian” feel toxic to some queer women? “Lesbian.” – a powerful film from poet lisa luxx and director Rosemary Baker – is a call to arms to take the word back.
Hi Rosemary thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you held up during these very strange times?
I’ve been holding up well thank you! Like a lot of the world, I’ve really missed people since the start of the pandemic. It’s a relief and a blessing to start coming together in person again!
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Right now world is changing in ways we’ll be feeling for generations. Like most people, I can’t help but feel fascinated and terrified by that. Working out how to channel and reflect those feelings into my work (I’m a documentary filmmaker by trade) is definitely a creative challenge – and I’m sure it will continue to be!
Congratulations on having Lesbian selected for the Iris Prize 2021, how does it feel to have your film part of such an important LGBTQ Film Festival?
It’s a dream come true (no exaggeration). I live in Cardiff so I’m incredibly lucky to have Iris on my doorstep, and to be able to go every year. From the start, being selected for Iris was one of my goals for my film. To achieve it means a huge amount to me. It’s an honour to be representing Welsh film on the international stage, but even more special to be doing so in my home town.
Lesbian is Nominated for the Best British Short 2021, what does it mean for you to get this type of recognition for your film?
To be selected for both the main Iris Prize and Best British Short is a staggering feeling, to be honest. There is such talent in the Best British shortlist this year and it’s an honour to have my film take its place alongside the other nominees.
How did Lesbian come about?
“Lesbian.” was originally commissioned by Channel 4 through the Random Acts strand of short art films. I pitched it live to Channel 4 commissioners onstage at the Edinburgh International TV Festival in 2019. That year, I’d been selected as one of 30 “Ones to Watch” – a fantastic UK-wide talent scheme run by the festival, which supports and boosts mid-level professionals in the TV industry. All 30 of us were asked to develop an idea for a Random Acts film based on a piece of poetry, one of which would end up being commissioned. I spent a long time trying to find a poem that felt right for this pitch and for Random Acts, and was ultimately fortunate enough to find lisa and her incredible work. My pitch for “Lesbian.” was announced as the winner by Mo Gilligan at the Edinburgh TV Awards 2019.
What was it about lisa luxx’s poem that interested you so much for it to become your debut short-film?
I am a lesbian who – until a few years ago - never felt fully comfortable with the word "lesbian", so I was blindsided by lisa’s poem when I first heard it. For me, it nails an aspect of the queer female experience today which, to my mind, no other person or piece of work has managed to put its finger on quite so forcefully or powerfully. Why do so many queer women feel excluded by a piece of language which is supposed to be useful and to serve us, and isn't it time that changed? Another thing that’s special about the poem is it’s addressed as much to lesbians as it is to the rest of the world. It’s message is far-reaching. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with lisa on translating the poem to the screen.
This is also your first collaboration with lisa luxx, will you continue to collaborate in the future?
I would love to and I very much hope to – lisa is a unique poetic voice, and a writer and performer with a rare gift.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
In my film I painted a cast of queer women head-to-toe in body paint. On-camera, we see the cast removing the paint gradually by hand, bit by bit. To pull this off, each cast member had to spend about three hours in make-up, being painted by our wonderful MUA Claudia-Lucia Spoto, all in preparation for wiping away her beautiful work on camera. And the tricky thing is, when you destroy something on camera, you only have one chance to get the shot – because once it’s gone, it’s gone. So I did a lot of rehearsing in advance at home in my bathroom, covering myself in paint, trying out different brands, working out how hard you needed to press with a biodegradable wet-wipe to take all of the paint in a single stroke. Basically becoming a world expert in the underrated art of removing face paint!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’ve always enjoyed telling people stories and making them feel things. It’s a simple as that, really. Being able to communicate a feeling to someone, to transmit something understood, is a form of magic. There’s no thrill like it, I think.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken from making this film?
Persevere, and listen to the people who love you when they tell you they believe in you.
Should LGBTQ+ filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the narratives they want to tell?
Of course. Our queerness is a gift – an “other” way of seeing the world. That’s a key ingredient for good art, so there’s something special and vital about the stories we have to tell.
"One of the best things about filmmaking is collaborating with people who believe in you, and what you want to achieve, and are as excited about it as you are."
Do you have any tips or advice to offer a first time director or was there something you wish you had known before you started shooting?
Making films is really hard, and no-one does it alone. One of the best things about filmmaking is collaborating with people who believe in you, and what you want to achieve, and are as excited about it as you are. Try to find those people, and share your creative world with them. You will be rewarded with riches.
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your film?
Say the word “lesbian”, without self-consciousness or embarrassment. Say it like it’s our name.