Film Hub North Presents: The Miseducation of Cameron Post - A day of screenings and discussions
Over the weekend, I attended Film Hub North and BFI NETWORK’s special event focusing on queer lives on screen, at Showroom Cinema in Sheffield. The event included a preview screening of Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, along with shorts Ladies Day and We Love Moses. After the screening, there was a panel discussion which covered super interesting topics such as whether only queer actors should be cast in queer roles and rounded off with a talent mixer for panellists and emerging filmmakers in the Showroom bar.
As a queer woman, I was really excited to spend my Saturday afternoon watching queer-led films, and discussing the importance of queer visibility and diverse voices in the film industry, both on screen and behind the camera. It was also a fantastic opportunity for new filmmakers to hear other filmmakers’ experiences and career paths, gain an insight into some of the challenges that queer filmmakers face, and meet and chat to other people in the industry.
We headed into the cinema to watch Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Alice Ramsey, BFI NETWORK Talent Executive, introduced the film and gave a brief run-through of the day. For me, Akhavan manages to create the perfect balance of light-hearted humour in the face of the traumatic and all too real circumstances at the core of the narrative. I felt a real sense of togetherness at the event – as if the whole audience was totally immersed in the story and all felt the importance of having relatable characters, relationships and narratives on screen.
After a short break, which was mostly spent raving about the film, we made our way back in to the cinema for screenings of short films Ladies Day and We Love Moses. Ladies Day, directed by Abena Taylor-Smith and produced by Loran Dunn, focused on the experiences of a young black queer woman in her local hair salon in Sheffield. Whilst We Love Moses, directed by Dionne Edwards and produced by Georgia Goggin, is told from the perspective of 12 year old, Ella. She develops a crush on her older brother’s best friend Moses, and one night, experiences something that she has never forgotten. Both short films were fantastic, and the following panel discussion was my personal highlight of the event.
The panel, titled Queer Lives on Screen, was chaired by cultural producer Chardine Taylor Stone. She chatted to Taylor-Smith, Dunn, Edwards and Goggin about their careers, the representation of queer women on screen, and their place in the industry. After chatting to them, she opened the discussion up to the audience.
The conversation began with the making of Ladies Day. Both Taylor-Smith and Dunn took part in shortFLIX, a programme for young aspiring filmmakers developed by Creative England, Sky Arts and the National Youth Theatre.
Taylor-Smith talked about how there is a stereotype that homophobia is embedded in black culture. In Ladies Day, she wanted to show that not everyone thinks that way, and to represent a range of different views through the characters in the salon. Dunn added that she is more interested in working on queer films, as they are stories that you don’t hear very often. She said, “they are then by default, more interesting”.
Ladies Day was first screened at a queer film festival in Newcastle and Taylor-Smith talked about how this was a really positive experience because people laughed along and understood the characters.
Taylor Stone followed on to talk about We Love Moses and how audiences responded to watching the film for the first time. Edwards discussed how she always finds it interesting to show the film to black audiences - “there are a lot of exclamations and reactions!” She talked about how they deliberately didn’t just target it at queer film festivals because the audiences that really reacted were straight audiences, and particularly straight black audiences.
In the audience Q&A there were a couple of controversial, but important conversation topics. The first was a question around the panel’s opinions on whether only queer actors should be cast in queer roles. This divided opinion on the panel.
Taylor-Smith discussed how she thinks that it is really important, and said “if you cast queer actors in queer roles they are able to bring something personally relatable”. She talked about how it often seems like a deliberate choice to exclude queer actors from telling their own stories. Dunn agreed and talked about how it’s also important to have queer crew members and they have huge creative influence on the film.
Edwards went on to talk about how, for her, it is more of a grey area. She discusses how they struggled to find two young black men willing to act the roles in their film. She said “there were a lot of openly gay young black men, but I was specifically looking for people who would feel slightly uncomfortable in the roles” because of the characters that they were portraying.
In response to this, Taylor Stone raised the question of whether straight actors don’t put themselves forward for queer roles because of the fear of being stereotyped or “othered”.
The final question of the day, was around what we can do to better educate and empower white male filmmakers to tell stories about queer and/or black people.
Edwards responded by talking about how even though white men have historically been the only ones telling stories, it’s now time for people to tell the stories themselves. She said “you can’t stop white men telling black/queer stories, but there is always going to be a disconnect in my opinion”.
Dunn added “the real question is, how can we better empower black, queer people to tell their own stories? We need to make sure that these people feel like they have a place in this industry. It’s not that there aren’t black queer people out there, or women out there, they just don’t have the same opportunities” – the audience gave Dunn a round of applause in agreement.
To end the discussion, Taylor Stone agreed that there are a lot of black queer filmmakers already out there, so the common perception of it being a new agenda is not true. She talked about how the industry needs to actively support and fund black/queer women to tell their stories.
We finished off the day by moving into the Showroom bar for the talent mixer. Audience members chatted to the filmmakers and congratulated them on their films over some nibbles and elderflower prosecco. It also provided the perfect space for filmmakers to meet future collaborators, and to catch up with the BFI NETWORK Talent Executives about current funding opportunities.
I left the event feeling hopeful and inspired – having watched three incredible films and listened to a room of people talk positively about the future of queer cinema. I really liked that there was a focus on intersecting oppressions, and that everyone seemed to be there because they really cared about hearing these under-represented stories.