‘Made in Wales‘ is a strategy developed by Film Hub Wales supporting the promotion and exhibition of films with Welsh connections. A film doesn’t necessarily have to be made in Wales, but might have a Welsh director, writer or storyline. This month we’re celebrating LGBTQ+ history with a focus on Lesbian filmmakers and interviewing Cardiff based writer / director Rachel Dax.
Half way into Time and Again – the latest short film by filmmaker Rachel Dax – ‘Eleanor’- played by Sian Phillips – and ‘Isabelle’ – played by Brigit Forsyth – come face to face decades after a painful betrayal. Amid their heated discussion Eleanor matter-of-factly declares that, despite the lingering heart-break, she’s actually had a ‘‘wonderful life’’…a partner…and makes it clear that she resents Isabelle’s assumption that she’d been ‘pining (over her) like some sad dyke in a warning novel’’.
It is a moment set up to challenge us, much like it challenges Isabelle. The camera barely shifts its gaze from the two of them, frozen in a moment that has been trying to catch up with them for decades. It is rare to see older, lesbian women on screen and even rarer for them to stand their ground, to state that their lives have been fulfilling – that they’ve lived. On screen, the gentle everyday, the plain white walls of their country nursing home and the almost mundane are carefully juxtaposed with this sense of restlessness…a deep desire to get up, to go, to move on and to just…be.
‘‘I think…the kind of phrase my friend uses is, ‘‘use the s**t as fertilizer’’, says Rachel who, it seems, has been preparing to write moments like the one above her whole life.
‘‘…I was quite religious when I was a teenager and I got involved with born again, Christianity…I decided that I wanted to be a preacher. So I went off to university to do theology and philosophy, a very academic degree. But at the same time I knew I was gay. So I was in this kind of very difficult state…religion, sexuality… constantly embattled in myself and eventually the sexuality – because I am a lesbian – just completely overtook everything. I didn’t quite ever get to the point of being an atheist, but I rejected that very extreme religion I was involved with”.
After graduating, she became a secondary school Religious Education teacher…
‘‘…And I hated it. I just got to the point thinking I really can’t do this anymore. One of my partner’s best friends moved to Cardiff, and we went to visit a few times and thought…there seems to be lots going on here. I was meeting lots of artistic people and I’d always wanted to be an actor. And I thought maybe this is an opportunity to do something new”.
And within just a few months, fate struck – she started doing acting courses, writing courses and eventually went back to university to do drama, where she ended up taking on a film writing module ‘‘for a laugh”.
‘‘As soon as I started doing that, I realised I didn’t want to be an actor at all. I wanted to be a writer director. So suddenly I was taking every option I could in film…which took me by surprise, but it’s actually become my greatest passion of all”.
Rachel is also an all round creative with several anthologies and audio stories to her name, not to mention that she never really gave up on teaching having continued onto a successful career in Higher Education. She still maintains a close relationship with parts of that initial journey, teaching at the University of South Wales and now Cardiff University.
They have continued to support me as a creative person, as well as bring me in to do teaching. They’ve given me work, they’ve given access to equipment. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to teach what I want in terms of creative writing and short filmmaking, but they also tweet about what I’m doing and promote me. I’ve been very lucky to have that.
I tell her that at the end of Time and Again, ‘‘I – almost ironically – scrawled down the words ‘A delicate love for oneself, becomes a delicate love for others with fury!’ I was eager not to forget this thought. It is a small something that came up again and again the evening before, as I hunched over the computer to re-watch each of the short films on her website after dinner.
I want more, but later – expanding on something she mentioned lightly in our email exchange – she said that simply wasn’t possible.
‘‘I lost my YouTube channel…it was devastating because I was really successful…millions of hits overall…I think it got shut down because of homophobia. After Trump came into power, unbeknownst to me YouTube changed its terms and conditions about how you can advertise and what you have on there. Gay content started to become marginalised and I didn’t know any of that at the time. I put up my film ‘A Delicate Love’ – it got something like 10,000 hits in a week. I was advertising it on Twitter and on one of my tweets I put hashtag gay sex. I think YouTube decided that violated their terms and conditions for advertising or…and I don’t know for sure… somebody homophobic might have hacked my account… because I would get the same email… We’d like to inform you that due to repeated or severe violations of our Community Guidelines your YouTube account has been suspended…After review we determined that activity in your account violated our Community Guidelines….Every time I appealed, I just got this email back. So I uploaded my best films to Vimeo instead’’.
Luckily, she clarifies, she does have copies of her earlier films on a hard-drive, but didn’t have the chance to dig them out before our meeting. She assures me that I’ll get a chance to watch them at a later date.
In contrast, Time and Again has been on BBC iPlayer for over a year (available until Sunday 28th February):
‘‘…which is unheard of for a short!’’ exclaims Rachel. ‘‘It’s been broadcast twice on BBC two at nine o’clock, which is a really, really good slot…quite often, the gay films are shown very late at night, maybe about 11 o’clock and they’re on for 28 days maximum…sometimes only for a week and then they disappear off. So I’ve been very well-supported by the BBC’’.
Art imitates life, and although none of her films speak directly to the issue of being censored, the act of self censoring and holding back..and being censored by others is something we are often too familiar with having to do as queer people.
In Caravan Sight, Richard and Georgina are two prominent London lawyers who spend their weekends in Wales, swapping gender roles unbeknownst to any of their friends. For two days at the end of the every week, their hectic, high pressure lives are given a small release where they can be a little bit more of themselves. Things became tense when their homophobic boss happens to be holidaying at the same campsite, but throughout the entire film we see that learning to love our queerness makes us softer, and in turn creates more room for that love to spill over and nurture others, and our relationships with them.
…it’s not only about learning to love yourself as a person…yes that own inner journey of learning self-respect and self-affirmation…but also what I try and do with all of my films is kind of very subtly teach people about LGBTQ+ issues and also homophobia. I make LGBTQ+ audience, but I always think, what would I want my homophobic next door neighbor to get from this film? Can I teach them about acceptance of LGBTQ+people? So yeah, I’ve always kind of got an eye on how I can influence the larger narrative because I think there’s a level of responsibility to be presenting LGBTQ+ people as normal everyday people…
Homophobia is – evidently – not something that can be ‘resolved’ by loving yourself, but each story in its distinctiveness does bring us back to the same feeling that ‘‘a delicate love for oneself, becomes a delicate love for others’’. And whilst this isn’t always Rachel’s first intention, she really is adept at bringing the weight of all these different feelings to screen.
No where is clearer for me than in the film ‘A Delicate Love’, where Peter – a Maths student who works part-time in a Deli – fantasises about an older man and customer, but struggles deeply with coming out. This battle even leads him to force feelings for his long-time female friend, but e
nds in a seething inner rage that is difficult to shift, disheartening to watch and something that many of us may relate too. There is, however, a small but triumphant ending…Peter is out running and falls…injured he is offered a helping hand by another man – his colleague – the person who’s always been in his shadow, a delicate metaphor come true thanks to the cinematography of Jon Ratigan.
Threads will be mended.
She retains an incredibly positive attitude, having done exceptionally well on the international film festival circuit where she has won multiple awards. Those who get to know her stories are instantly and intimately connected to them for many different reasons, but particularly – as Rachel would say – how ‘ordinary’ her characters’ lives are.
‘‘…Most of us are actually quite sweet people who fall in love and, and we go to work and we pay our taxes and do our washing. In my own journey with my parents, because of their age…and my mum being quite religious…she realised at some point I’m really boring like her, you know? I do actually wash up and go to work… I have a normal life. I do my laundry, I think about the things that she thinks about in a day too and realising that I live a very similar life with my partner, to the one she lives with my dad suddenly made her realise that actually it really is just a question of love and of course sexual attraction, but it’s about…I love this person and we have chosen to live together, but we don’t live that differently from the way they do’’.
This – fittingly – leads us to a small anecdote about a film she once made at University.
‘‘…it was kind of a documentary. We were told to make a film on the most hideous possible task we had in our life. And so I actually took this literally, and I basically did a film about picking up the dog poo in my garden. I don’t think they enjoyed the fact that I did that but I told the truth. There were giant turds all over the screen and that the staff were like, this is the most disgusting thing. And.. I’m like… you asked me to make a film about my worst, worst job. So yeah…’’
I am humbled when she reveals that this was her first film. Rachel has literally been using ‘the s**t as fertiliser’ since she began making films. When the interview is over, I remind myself to do more of the same.
If you’re an exhibitor and would like to find out more about programming any of the films mentioned in this interview, you can find the links at the bottom of this page. You can check out more of Rachel’s short films on her website here.
If you’re a filmmaker or distributor and would like to know more about how Film Hub Wales can support the exhibition of your film, take a look at our wefan Canolfan Ffilm Cymru here.