Helena Middleton, theatre and film director

From: Bristol

  1. How do you feel to have been shortlisted for the Widening The Lens competition?

I feel grateful, excited, a little nervous. My film idea is a departure from my normal narrative-based storytelling and it’s amazing to be given the opportunity to pursue the idea.

  1. What story idea did you pitch?

My film is about my mum wanting to experience being a man. She talks about ‘when she was a boy’, a time in her childhood that she associates with freedom and how now, as she approaches her 60th birthday, she wants to spend the day as a man. She wants to walk in a man’s shoes. To see through a man’s eyes. To see if people treat her differently.

The film will introduce her to the drag kings. The drag king scene is massively on the rise, as more and more women are interested in gender as a performance and what we can gain by exploring masculinity on stage. With the help of some drag kings my mum will be transformed into a man.

  1. What inspired the theme?

My mum made a list of 60 things she wanted to do before turning 60. And on that list was ‘To be a man for the day’. I thought that I could help her achieve this. Edythe Woolley, aka Manly Stanley, is my collaborator in this project. She is a drag king and uses her performances to examine the extremities of masculinity. The merging of these two worlds is what excited me as an idea.

  1. How does it address diversity and the idea of challenging limitations of character and story development?

The film will be a stylised documentary and as such, will not have a clear linear narrative. What it does is give a glimpse into the under portrayed world of the drag king scene. It is also an exploration of intergenerational feminism. I am 25, my mum is almost 60, she is my role model and I have inherited a lot of her strength, yet we have both been put in situations where we have been made to feel uncomfortable because we are women. This film will explore that.

  1. Does your film stimulate audience debate?

Gender and feminism are still very delicate and provocative ideas. Through the process of my mum ‘being a man for the day’ we are making assumptions about what being a man is, and whether gender can be summarised or performed. The film will explore one woman’s perspective, a reflection on how her gender has affected her life, and whether, through attempting to don the attributes of a man, her eyes will be opened to a new perspective.

  1. How did you get into filmmaking?

I am a theatre director and, like many people of my generation, have been massively creatively informed by my experiences of watching film and television growing up. When I found scripts I wanted to direct, I would know because I would picture the whole thing as a film. This led me to direct my first short film, Kin, earlier this year, which is now in the final stages of post production. I have very much learnt by doing.

  1. What’s your top tip for other new and emerging filmmakers?

In addition to watching films and noticing the details that intrigue you, go and work with some actors. I think a lot of emerging filmmakers are concerned with imagery and the technical side of filmmaking and so they will make visually stunning films. What is sometimes lacking however is an understanding of how to bring the best performances out of your actors.

  1. What’s your experience and thoughts regarding a lack of diversity within the film industry, both on and off screen?

When I read statistics about the lack of female and BAME filmmakers in the industry I am incredibly saddened. What seems clear to me is that it is an institutional issue and that it is going to take a lot of hammers to chip away at it to create change. I have noticed, subconsciously, I am drawn to films directed by women. I love the work of Clio Barnard and Andrea Arnold and perhaps this is because their films are anomalies – they present something a little different because they are guided by a female voice.

  1. What are your ambitions for the film concept after the festival?

No matter what the outcome of the pitch this is a film I would like to make. I think that the insight it will give into the drag king world, and what it will add to the debate surrounding gender, make it a project worth seeing through to end.