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An interview with Walsall’s award winning film director, Dave Hastings (part one)

Dave was born and still lives and works in Walsall. He has won numerous awards for his films, many of which feature strong LGBTQ characters in pivotal roles. His latest film You Are My Sunshine, set entirely in Walsall and scheduled for release later in the summer, focuses on the relationship between an mature Gay couple who look back on their journey together from their initial meeting in the 1970s.

As the climax of our PRIDE celebrations this year we spent an hour or so talking to Dave about his latest film, his passion for horror movies and why historically there are so few LGBTQ characters in film.

Walsall for All (WfA): Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about your upcoming feature You Are My Sunshine.

Dave Hastings (DH): Well, it kind of goes back to horror films really. I grew up on horror films, and always wanted to be a filmmaker as a kid. I've always wanted to do horror stuff, but I don't always want to make horror films. As a director, same as anybody in any job, you want to try different things and you want to challenge yourself continuously.

So I've done other films. The film beforehand, Sustain was about racism which ties unintentionally into topical themes we’re seeing with Brexit at the moment, and when we did Screaming Death, people were asking, “What are you going to do next?” I said, “Well, I'm not doing a horror film because I've just spent a month with vampires, witches and ghouls!” And as much as Sustain is still horror, it’s human horror, and again, as a director, I find that interesting, to explore new and different things.

So Sunshine … well, I'm very interested in LGBTQ history. I've read about the Stonewall riots and I've got a lot of films about the history of the LGBTQ movement, The Matthew Shepard Story and tragic events like that. I'm very interested in the history because if you’re from the LGBTQ community, it’s a part of us - these people, for whatever reason, paved the way for what we're doing today, gave us hope and equal rights. So, I'm very interested in terms of how LGBTQ people live, the pressures they are under, the obstacles they face and Sunshine kind of came out of that. I wanted to do a love story and a lot of people said, “What are you doing a love story for Dave?” And I said, “Well, you know, I want to try it and see what we can do with it, try to make it meaningful to a certain extent, don't just make it a rom-com do. Something that would have some meaning and depth to it.”

It contextualises the stuff that's in the past too, so if you’ve seen the trailer, there’s the first PRIDE in the 1970s referenced. It's not a major part of the film (as other filmmakers have done a great job telling that story), it just felt good to reference it because it was happening at the time. So you get to know what's going on in the world around these two characters and I felt that was really important. So Sunshine, was me exploring the history of the community and showcasing it in the area I am in, to the best of my abilities as a filmmaker. Some people write about events through their books, some people through documentaries, some people create art or paintings and other great artistic avenues, whereas for me my forte is film.

So that's my outlet for it and I thought about the story and I was like, well, that that could be interesting, what about if we paralleled it with today's world, because I don't think there's enough representation of more elderly LGBTQ couples. I just don't think there's a lot of stuff out there, you've got the upcoming Supernova and that was really good, but that’s about it. I was quite scared watching that actually, I was like, oh God, they're going to have done the same film! I sat all the way through thinking don't flashback, don't flashback (to when they were kids), but they didn’t and it was a really good film. It's the market, young people sell, but there are so many stories out there. I've got friends who are that age, retirement age and they met when they were young men, when this stuff was going on and it had just been decriminalised, that stuff hasn't really been touched on a lot.

So I thought, well, if I combine the 1970s with the start of PRIDE in the UK, and then kind of interweave that with present day stuff, it could be interesting both visually and narratively; the fact that there's still tension in some families through the generations. The fact is, it takes the nephew, John, who is a really important part of the film, because he's the one that bridges that gap between the past and present.

He's the one who’s saying, look I'm from this modern generation, we don't really care that much about people's preferences, but mum you need to sort this out with your brother because it’s going to be too late otherwise. So there’s a bit of a message there. I’ve worked in education, and these kids are as fluid as anything. I'm looking forward to the future where I think there's going to be a lot less homophobia because they will have actively taken their more accepting messages and ideals forward.

Actually, I wasn’t going to make Sunshine at first, I wrote it and was going to try use it to get a scriptwriting agent. It sat in my desk for a few years and the more I kept going back to it, the more I was getting ideas for shots and thinking actually I could cast this person or that person and we could use Barr Beacon - that would be really cool and the filmmaker part of your brain starts to say, “You want to make this film don’t you?” And you end up going “okay let’s just do it”. And it was a joy to make, I have lots of fond memories of the shoot. We’re doing the sound mix at the moment so I was there last night with Josh, our amazing editor and we get to watch all the footage and stuff and it's really nice. It's coming together quite nicely.

WfA: How easy (or difficult) was it to relate to the experience of teenagers coming out in the 1970s, given you were born in the early ‘80s?

I came out around Easter 2002 and I wasn’t ready. The reason I came out was because I was being blackmailed (and by somebody I thought was a friend). I’d told one or two friends at that point, but I kind of had to do it right there and then, so it wasn’t really my choice. In the long run, it was great, but at the time it felt awful and I was having to deal with all this stuff, but my parents were incredibly supportive - they were mor