Interview with Producer James Lewis (A BETTER PLACE)

A Better Place is an in depth look at the toxic legacy of British colonial-era laws, which criminalize consensual same-sex love, while at the same time allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to go unpunished. More than 70 countries still criminalize gay sex. In over 30, rape within marriage is still legal. Behind these statistics are the people whose lives are paralyzed by these archaic laws.

Meet the LGBTQ+ people whose love is criminalized; who face the daily struggle of state-sanctioned hatred. Meet the women who endure sexual violence in their homes, with no recourse to justice. And meet the global network of activists, lawyers and legislators striving for equality and justice for everyone.

Together, these courageous survivors and reformers are working to eradicate these laws, which blight the lives of millions. By unshackling our societies from the devastating relics of colonialism, this inspiring network of changemakers is forging a path to an equal, just and happier world.

Get to know the filmmaker:

1. What motivated you to make this film?
It is our responsibility as queer people, to tell stories that push for further change, particularly in countries where the first important step is decriminalization. I feel that responsibility keenly. My ancestors are the people who created these laws, contributing enormously to the hatred they permission. Criminalization is just one part of the colonial criminal code that creates unsafe, unjust societies, with women and girls dealing with rampant misogyny and violence. At the apex of this hate, are queer women and girls who must deal with multiple legal and experiential risks. As a gay man, I grew up in a society that no longer criminalised homosexuality, but I still felt the effects of endemic homophobia. In my lifetime I have seen attitudes in the UK go from hatred to begrudging tolerance, to growing acceptance and even celebration. There is still much to be done for our community, and hate crimes are on the rise, but the LGBTQ+ lived experience has dramatically changed over the last few decades.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
3 years! We created two short films on separate elements of the film – hate crime and sexual offences. We later decided to shoot more and cut the film into a longer extended piece that pulled together all of the elements of colonial law and law reform that affect the full LGBTQ+ spectrum of people. It was a long and emotional journey, globe trotting and forging long and permanent friendships.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
Queer Resilience

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The greatest challenge was deciding what to keep and which stories to tell. This is a complex issue, with legal jargon and multiple lived experiences that are hard to summarize. The situation, legally, is complex across the world and choosing which countries reflect that diversity was a challenge in itself.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I cried, which is quite typical but no less meaningful in its frequency! I was so touched that people took the time to really reflect on the film content, messaging and mission. When we make “small” films , I think filmmakers can be unsure of what people honestly think, as feedback is often requested or given face-to-face. For total strangers to completely understand and appreciate the messaging and the effort, it was totally heart-burstingly wonderful.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
When I was 14 I decided I wasn’t just interested in films as a hobby, I wanted to tell stories. It took a while to convince my traditional parents, but in the end I forged my own path – and a little pushback proved motivating. If I am honest, I think it was Jurassic Park that lit the fire under me, I was obsessed and spoke of nothing else for weeks after watching it at the cinema.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
The documentary I have watched the most is Cameraperson, which I consider a perfect piece of art. Most watched fiction is Aliens. Ellen Ripley is my hero.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
An enormous budget to transport people to your festival from abroad! 😉

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
Really positive. It is so much easier to navigate this world now, compared to a few years ago. There do seem to be a few smaller festivals that exist to just make money, which is a shame, but just another symptom of late stage capitalism.

10. What is your favorite meal?
Traditional British roast dinner, the best part of British culture!

11. What is next for you? A new film?
More short films – from documentaries to media campaigns – that push for positive change across a myriad of social issues.

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By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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