Last weekend was the opening of the 26th Lesbian and Gay Film Festival held annually at the BFI on the Southbank. Twenty years ago when I was at art college in Cardiff, I was invited up to London by one of my fine art tutors to watch the opening film. She had decided that my avant-garde black and white 16mm film I'd made entitled 'Death by Biscuit' was good enough to show at a future festival. The film consisted of a static close-up of two pairs of un-socked feet sticking out the end of a bed, with only the flickering of a TV lighting the shot. I had made the illusion of the light from the TV by flapping my hands in front of a 'red head' (technical name for a type of spot-light). The soundtrack was a script I'd written imitating the melodramatic style of a 1940's 'women's film'. The brief synopsis to the film was, a woman chokes her husband to death with ginger biscuits so she can run off with her female lover.
My tutor led me to believe that the programmers would think it was fantastic. (It turned out that my tutor thought it was my long legs that were fantastic. In a real life replay of The Graduate, she was a butch, short-haired Mrs Robinson and I was a slightly more feminine Dustin Hoffman.)
With the film I was aiming for something subversive yet humorous. I knew the film was unclear, fragmented and possibly stupid. Anyhow, I arrived with the two film cans under my arm, dry mouthed and faint because I'd convinced myself that if they liked my film, I would be straight on the next plane to Hollywood. I panicked that I wasn't prepared for fame or success without having put in enough leg work.
At the BFI, I was led, tutor in tow, down a corridor into a small screening room, by a woman with a BFI festival pass dangling round her neck. Part of me wanted the film to be successful so I could get one of these passes, which was a hangover from never getting a Jim'll Fix It badge. I remember sitting alongside the women in the darkened room, my tutor in the middle, fretting in silence in case I was grilled about what the film meant. It finished, the programmer stood up, smiled and said thank you, yeah, great. We shook hands. Nothing happened. No phone numbers were swapped, no hint of a commission or even a pint of lager. I was relieved, I could go and stand in the bar with all the other normals, the ones who watched films and didn't have the burden of making them. It was gut-wrenchingly painful having to watch something I'd made, that wasn't good enough, get enlarged onto a screen and then watch it with strangers. I imagine its a similar feeling to watching your bandy legged, tone deaf child, tap dance and sing, then fall off the stage.
This BFI moment reminds me of how my Mum approaches the lottery, which demonstrates how I was brought up to think about ambition. Every Saturday, Mum watches the Lotto draw live on TV and every week as the coloured balls fall down into a line along the metal rack, she holds her breath in case she wins. Every week she decides at that very moment of the numbers making themselves known, that she doesn't want to win in case it's just too much, too life changing.
Ambitious means: intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore it is difficult to achieve. The film festival this week has inspired me to try to make another film. It's going to be digital this time. I have no idea what it will be about, but I know myself better now so it'll be a bit clearer than Death by Biscuit. I know you don't make films to make money, in the same way that you don't write books to get rich quick or you play the lottery to get a yacht. It's about dreaming up what you dare to dream and making it materialise. Its about daring yourself to write something that will change your life.