DIVA meets Rachel Dax, the director focusing in on older LGBTQI+ women’s stories and sexuality on the silver screen
BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE. IMAGES RACHEL DAX/TIME & AGAIN
When was the last time you saw two, leading same-sex characters in their 80s having sex on the silver screen? Never, right? Well, thanks to Cardiff-based writer-director Rachel Dax, the stories of older LGBTQI+ women are gaining a little more screen time in her new, multi-award-winning short film Time & Again, a film that’s been a long time coming…
Hot off the back of a photoshoot with her leading ladies, veteran actors Dame Siân Phillips and Brigit Forsyth, DIVA caught up with Director Dax to find out more about how Time & Again came to be.
DIVA: Hello Rachel. Your latest film, Time & Again, has won 11 awards on the festival circuit. How does that feel? Why has it been so successful, do you think?
RACHEL DAX: Well, it’s just been a wonderful surprise from start to finish really… I’ve been making films with unknown actors for a while and, having Dame Siân Philips and Brigit Forsyth join the project, just added this whole layer of magic that I hadn’t anticipated at all [laughs]. It’s meant that [the film’s] done exceptionally well, and not just in the LGBT+ world, it’s crossed over into the mainstream and, in doing so, it’s got people talking about lesbians, issues around older LGBT+ people, care homes and all sorts of things.
That’s brilliant. Was that your intention? Where did the initial idea for Time & Again grow from?
There were a few things. I’d watched a couple of films that were really, fantastically made, but were extremely sad and I just got a bit fed up of dead and sad lesbians. I wanted something with a happy ending, you know? One where the women were still sexual, still active, still able to make decisions and have lives – not just dwell on the past but change things for the future so that they’re happier and more fulfilled.
I also programme a film festival in Shrewsbury called Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival and, the first year I went as a filmmaker, there was a big discussion about older lesbians particularly and what there was and wasn’t in terms of facilities and activities and such, and that stuck in my mind as well – that there are all of these people that still want to be active and out and about doing things even if they are 70 or 80 [years old].
You’ve certainly created characters who are still sexual, active and able to make their own decisions in Time & Again – is it true the film includes the first octogenarian, same-sex sex scene in a film, ever?
As far as I know, it is yes! [Laughs] And I really wanted to do that. I wanted to show that older women could have a sexuality and that older lesbians do have sex and it could be amazing. [It] was a real ambition to get that on screen and, I think that’s one of the things that got people talking about the film.
Have you had much feedback from the older LGBTQI+ community on that scene, in particular?
Yes. I’ve had messages from women all over the world who’ve watched [the film] at festivals and have contacted me to say thank you and to say how amazing they found it seeing women of their age in love on screen, kissing and, again – having that happy ending. [Older] women who are making choices, going for it, showing desire and not being ashamed to [do so].
Sian and Brigit’s characters as wonderful ones too. They may be in a care home but that doesn’t stop them being active, vocal, fun and flawed characters.
Yes! I wanted them to be three dimensional. One of the things I learnt when I was taught to write was that, your heroes need to be flawed and have failings because that’ll make your audience love them even more. So, I wanted them to have things about them that weren’t perfect – that gave them real, rounded personalities that people could relate to. I think that’s what’s attracted both Siân and Brigit to the project. Brigit particularly loved the point where her character goes from being quite submissive to getting really jealous of the fact that Eleanor found somebody else after they broke up [when they were younger]. She loves the turn in the script there, where Isabelle’s slightly darker side comes out…
How did you get Siân and Brigit, legendary actors that they both are, on board for Time & Again?
I didn’t know many older actresses. I know some in their late 60s, but I really did want two women who could play 80s. Siân was 85 and Brigit’s just turning 80 this year, and together they just look right. [In short], I contacted lesbian, casting director, Leigh-Anne Regan, something I’ve never done before [for a project], and she read the script and she said, “You could get someone really famous to do this,” and being in Wales, she said, “How about someone like Siân Philips?” I hadn’t seen Siân for a few years, the last time was on stage doing Calendar Girls – which Brigit was also in – but when the casting director showed me Siân’s headshots, I knew she had to play Eleanor. It couldn’t have been anyone else after that moment. A couple of days later, I got a message saying, “Siân has read the script and she wants you to phone her.” We chatted and she just loved it – really, really loved it. And then I asked her who she would like to act with, and Brigit was top of her list. As soon as Brigit was attached, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Isobel, so it felt like a bit of magic.
And you said it was great fun working with the two of them because they’re both so dedicated to their craft?
Yeah, I mean, they’re both absolutely obsessed with acting. They’re so passionate about it – they just want to do it forever. So, you know, they gave me eight decades worth of experience and just threw it all at the project. They were incredible – so enthusiastic and there was no bad behaviour at all. They were just lovely, supportive, energetic, positive, friendly… it was a dream working with them. Plus, it helped that I also had wonderful co-producers, crew and additional cast – we all had a fabulous time working together.
You yourself started off teaching before “going for it” as a film director a little later in life. What was your motivation to completely change careers in your 30s?
When I first started teaching, I really enjoyed it. It was quite performative and interesting and new and then, after about two years, I was standing teaching in a leaky hut in a school in Tower Hamlets, thinking, “I cannot be stuck in an RE lesson for the rest of my life.” [That’s when] I started to think about other things that I could do and, I’d always wanted to act and write, though it took me a while to get to the point where I was taking courses.
[All of it] corresponded with me moving to Cardiff, where I eventually did my second degree. It was during that that I took a film class and I just fell in love with filmmaking and decided that it had to be that, that was the thing, even though I loved the acting side of it – writing and directing was just going to be the obsession and I knew it. I was 33 by the time I first picked up a camera, so it was a long, slow progression in that direction with a lot of different steps along the way, but all of them enjoyable. As soon as I started making film, I knew that that was what I wanted to do above and beyond everything else.
“Going for it”, even if it’s a little later than “traditionally done”, seem to be a theme for you and your characters, would you agree?
What’s next for Time & Again?
It’s going to be on BBC2 Wales this Saturday night [29 February 2020] and that’ll be available on iPlayer for a whole year and, at some point, it’ll also be broadcast on the main BBC, but we’re not quite sure when.
And for yourself?
Well, we’re very much hoping to make a sequel [to Time & Again] and we’re in talks with various people about that, so yes, that’s definitely on the agenda! I’m also really hoping to make my first feature film in the next year!
Wonderful stuff. And, before we let you go, any parting words of wisdom for people who’d like to get into film, perhaps a little later in life?
Don’t become disheartened. It’s an extremely rocky road and there are massive gaps between projects, but the main thing is to keep putting yourself out there. Keep doing things, even if they’re tiny projects or being involved with other people’s projects, just keep making stuff because eventually an opportunity will arrive that changes everything, like Time & Again has done for me. It’s really about perseverance and not giving up when things become difficult.
Time & Again will be available on BBC iPlayer from 1 March 2020 after playing live on BBC2 Wales on Saturday 29 February 2020. To find out more about Rachel’s work, visit daxitales.com
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