Campbell X is a fierce and queer Black lesbian filmmaker who resides in the United Kingdom. She began filmmaking through the documentary and experimental route and is now finishing up her first narrative feature, Stud Life, a drama about an intense friendship between a lesbian and a gay man.
Q: So let’s talk about how you started making films. How did it all begin?
I started out training to be a camera assistant then got a break for my first directing gig and that film was Ragga Gyal D’bout! The film is about Black women into dance hall music in spite of dance hall music being considered misogynistic.
So I actually started with the documentary route making films for UK TV. More recently, I have taken more risks in form and content than before. TV does not allow much experimentation as they have to sell certain formats.
Q: What is it like to be a queer Black filmmaker in U.K.? How have you been finding support? How does being Black and queer inform your filmmaking? Do you find that an asset or a challenge?
In the UK, I can count all the queer Black filmmakers on one hand! I know them all. I sometimes get funding for my work if the commissioner trusts and believes in me and my method of working and the subjects that I want to explore.
Very often they do not know where I am coming from though. An example is when I pitched my film Legacy to Film London. It’s a film about the legacy of slavery on intimate family relationships and I use the relationship with my mother to deal with painful issues. Film London just did not “get it” and then I pitched it to David A Bailey a curator who was working on a project for the Arnolfini Gallery. He totally understood what I was trying to do. Legacy has won a few awards and is one of my best films.
I think my outlook affects the type of work I make rather than my identity. Lee Daniels is black and queer but I wouldn’t make films like his. I think I have an outsider eye.
So my films challenge minority communities out of their comfort zone. Usually people get angry with me when they see my work or they cry. I always try to give visual pleasure through the use of colour and I steal from fashion, pop promos and old movies.
I try to create a Black queer aesthetic which means I reject the white LGBT way of looking at Black LGBT culture in particular and Black culture in general. And that is a challenge because I am going against the grain in many ways.
For instance Stud Life stars a dark-skinned stud and her white gay boyfriend who is comfortable with raw urban Black culture. These are two types of people one never sees in LGBT movies. So my aesthetic is not just about the Black subject in my movies but the white subject as well. I also play with gender a lot and have always done this. Check out BD Women which has a little storyline set in mythical Harlem Renaissance.
Q: As a filmmaker, you seem to wear many hats like sound mixing for Cheryl Dunye and photographing Sarah Wood’s For Cultural Purposes Only. Is directing all you want to do or you like doing other things?
I am more of an artist filmmaker rather than a Director. And as I trained in camera I am not intimidated by equipment. I tend to work with people whose work I admire. Directing and writing are my favorite bits though. I love working with actors.
Q: So it’s really exciting that you’re finishing up your first narrative feature Stud Life. What was the inspiration for this intense friendship story between a lesbian and a gay man?
The intense friendship between the gay man and the lesbian was based on my own relationships with gay men. I came out as a lesbian with the support of gay men who looked after me in the the clubs and supported me as friends. It is relationship that is not usually explored.
LGBT films tend to be mono-sexual. Boys with boys girls with girls. It is not real life. Well, not my life anyway. I live and love in a mixed world of gender and race.
Q: Can you talk a little about the scale of the production? How did production go? And what’s the plan for distribution and festivals?
Stud Life is a small indie film. The production lasted 13 days. It was intense. I thought I was going to explode. We raised £5000 on IndieGoGo which helped to some costs but it didn’t cover all the costs. We are still spending and at the moment we are editing. I am talking to several distributors and festivals. However they have to wait till be we done with our edit. And that will take some time. It is however heartening to see that people are interested already in showing the film.
Q: Any advice for aspiring queer filmmakers? With the proliferation of production and media technology from HD camcorders to Youtube, do you think making films are easier?
I have a Radical Film Manifesto on my website. I, queers particularly of colour, need to get out there and make something, especially those that have skills. Making films is easier but making great polished films is hard. However, the more you do it the better you will get. So I would encourage people to use whatever is at hand to make a film. Little ones and big ones. Narrative and experimental.
Q: As a queer filmmaker, what do you strive toward? What is your vision for the future?
My vision for the future is to make more films. So many of us queer POC filmmakers have started out and fallen by the wayside. That we are here and building bodies of work is a radical enough achievement.