Thomas, do you feel like you have found your place as a queer director in the industry?
It’s an ongoing journey. I don’t make very explicit films but queerness is always there in the process and the way I form my characters. I have noticed that clients, agencies, or the industry in general, quite often but not always, want queer characters to be showcased in a specific way. Basically asking for stereotypical representations. To me, this feels like pretending to be sensitive but actually being very insensitive. I will always try to turn these ideas around.
Both in fiction and in commercial work, it often feels like we have to explain a character’s sexual orientation or gender to a cis-het audience. This can sometimes make it hard to tell a story and place myself as a queer filmmaker. I personally like to keep an openness to the films I create so that they can also activate something in the viewer. It becomes a sort of a double projection of what is presented on the screen and what the viewer experiences with that. To me, this openness in both narrative and character treatment somehow also holds a part of my queerness.
What is your experience on set?
When on set you often encounter a lot of cis-het men. Personally, I prefer my crew to be as inclusive and diverse as possible to create a comfortable environment for everyone involved. Coming on set, I can be quite clear about who I am so no one has doubts about me being queer. I also feel that me being vocal about it from the beginning is a way to create a safer, more comfortable space for everyone.
Do you think it’s important to hire queer talent to tell queer stories?
To me, this is highly preferred, yes. I’ve been in situations where the client wanted to portray queer characters or relationships and was pushing for certain cis-het talent. These types of situations feel very uncomfortable, so I step in and interrupt. Within fiction, it can quite often feel off when the role of a queer character is being played by a cis-het person. I would personally always prefer to try and find someone who is part of the community and has an understanding of it.
Of course, it is possible to tell a story and portray a character while not having the same background and not having lived the narrative yourself. It can even be done very well. Yet I do think that for queer roles we should always look at talent from the queer community first. It’s a matter of allowing yourself and others to take up the space we deserve.
Do you think a cis-het director can tell a queer story?
A director can technically tell a story without having a connection. But then it is really about how much work they put in. It’s about being able to do the research and taking that responsibility to think about it seriously. A storyteller should always have conversations and surround themselves with people who can tell and relate to that story. Feedback is essential especially if the director isn’t queer. It’s also important to have enough people in the crew who are allowed to step in if a film is not being created for its story but just for the sake of it.
If a cis-het director is not wanting to do the work or does not listen to the community, it becomes an almost fetishistic thing. In these films, the makers often rely more on stereotypes or their own gaze. I don’t think this is something you should want. You shouldn’t take the story away but let queer people show their perspectives. In general, I think makers should treat each story with sensitivity and give thought to whether the story they want to tell is actually theirs to tell.
How do you feel you have changed as a queer director?
When I first started I didn’t dare to be as vocal about anything that bothered me. Now with being more stable in my career, I don’t mind being vocal. I speak up and eventually take the risk of losing a job when I’m not listened to. I am allowing myself to take up space.
What is your vision for the present and future?
I want to develop my voice as a queer filmmaker further and I’m embracing the journey that I am on both creatively and personally.