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Interview with Emmy Award winner

Lindsey Dryden
Lindsey Dryden Image credit: bifa.film

Lindsey Dryden is an Emmy®-award winning producer, director and writer. She produced feature documentary Unrest which premiered at Sundance, won a Sundance Special Jury Award and broadcast on Netflix and PBS; she produced Emmy® award-winning documentary series Trans In America with the ACLU; co-produced Unrest VR (which won the Best VR Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest); and Exec Produced The Uncertain Kingdom's BIFA nominated narrative short The Forgotten C (2020).

Lindsey directed feature documentary Lost and Sound which premiered at SXSW in 2012; short Jackie Kay: One Person Two Names for Tate’s ground-breaking Queer British Art exhibition in 2017; and short Close Your Eyes And Look At Me (True/False, 2009). She founded indie production company Little By Little Films in SW England, which specialises in authentic storytelling by LGBTQ+, women’s and D/deaf and disabled voices. She is a proud founding member of Queer Producers Network and FWD-Doc (Filmmakers With Disabilities), the 2019 Simon Relph Bursary winner, a 2020 BFI Vision Awardee and a full voting member of the film and TV chapter of BAFTA.

Despite her extensive work and busy calendar ABLE2UK managed to grab Lindsey for an exclusive interview to chat about COVID-19, launching her own company for budding filmmakers for people with disabilities and how a leading streaming service is supporting those wishing to break into the film business, in fact that is exactly where we start our conversation.

Why are initiatives such as the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund so important?

LD: It’s very exciting to see Netflix being so proactive about developing UK documentary talent, because we have the most extraordinary stories to be told and filmmakers to tell them here in Britain, but an alarming lack of economic opportunities to do it -- so this kind of innovation is crucial. There are still lots of factual TV programmes on British TV, but true documentary (the kind of films that richly explore stories and worlds, over time, with depth and creativity) is chronically under-funded, which in turn means that it’s usually only those who can afford it who are making documentary films in Britain, if at all. (Researchers at the University of the West of England, led by Dr Steve Presence, have just released a report about this. So we’re not seeing the rise of a real range of storytelling voices in British culture, and I believe our entire society suffers if the stories told on-screen only represent a very narrow  report about this: set of life experiences. I hope that the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund will identify and support filmmakers who are people of colour, D/deaf and disabled, LGBTQ+, women, from across the UK (not just London and the SE), economically vulnerable, and from a range of class backgrounds -- the talent is certainly out there. And I hope that the films made by the Fund will help move current film production practices into more equitable and sustainable territory. This fund has the potential to do all of that -- it’s an amazing opportunity!

Unrest was shortlisted for an Oscar - how did you feel hearing that amazing news?

LD: Unrest was shortlisted for nomination for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, which means it was one of 15 feature length documentaries being considered for nomination. It was a very exciting moment for all of us on the film team and in the film, as we made Unrest for a community of people who had been ignored by medicine and wider society for decades. It meant a huge amount to receive that kind of visibility.

You are a founding member of Queer Producers Collective and FWD-DOC, tell us more about those great initiatives.

LD: I’m very happy to! Queer Producers and FWD-Doc are two of the things I feel most grateful to have access to as a filmmaker, because the community, advocacy and creativity that goes on within them both are so energising and supportive. Queer Producers Network (QPN) was founded by Jess Devaney from Multitude Films as a peer-to-peer network of LGBTQ+ identified producers working across fiction and nonfiction, and more recently an organisation called QueerDoc has been created to serve the ongoing requests that QPN was getting from folks looking for queer community in the industry. So QueerDoc is a new community of LGBTQ+ identified folks working in all roles (not just producers) and ranging in experience from emerging to established in the documentary industry. I was one of the founding members of FWD-Doc: Filmmakers with Disabilities, with the brilliant Jim LeBrecht, Day Al-Mohamed and Alysa Nahmais, and we have over 200 members who are fellow FWDs (filmmakers with disabilities) and active allies. Together we focus on increasing the visibility of, support for, and direct access to opportunities, networks, and employment for D/deaf and disabled filmmakers, and we aim to foster greater inclusion of D/deafness and disability within the broader entertainment industry too. We were inspired by organisations like Brown Girls Doc Mafia, A-Doc and Firelight, which are doing essential work in the US to uplift filmmakers of colour and decolonise documentary.

You launched Little by Little Films which gives a voice for the LGBTQ+ community, women and D/deaf and disabled people - you must have heard some poignant personal experiences, did any in particular have a lasting impression on you?

LD: Yes, our focus at Little By Little Films is on illuminating storytelling by authentic voices, and on nurturing talent while centring authenticity, artistry and collaboration. We also aim to create more sustainable and equitable working practices along the way, as our industry is founded on practices that exclude and even damage many people, so this is something we try to get better at on every project, and I work with a brilliant team of filmmakers and activists.

It is an extraordinary privilege to hear the personal stories that people are prepared to entrust us with, and it’s also hard to highlight just a few as there have been many profound moments throughout making films like Lost and Sound, Unrest, Trans In America and my current projects (two feature documentaries). Something that always sticks with me is when poet and Scottish Makar Jackie Kay said, while we were making a film together called One Person, Two Names: “I'd like to go back and have a wee word with myself and say, ‘You can fall in love with who you want to, you can be exactly who you want to be, you can run towards yourself if you like, because it's going to be fine’.” At the moment I’m doing research interviews for a new LGBTQ+ film about queer memory, history, and hopes and dreams - so I’m immersed in people’s recollections and ideas that are both heartbreaking and joyful. We come out of those conversations feeling that the future is bright and full of gorgeous possibilities, even if we have to fight for them.

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people with disabilities?

LD: I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this big question about our community, as the pandemic has affected us in so many ways, and we’ve seen devastation, systematic abandonment and disregard of our health and value, and also some opportunities arising at the same time (e.g. for others to experience what it means to be locked out of spaces, or locked in at home), and those opportunities can in themselves be painful as we watch the world open up for non-disabled people in the ways that disabled folks have been requesting for decades. For a better answer, I would recommend looking to the brilliant D/deaf and disabled thinkers whose voices have been more important than ever during these times. Some of my favourite writers, artists and activists include: Alice Wong, Kyla Harris, David Proud, Jim LeBrecht, Andraea Lavant, Sinead Burke, Frances Ryan and Charlie Swinbourne at the Limping Chicken.

If you were ABLE2 do anything what would it be?

Ah, the dream question! I think my top choice would be to make an accessible creative retreat for filmmakers and writers in the UK countryside, led by under-represented and intersectional voices, and embedded in industry expertise, where we would offer storytelling labs and funding to support under-represented artists in their work. As a community we could gather to rest, collaborate, dream, develop and make, and the whole site would be fully accessible, intersectional and also beautiful (a heated accessible swimming pool would be a bonus!). It’s my dream to have a UK space where we don’t have to fight for our voices, but can just focus on our creativity. In the USA there are labs and spaces for filmmakers and writers to dig into their work together, offered by the Sundance Institute and others, but in the UK we don’t yet have anything like the infrastructure and support that’s needed to uplift creative talent here, not least the under-represented talent who would most benefit from this economic and creative space. What we need is financiers who are bold, passionate, innovative, and deeply invested in evolving the UK film industry for everyone. I dream every day about launching this place!

Lindsey Dryden has recently contributed to a new book titled: This Is How We Come Back Stronger: Feminist Writers On Turning Crisis Into Change.