A romcom with a difference: an off-grid wedding, difficult friends, exes, and oneself
BY GEORGIA DIMDORE-MILES, IMAGE BY BFI FLARE
What are three adjectives that capture your film’s spirit?
Emotional, awkward, funny.
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your experience so far as an LGBTQIA+ filmmaker?
I’ve spent my entire career writing the stories of women over 60, LGBTQIA+ characters, and women who push the boundaries of how we think a woman is supposed to behave in order to be worthy of empathy. Because I want to see a more robust reflection of my community, the people I know and love. I’ve certainly gotten pushback, even outright dismissal, but when my work resonates with audiences, I’m reminded that I’m on the right track. Writing Jess, who’s bisexual, felt lovely and authentic, and to people who are confused by that, I say that’s okay, you can be confused. She has a right to her story. It’s time to celebrate all of us, exactly where we are.
What inspired you to submit your film to BFI Flare and what does it mean to you?
Well, this festival just represents the best of everything, doesn’t it? The audiences care about the content, the festival is providing an incredible forum to celebrate and support filmmakers and our stories. I did an awkward little comedy where a women expresses herself sexually multiple times throughout the film, and I was worried that people would reject it based on that one thing. Thankfully, BFI Flare got what I was going for, they thought it was funny, and authentic, and now I get to live this incredible dream of watching my movie play to sold out crowds. It means everything to me. And as an American, getting to meet a European audience is a huge gift.
Why do you think onscreen representation at BFI Flare is valuable for LGBTQIA+ audiences and allies?
Because anything else is a lie, isn’t it? The world is filled with diverse, interesting, people, and to keep showing the same characters and stories is tiring and inaccurate. Also, stigmas around sex and sexuality are contributing to the oppression and mistreatment of women everywhere. Now, more than ever, we need to celebrate any and all expressions of female sexuality, and take our space as a gorgeous part of our humanity. That is what revolution looks like.
Part of BFI Flare is the #FiveFilmsForFreedom initiative – five films are streamed for free for audiences globally. It invites everyone everywhere to show solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. Why do you think this is important?
Years ago, I posted content online that was a love letter to queer people everywhere, and a kid I didn’t know, from Prague, saw my video and reached out and said he felt that love, and was grateful to know it existed, because he didn’t see it in his community. Everyone deserves that, to feel seen, and to know they have a right to be exactly who they are, regardless of what laws or tyrants might have them believe. It is our duty to reach those people, and show them they always have a home with us.
Could you tell us a bit about your film and the themes it explores?
Sure! Jess Plus None is a feel good rom-com about Jess, who’s attending her best friend’s off-the-grid wedding in the woods, and facing off with her more successful college friends, the obnoxious hedge-fund-managing bro of a groom, and the woman who broke her heart. I wanted to write a romantic comedy where the ending doesn’t involve a woman being rescued by love, but finds her owning her life, with or without anyone’s approval. For this reason, I think it’s more than a comedy. I think it’s a heartbursting anthem for authenticity, one that will challenge audiences to re-think their ideas about what friendship (and love) looks like, and how women should behave. I wanted to show how disconnecting from social demands can change a person, and how sometimes you have to go through the worst parts of yourself to find the best parts. We’re all monsters sometimes, and we’re all wonderful too.
If you had to choose one film that inspired this feature, what would it be?
The Big Chill. I saw that movie as a kid (where were my parents??) and watching adults be honest and vulnerable and complicated like that made me want to make a film exploring friendship in that way.
What do you hope LGBTQIA+ audiences take away from the film?
A celebration of love stories of all kinds. There are multiple love relationships and friendships in the film, with complex characters. I hope they leave feeling like they’ve spent time with some really great new friends.
What is your favourite LGBTQIA+ film of all time?
Well, Portrait of a Lady on Fire knocked me flat, it was stunning. I also loved Moonlight. And Love, Simon. Honestly, do I have to pick?
Finally, what do you think are the next steps for LGBTQIA+ representation in the film industry?
Continuing to not only prioritise representation in our work, but to demonstrate that there is a robust, movie-going audience that loves these stories. Recently, at a private screening, two of my most enthusiastic audience members turned out to be the most conservative, straight men you’ve ever met, gushing that they didn’t expect to like my movie. Our stories are human stories. We can push the boundaries of what audiences think they’re going to relate to, and what the industry assumes will be successful. But it will grow faster, if audiences make it clear they want more.
Jess Plus None receives its world premiere at BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival on 22 March, 20:55 and 25 March, 21:00. Further details at bfi.org.uk/flare
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