SPOTLIGHT: Cables & Cameras

Faced with the film industry’s chronic lack of diversity, Bristol organisation Cables and Cameras works to support filmmakers of colour through events and showcases. We spoke to two filmmakers who are helping to grow the network.

Words: Fran Pope

Images: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos; James Beck; Gary Thompson; Qezz Gill, @qg_shots; Donovan Jackson; R. Thompson

It’s no secret that people of colour are greatly underrepresented in the film industry. Bristol organisation Cables and Cameras was set up by film producer and specialist Gary Thompson to address this imbalance by showcasing the work of filmmakers of colour, as well as providing a dedicated space for networking and skill-sharing. To date, Cables and Cameras has held several events including the Framing Female Films screening and Q&A at the Cube Microplex cinema. They have also partnered with Bristol’s esteemed Watershed cinema to organise the Jamaican Independence 60th Anniversary screenings and the Inspired 22 takeover featuring films, talks and workshops, all designed to celebrate work by filmmakers of colour.

Freestyle Bristol caught up with two Bristol filmmakers, Clarenz Gutierrez Badlis and Eshe Powell, who have been working with Cables and Cameras, to find out more about their involvement and their own filmmaking journeys.

 Image courtesy of Gary Thompson

Fran Pope: Great to meet you both. Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you first got involved in filmmaking?

Clarenz Gutierrez Badlis: I’ve been a fan of film since I was young – I know that’s a cliché! But I got into making films properly in my first year at UWE, which would’ve been 2019. Since then, I’ve made some films that I’m proud of, some films I’m not so proud of. But, you know, all of them were important for the journey and [getting to] where I am. Right now, I’ve got a film circulating in festivals worldwide. And I’m just trying to continue to climb that ladder to making films for a living.

Brilliant – can you tell us more about the film?

The film is called My Name is Yours. It’s about how, often, foreigners moving to a Western country have to change their names and identity in order to fit in and progress here, and what impact that has on a foreign relationship. How much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to succeed.

Eshe Powell: I’ve always been into film, but it’s been a solo thing where I’d record things and edit on my own. Mainly, photography was my interest. I did photography and film studies for my A levels. But I really enjoyed the practical element of photography and wished I had that applied for film. So I’m now a second-year filmmaking student at UWE. And that’s been my first introduction to making films as a team, which is very different from when you’re just walking around saying, “Oh, this looks pretty, I’ll make this into a short film.”

Images courtesy of Gary Thompson

On the back of that, how did you get into Cables and Cameras?

EP: When I moved to Bristol for uni, I was looking at spaces for people of colour to do filmmaking because my course isn’t very diverse. So I did a Google search, and I came across Cables and Cameras and emailed Gary about anything that I could do, and he asked me if I could spread the word to other people of colour on my course. And I came back and told him that there aren’t really that many. So my job kind of ends there! But since then, I’ve been in touch with Gary.

CGB: It’s the same for me. To be fair, I wish I did it earlier on, because I only reached out to Gary in my third year of uni. I didn’t really use the time in first year and second year to reach out to people of colour in filmmaking. But since then, Gary’s been like my mentor for how to survive or progress in this industry as a person of colour. He gives us advice, and he’s also been like a catalogue for networking with creative people of colour. That’s how I met Eshe – through the Inspired 22 screening event, where they were promoting creatives who are the minority. I found out that the people of colour in my course were also connected with Gary. From there, we created a whole network of people of colour creatives.

Eshe Powell. Image: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos

What do you see as the role of a platform like Cables and Cameras in supporting filmmakers of colour?

CGB: First of all, it’s good to know that there are people like you in the industry, because it can feel isolating sometimes when you look around your course and there aren’t many people like you. The same thing in workplaces, or in work experience. So this creates a safe space, and the encouragement to say you can do anything and there are people like you in the industry, because sometimes you can have doubt in yourself – whether you should be continuing this creative pathway, or whether you should, like, “know your place.” But if you know that you are welcome, it can encourage you to move forward. And it also reminds you that filmmaking, or any creative platform, is for everybody.

Also, I feel like this has been disintegrating in recent years, but back in the day, filmmaking and other creative pathways for careers were gate-kept by people of a higher social status who had more money, because they could afford to do so whilst people who were working class had to focus on actual labour and jobs to get income. But with this space, as I said, it opens doorways. You don’t need a lot of money to make films, Gary and Cables and Cameras can include your film in their own little festivals where it can be shown to hundreds of people. It can be filmed on your phone with your mates. As long as it’s good, he’ll show it. So it also opens up the opportunity for people of any background to make films and be creative. It gives you the confidence that your work can be shown someday as well.

(Left) Cal Hagen, Clarenz Gutierrez Badlis and Junior Saunders at Inspired 22, Watershed. Image: Qezz Gill, @qg_shots. (Right) Trace Mulzac of DET Entertainment at Jamaican Independence event, Watershed. Image: Donovan Jackson.

EP: I think the film industry can look a bit like a club, and you’re in it, and you’ve got the first entry. But then there’s a smaller club that you don’t know about. It’s elitist that way. And you can feel isolated, but you don’t know how to properly get in.

But being around people who can relate to the same sort of stories is nice, because the stories that come out [from people of colour] can be quite different. It’s just different experiences. When you’re around a load of people who don’t understand or can’t even fathom what you’re talking about, it can seem like your ideas aren’t even in the realm of possibility of being made, because no one else is on the same wavelength as you.

There’s a real lack of representation in the film industry for people of colour, especially women of colour. On my course, I could probably count the number of women of colour in my year of study and course on my fingers. So support from a hub like Cables and Cameras is important and valuable for a vibrant and creative city such as Bristol.

Clarenz Gutierrez Badlis. Image: Anna Cunningham, @acunningphotos

And in terms of what you do with Cables and Cameras, you’ve mentioned showcases and screenings – what else do you do as part of your work with the organisation? Do you have plans to do other things?

CGB: At the moment, I might contact Gary and ask him for crew members – for example, if I need an assistant director, I’ll go to him and he’ll recommend me someone, especially people of colour, which is good.

Stella, Sophie and I also had a meeting with Gary about creating more small networking events under Cables and Cameras. We’d like to hire out local venues in Bristol, where anyone of any background could meet up and talk. It’s been hard as we’re all so busy since leaving uni, with full-time jobs. And all of us aren’t in Bristol yet. So the idea is still there, but we’ll actually need to sit down and spend a whole week trying to do it. We’re trying to create events for more people like us, for the youth; to create a small space, an intimate space, for creative people of colour or any diverse people to network.

EP: My involvement has been helping to promote events or screenings, like for the Watermelon Woman screening [by Bristol Kino Club, at The Cube cinema]. Hana [Nour-Elmi] put on that screening. And I was spreading the word, and I offered to put up posters around campus, that sort of thing.

What do you find the most challenging part of filmmaking?

EP: One of the more challenging things is teamwork, but more so with people who, I guess, can be difficult. Maybe that’s a nice way of putting it. But you all have the same goal. You want to make a good film, so you have to think about it that way. Maybe they think I’m difficult, and I think I’m, like, a delight! But you want to make a good film.

CGB: Eshe, that’s probably the nicest way to put it. Working with people who aren’t as passionate as you are can be so irritating and difficult. It can also be difficult to back yourself. There’ll be loads of times where tutors or peers might counter your idea or say that it won’t work. But, if you’re a head of department creative, you have to trust your instinct, your intuition. One of the challenging bits for me is to stand my ground and to know when to interfere and know when to listen.

Another challenging thing is time. Getting films made in X amount of time is always so much stress, but it’s also so rewarding when you do it.

…and what do you most enjoy about filmmaking?

EP: It’s satisfying when you’ve finally managed to put your vision into something that other people can see. I’m quite interested in cameras and cinematography. And if something I’ve drawn up on badly drawn storyboards suddenly starts to look alright, then I’m like, “Oh my God, this is really good.”

CGB: A rewarding thing about filmmaking is that I kind of use it like therapy. You can tell stories that you want to speak about, stories that you wouldn’t necessarily tell anyone else. You can label it as fiction, but really, it’s a story that means something deep to you and something you really want to say. And filmmaking is an opportunity to use visuals and sound to explore that.

Framing Female Films event at The Cube. Image: R. Thompson

Oh wow, I can imagine. On a related note, how do you come up with ideas for your work?

CGB: Every story has a rooted importance for the filmmaker. Every film’s got something to say. My ideas come from what I’ve experienced and the people around me who inspire me. For example, My Name is Yours was inspired by my parents, their story and their background. The stories I want to tell have to have some sort of social relevance and importance.

EP: I get inspiration from podcasts – if you have a topic you want to go on, listening to other people talk about what they think, whether you agree or disagree, it gives a little bit of perspective.

For sure – hearing creative people expressing their ideas can be very inspiring. And ideas coming from personal things that you want to talk about – I think that’s so valuable, because it starts or continues a dialogue in the public realm.

CGB: Absolutely. Stories and films shouldn’t be created just to be seen, but to be talked about afterwards.

Clarenz, you spoke a bit about your latest film being inspired by your parents’ story. Can you say more about this?

CGB: Yeah, there are a lot of stories my parents used to tell me. There’s one that – knock on wood – I hope to tell in the near future: it’s the story of how they ended up here in England. They were born in the Philippines. Essentially, it’s the story of my parents’ life, but it’s almost a reflection of all foreign people who are outside the Western culture, and their journey to getting into the Western culture.

My dad started work at seven years old; he was born in poverty. His journey to England is a fascinating one. My mum was from a higher middle-class upbringing. But financial issues in the Philippines meant they had to sell everything they had, and in a way, my mum found my dad through that. And together, they built up from nothing. What inspires me is their determination to make it in England, because both of them knew the Philippines wasn’t a great place to raise children – they wanted their children to grow up in a society where we can be free to be whatever we want to be. So both of them, from nothing, had the goal to move to England. And that’s the story that I wanted to tell – their journey from the slums of the Philippines to a small town in England. I think it’s just very poetic.

Gary Thompson. Image: James Beck

That’s an incredible story. Eshe, who or what has influenced you in your filmmaking journey?

EP: I know Clarenz is a big fan of Barry Jenkins, and so am I. The film Moonlight, for example. I’m quite simple: colour palettes are a really big thing. I love Spike Jonze’s Her, and the use of pinky sorts of colours there. It’s just colour!

Is there anything or anyone else you’d like to shout out?

CGB: The other members of the Cables and Camera crew. I wouldn’t be here without them, as they got me into it. Sophie Kirk, Cal Hagen, Stella Jordan – those were the three people who introduced me to Gary. And Eshe too, of course. I can’t leave without saying thanks to Gary Thompson, who got us together for this platform, to continue to make films and stories about our experiences and not to be afraid to speak out even if it doesn’t relate to the majority.

EP: I’m grateful for Cables and Cameras. Being one of the only women of colour on my course can be quite isolating. But just knowing that there are other organisations and groups in Bristol of people of colour – for creatives, and in filmmaking – it’s nice being part of something else.

Thank you so much for talking to us – it’s been so interesting finding out about Cables and Cameras, and about your journeys.

CGB: Thank you!