Sian Williams is a gender-queer experimental filmmaker, performer and writer who is currently studying an MA in Film & Philosophy at Kings College London. Her films have been shown at Fringe Queer Arts Festival, FEST in Portugal, The BFI, and Equality Festival in the Ukraine. Her work revolves around queerness, gender and feminism.
Our president, Gabby Koumis, catches up with her…..
Hey Sian, hope all is well! Let’s start simple. What is your favourite film?
I’m actually very ill at the moment! But my favourite film: I have a few, but lately I’ve been really in to Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’ and ‘Nocturnal Animals.’ Especially in ‘A Single Man’ the use of colour to convey mood is incredible: you literally feel the characters moods and thought via colour. Both films also have paradoxical themes regarding melancholy and beauty; in both, the content is dark in its tones yet somehow leaves you with a bittersweet feeling. For me, it’s about befriending melancholy rather than ‘escaping’ or trying to fight it – rather than seeing melancholy as the enemy, one should see it as a friend that keeps us in touch with our feelings and the universe. As the character of Carlos states in ‘A Single Man’: ‘sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty’ – this is what Ford does with both these films; he makes awful, horrific painful things appear beautiful – or rather, he brings out the beauty that awful situations hold beneath their seemingly ugly exterior.
Ah, well I hope you feel better super soon! I haven’t seen either of those films, but in your film ‘A Montage of the Mind’ you say: ‘make friends with your darkness.’ I’ve carried that around with me since I first watched ‘Montage’ a few months ago. Would you say that ‘darkness’ is what inspired you, or that you find yourself in a lineage of darkness?
I just thought about that exact line! ‘Make friends with your darkness, don’t let it destroy you’. Darkness 100% inspires me, it always has and I think almost everything I do comes from a dark place, but that isn’t always a horrendous experience. It can be uplifting and enlightening. There is an optimism that comes from accepted pessimism. As clichéd as it is, my ‘art’ is a way of medicating and channelling the darkness. It’s a way of taking something awful and making it productive and perhaps ‘beautiful’ or interesting.
Cool, so your work is bound up with your selfhood! I’m really interested in writers like Eileen Myles and Maggie Nelson who cross the boundaries of what ‘should’ be allowed in texts. Nelson’s ‘The Argonauts’ opens with her talking about anal sex. Eileen Myles has a poem called ‘I always put my pussy.’ You have both a lot of your mind and a lot of your body in ‘Montage.’ What was it like putting so much of yourself in the film and how has it been received since?
It is a strange feeling; you almost feel dissociated from yourself in a weird sense. People always say, ‘you’re so brave’ or ‘don’t you find it awkward / embarrassing’ etc – but I feel compelled to make films and art and I feel it has to come from within. I don’t even second guess most things I do, I just do them because I know I have. The thing is, I never had many inhibitions but it is kind of scary to see how the more ‘radical’ you become with your poetry / art / film, the more the line blurs and you start to lose any inhibitions you had to begin with. That does scare me a little to be honest.
So shamelessness, but anxiety about that shamelessness? That’s really interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about ‘Church and Other Dirty Words’? It’s got a very different vibe to ‘Montage’: it’s co-authored and it feels a lot less personal, but it is also a lot more overtly political.
Yeah, the whole collection is not solely about me at all, although a lot of me is present in it. A lot of Brad [Cohen] and the actors and musicians are present too. I think it’s beautiful to see what happens when a load of different creatives (all different genders / sexualities / backgrounds etc) collaborate with one sole goal: to shed light on some aspects of LGBTQ culture. I think, when you watch the whole collection together you no longer see gender and you can just see sexuality, love, and raw human emotion. I like that. I think that’s especially distinct in ‘DJ PYGMALION’ – a total queer mesh of sexualities projecting messages that viewers of any sexuality or gender can correlate with on some level. I also really like ‘Girl Under You.’
Tell me a bit more about ‘DJ PYGMALION’ and ‘Girl Under You’.
DJ Pygmalion is one of my favourite shorts I’ve ever made. It shows a female (who is purposefully classically ‘feminine’ and stereotypically ‘sexy’) taking charge of her own sexuality, showing the world she does have sexuality and that she can own it. It’s empowering. She’s sexy but still remains her dignity without being put under the male gaze. For ‘Girl Under You’ I wanted to show REAL lesbian sexuality and to showcase how it is really the same as any other humans engaging in sexual intercourse. Lesbian sex has been fetishised and I wanted to show that it really isn’t anything different to how anyone else has sex. (Well, maybe women know they’re way around other women better than men, but I’m biased, right? Hence the line ‘ X marks the spot, not Y’)
With such a broad range of lesbians, and lesbian sexualities, do you think there is ‘REAL lesbian sexuality’ though?
Haha that is very true, but ‘Girl Under You’ is a political film against the treatment of women in mainstream pornography, not just regarding lesbians – but also women in general and their objectification in porn and mainstream culture.
Awesome, ‘DJ PYGMALION’ is also about porn. I think that’s an interesting focus; porn is rarely spoken about without people being divided in to the camps ‘sex positive’ and ‘sex negative’ and I like that you don’t engage in that binary discourse. Tell me a bit what you’ve done since being at King’s and what sorts of things you envisage yourself making in the future.
I’ve made ’31’ since being at Kings and also filmed for my new film GREY, which experiments with gender and the concept of androgyny. That’s currently in post-production. Here is a still from it:
In the future, I wish to make films that represent women and LGBTQ people and other oppressed groups more realistically – with emphasis not being on their sexual and gendered identities but on their storyline in the film, i.e a film with a lesbian protagonist, where the plot is nothing to do with her sexuality.
Sounds important! Finally, before we finish, can you tell me about the difference between working collaboratively and working individually. Are you open to new people approaching you with new film concepts or opportunities?
I love both equally but for different reasons. Working collaboratively is fun and helps you see in a different light – I often get tunnel vision when filmmaking by myself. However, working on my own is, in a way, less pressurising as I can work in my own time, and I can do exactly what I want without anyone telling me otherwise. I can get too addicted to this kind of work, and very isolated, but I guess it’s more raw when I work completely alone? Both are great and I want to continue doing both. I neglected my own work a bit for ‘Church and Other Dirty Words’ so I’m excited to get back into that. I would be open to new ideas and collaborations and definitely helping people out though! I’m quite interested in taking a back seat regarding filming / directing / editing with collabs and would rather focus on performing / modelling for others at the moment.
Fab! Thank you Sian! Speak soon.
For more information, check out Sian’s website: https://sianalexandrawilliams.com
You can also follow her on instagram: @gingersiany
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