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Meet: Ashley Joiner

Still from Are You Proud
Still from Are You Proud

Written by
Maria Ryan
Published date
28 February 2020

We met with Ashley Joiner, Central Saint Martins graduate and director of inspiring and informative documentary Are You Proud? The film covers the history of the LGBTQ+ movement in the fifty years since the Stonewall Riots. Reflecting upon prominent issues within the LGBTQ+ community like AIDs and hate crimes, the film also shows how the movement has supported people from all walks of life.

ARE YOU PROUD? - Trailer - Documentary about LGBTQ+ Pride Protests and Marches

How did the film project come about?

Five years ago I was dating somebody whose mum is a lesbian. She once asked me if I was going to Pride and I responded with a resounding ‘no’. The reason I didn’t go was because I didn’t have an attachment to it - I really rejected it at the time. Her response to this was ‘ you don’t know your history’. So I started on a small research journey, really just to appease my then boyfriend’s mum. And the more I researched, the angrier I got. I learnt about Section 28, which I had known nothing about. I was so angered by the fact that I was being oppressed as a child – because school was very painful for me, and I think a lot of that was due to that piece of legislation. I started to realise that many people my age also didn’t know what section 28 was. So that really was the catapult for starting the film. I researched, wrote, proposed and tried to get funding for two years, but to no avail.  Then there was the shooting in Orlando. There was a huge vigil in Soho planned in response to this, and somebody that I had reached out to previously for funding got in touch and told me if I could get to the vigil that day, they would give me some seed funding. So I stole a camera and a crew from work and we ran there, and that turned into the first day of filming.

Gay Pride March, 1982
Gay Pride March, 1982

What were your experiences making the film? What difficulties did you have to overcome?

Before I started, everyone said ‘don’t start making a film without funding’, but that is what I did. Even though I did get that small bit of seed funding, it didn’t stretch very far. There were many personal sacrifices that I had to make, including investing my own money.

I made two versions of the film. The first I made by myself, I did all of the producing, directing and editing, and I sourced all of the archives. Everything happened in my bedroom, and I made it on pretty much no money whatsoever. That version got in to BFI Flare in 2017, and it was from there that I was able to build a team. We used that version as a work in progress screening, so that the community could contribute their thoughts and ideas. From that platform we managed to raise more money, and it developed in to the film that exists now. I am really thankful for that process – I essentially had two chances to make my first feature film.

I had never made a film when I graduated from CSM in 2011. After I graduated, I really rejected the art world, and I felt like I needed to learn a skill. So I taught myself how to edit. I volunteered at a small production company in New York, living on the sofa in their office. They taught me the basics and then I went off and taught myself. I made lots of terrible fashion films and music videos, but at the same time I was building my edit portfolio. That became my bread and butter in my early twenties – editing commercials for Nike and music videos for M.I.A at a very early age.

What are your plans for the future?

I have plans to make more documentaries and a scripted drama. I am also setting up a charity to support queer artists, which is my main focus at the moment. One of the things I learnt whilst making Are You Proud? was that change only happens when someone identifies a need and goes about actioning it. This is my action. I have identified that there a huge number of artists in London that don’t have access to studios and shows, but more than that, there is no place for them to meet, socialise, connect and collaborate. I am working to create a permanent space for queer artists where all of those things can happen.

The charity is called Queer circle and you can follow them on Instagram @queercircle

Still from Are you Proud

What advice would you give to any queer artists out there who are struggling to find their place in the world?

Stay true to who you are and what you want to say. The reason that I got so lost was because I started making work that wasn’t for me, it was what I thought was fashionable. I had an interest in fashion and I knew I wanted to make films, so I started making fashion films to try and impress people like Dazed and ID. But my work never got featured because it wasn’t good enough, and that was because I didn’t truly care. Things only started changing when I really started to trust in what I wanted to say. People can tell when you are being genuine.

This film wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the community – they really rallied behind me – whether that’s by financially supporting me, offering me advice and guidance, rallying other financial contributors and connecting me –it’s really reflective of the movement itself which is driven by people, and the film is very much that too. I am very proud of that.

Buy a copy of Are You Proud? from Amazon today!