We talked to artist Jamie Crewe about their relationship to filmmaking, classic horror movie tropes, and the violence of representation.
Can you tell us a bit about your art practice and how you got into filmmaking?
I did an art foundation course at Chesterfield College, which is where I made my first film, featuring me dressed in bad drag walking around a Derbyshire quarry at twilight. I then studied a BA in Contemporary Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University where I made more films: we used DV tapes, had access to 16mm and 8mm cameras (which I never used), and I made a few things with footage ripped from DVDs or YouTube.
I was glad to have an unspecialised art education — I was encouraged to draw, write, film, sculpt, or perform from the start of my artistic practice. However, except for practical instruction in editing software and hardware, I wasn’t taught to make films: working out filmic structures, narratives, and techniques has been a very jerry-rigged, roughshod thing for me.
I love this, though — challenging myself to make an animation, or a horror film, or some other genre of moving image from my amateurish position (helped by generous collaborators) really excites me, and makes work that limps and lurches rather than smoothly proceeding.
You play the main character of your film Ashley, and they experience distressing moments played out through some psychological horror tropes. Was your decision to be the only person depicted related to feelings about representing and embodying violence on screen?
Yes, it was, and I would add that I think representation in general is violence. Ashley was inspired by rural horror films and TV plays that I love, like ‘Baby’ from the series Beasts (ITV, 1976), in which the theme is pregnancy anxiety, or Robin Redbreast (BBC, 1970), in which the theme is reproductive rights, or ‘The Visitor’ from the series West Country Tales (BBC, 1982), in which the theme is single motherhood. All these stories use a contemporary experience of womanhood as a source of terror, and I wanted to pitch transfemininity among them.
In the tradition of the genre, I knew I wanted the film to be quite unforgiving to the main character: I wanted the camera to look at them piercingly, invasively, and I wanted to put this trans person through states of fear, vulnerability, and abjection. I wanted to make a violent representation of the violence of representation. I realised the only person I’d feel comfortable doing this to was myself.
I’m not an actor, so the film also became about my attempts to act, which I like: as the character of Ashley struggles to know and express what they are feeling, I am also struggling to channel those feelings and let something move through my body — for the sake of a viewer.
In your recorded artist talk PEOPLE HAVE COME you reflect on courting and avoiding publicness. Does your path to being seen and understood relate to a desire to be visible to certain people who you can join in community, or does anyone’s gaze create moments of tension for you?
I think community is always a speculation: it slips away as quickly as it comes, in schisms, departures, break-ups, and lapses in mutuality. I’ve wanted community so much, and felt so bereft of it at times, and yet I’ve also learned to fear it in certain ways, and learned of its limits.
When I court publicness — which might mean having exhibitions and screenings, sharing artworks, going on dating apps, or being candid in conversation with friends — it’s driven by a desire for connection: the possibility of being authentically seen and understood, of bonding and strengthening bonds, of being praised, and of being treated kindly. When I avoid publicness — which might be not leaving my flat, not doing interviews, deciding not to wear makeup on the street, or maybe even avoiding conflict with loved ones — it’s a preservative thing: an attempt at safety, at holding on to things.
What my practice allows me to do is explore both these impulses simultaneously: I try to make works that invite people in and push people out, that reveal things and hide other things, and so find ways to talk about that ambivalence. So yes, I want to be seen by certain people, and I want to think about the mystery of exactly who they are.
With your films often being shown in the context of artist moving image, does it feel different to be presenting a film and an artist talk in a specifically queer film context?
It does feel different! I’m quite tentative about moving into filmic contexts, as it’s not my aspiration to make a kind of shift to cinematic work (though I might make another cinematic film in the future).
I’m really happy to present this work as part of SQIFF, though: it feels great to work in a local context, in a specifically queer context, and in a context which pays close attention to accessibility. I think it’ll be a really nice way to show Ashley in a different way and to different audiences, but with the right kind of ethos, which not all filmic contexts offer.
Also showing my recorded artist’s talk PEOPLE HAVE COME will be interesting, because perhaps that’s a more unusual entry for a film festival. I’ll be intrigued to see how it works in this context — apart from anything else, I think it’s a nice companion piece to Ashley, and gives people a little introduction to my broader practice.
You can watch Jamie’s film Ashley and their recorded artist’s talk PEOPLE HAVE COME on our Vimeo on Demand from 5th-18th October, as well as their short film work as part of the programme Transdimensional Voices which has a live watch party on 17th October. Click here for more information.