Photo: Ed Sykes
The Bower is a short film about queer intergenerational friendship and the legacy of HIV. It shines a light on the continued stigma around the virus in spite of the tremendous medical advances of today, and offers a magical glimpse at a significant moment in the UK's queer history through a powerfully intimate, character-led story.
Interweaving two timelines in 1991 and 2021, The Bower follows Treasa, a florist, on two pilgrimages to Prospect Cottage: the home of iconic queer filmmaker Derek Jarman in Dungeness, Kent.
In 1991 she is taken by her friend Seb to witness Jarman’s canonisation by the London House of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a queer protest group of gay male nuns. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet day of celebration and queer community in the shadow of grief as Seb, like Jarman, battles with the ticking bomb of an HIV diagnosis.
2021. Thirty years later, Treasa closes her flower shop early one day to repeat the trip in Seb’s memory. When a young employee, Jude, unexpectedly turns up to work, confused and in shock from a recent diagnosis of his own, she takes him with her in the hope that Dungeness will provide a restorative sanctuary for him too.
The Story So Far
The Bower is a passion project that our award-winning director, Marco Alessi, has been percolating for nearly two years. The idea emerged fairly organically from a love of Derek Jarman, whose films and books were a watershed for Marco both as an artist and queer person. The fictional characters of The Bower are inspired by some of Marco's dearest friends and mentors, as well as a number of people living with HIV who generously spoke with him about their experiences living with the virus today and the huge burden of the stigma and ignorance around it.
The legendary actor and queer icon Alan Cumming has enthusiastically jumped on board to play Derek Jarman. The Oscar-winning costume designer, Sandy Powell (The Favourite, The Irishman, Orlando), a close friend and collaborator of Jarman's, has joined us as a creative producer and will help us recreate the golden gown Jarman wore for the ceremony. Sandy made the original for Jarman's Edward II. The London House of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the group of Sisters who originally canonised Jarman, are helping us to get their story right and feature among the "gathered faithful" in our recreation.
In a big vote of confidence, the BFI has awarded us the top end of what they contribute towards short films: £14,000, and an indie production company has given us another £1ooo.
We need a budget of at least £30,000 to make The Bower, and £35,000 to make it comfortably. So we need your help to raise the final £15,000 - £20,000 by the end of May to make it a reality.
Photo: Ed Sykes
And then what?
We have big plans! The 22nd of September 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the canonisation. We plan to make a lot of noise about it, get some lovely press coverage, and have a screening of the film to celebrate (more on that in the Rewards) before launching onto the international film festival circuit.
Our past short films have a great track record, screening and winning awards at international festivals including the Berlinale, the London Film Festival and even receiving a BAFTA nomination at the 2020 TV BAFTAs. This is our last short before setting our sights on feature-length work, so we're going to aim for the moon.
We're also building in ways for the film to have a social impact and provide an opening to discuss and promote awareness surrounding HIV today. Films and TV about HIV/AIDS tend to focus exclusively on the past. As a result they often compound the misunderstanding for many that HIV means death and tragedy. It doesn't. We want to present an up-to-date narrative that contributes to the awareness we need now around the virus, while still paying respect to the past.
We've partnered with The Food Chain, an HIV charity that is very close to our hearts. We plan to incorporate some information from them at the start of the credits, and consult with them to ensure the messaging at the core of the film is productive and impactful. Then we'll do everything we can to get it seen and discussed as widely as possible.