I was privileged to be invited to the premiere screening of a film made as part of the ‘Out On An Island’ project – not strictly ‘theatre’, but starring some amazing Island performers, and well worth seeing, not just for the talented presenters but for the wealth of Island history – and some gorgeous views of several corners of the Wight.
The project itself was conceived by Caroline Diamond and Franko Figueiredo in 2018 and officially launched in June 2019: its original remit was to collect and collate personal and social histories of Island folk with an LGBTQ+ focus. Standard history books and lessons tend to leave out either the people themselves or at least the personal lives of historical figures who did not conform to gender norms – after all, homosexual activity was illegal up to the 1960s so it was hardly likely to be celebrated in official social histories. Even up to recent times then, the LGBTQ+ community have had few if any positive role models from history, and have been deprived of a space to tell their own story.
So interviewers set out across the Island to speak to brave gay, trans, non-binary etc people who were prepared – and in most cases wanted – to relate their experiences of growing up and living on the Isle of Wight. The intention was to open an exhibition around March 2020….and we all know what happened there.
Nothing daunted, Caroline and Franko turned their attention to film, hence this hour-long documentary entitled ‘Our Stories Matter’. A team of presenters, themselves Islanders, take us to parts of the Island connected with famous people who did not conform to the norms of their times, and were by turns vilified, celebrated or just ignored.
Quite apart from learning some fascinating history, I was struck by the beauty of our Island, even when filming in December – several times I privately made a mental note of another place to visit. And while I thought I knew a lot about the Island, I learned so much. I’ve always loved Oscar Wilde’s work – I never realised he had a connection to Ryde! I had heard the name Marion ‘Joe’ Carstairs but had no idea how interesting – and dangerous – a life she led. And I have to confess I had never heard of Seely and Paget. Nor had I picked up on the connection between Julia Margaret Cameron and Virginia Woolf. And I discovered a poet I had never even heard of who was born in the very town where I live.
The variety of presenters, each one articulate, confident, professional and engaging, the skilful editing of the footage and the interesting material all combines to give an engaging and hugely enjoyable audience experience.
The film will be opening soon for five screenings (19th and 24th June; 3rd, 7th and 17th July), and one is already sold out, so my advice is to get your tickets quickly. Pre-booking is required as numbers are of course currently limited: they are available on a ‘pay what you can’ donation basis, from https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/out-on-an-island-our-stories-matter-documentary-film-tickets-155838299549
Further information is available on Out On An Island’s Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/OutOnAnIslandIW/ where you can also find out about the forthcoming exhibition, ‘An Untold Heritage’ at Quay Arts, which runs from 19th June to 18th July, featuring some of the original project interviews along with information about LGBTQ+ historic events and memorabilia connected with the Island. The exhibition is free to visit but again must be booked in advance via the Facebook page above.