England, 1988 – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government are about to pass a law stigmatising gays and lesbians, forcing Jean, a PE teacher, to live a double life. As pressure mounts from all sides, the arrival of a new girl at school catalyses a crisis that will challenge Jean to her core. BAFTA Nominated for Outstanding British Debut for writer-director Georgia Oakley and producer Hélène Sifre.
BLUE JEAN. In Cinemas February 10, with nationwide Q&A previews from February 6.
Jean, a PE teacher is forced to live a double life. When a new student arrives and threatens to expose her, Jean is pushed to extreme lengths to keep her job and her integrity.
More info and screenings here www.altitude.film
Screen Daily reports – In 1988, and using a washing line picked up at a market in Clapham, south London, a group of lesbian activists abseiled from the public gallery into the House of Lords in the UK’s Parliament. They were protesting Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which had just been approved as law, heaved through by prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. Section 28 aimed to stop councils and schools “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
In that same year, filmmaker Georgia Oakley was born in Oxfordshire. Almost three decades later, she would stumble on the act of bravery from the 1988 activists when scrolling for inspiration for her debut feature. “I was blindly looking for ideas on the internet. I hadn’t heard of Section 28 before,” says Oakley.
The filmmaker had already cut her teeth on a series of low-budget, under-the-radar shorts while working at a commercials company to keep money flowing in. Her breakthrough came when short Little Bird premiered at Tribeca in 2017, which she made for $35,000 (£30,000) thanks to crowdfunding and was headlined by Imelda Staunton.
A place on the 2017 edition of the British Film Institute (BFI) Flare mentorship programme — a scheme for emerging LGBTQ+ filmmakers — followed, as did meetings with Film4 and BBC Film.
During her first conversation with Eva Yates, then commissioner and now director of BBC Film, Oakley’s pitch of feature ideas fell flat. “I was going through everything and she was pushing them aside,” Oakley remembers. “I thought, ‘Shit, this is my chance, what should I say?’” She spilled out a Section 28 idea. “Eva said, ‘That’s your story.’”
With two weeks to go until the deadline for the development funding scheme iFeatures, Oakley embarked on a whirlwind road trip with producing partner Hélène Sifre of Kleio Films. Oakley had been introduced to the London-based French producer by a mutual friend earlier in 2017, and the two had agreed to work together on their first features.
They travelled north to Newcastle, meeting women who had been affected by Section 28. “I could tell by speaking to these women that no-one had ever given them the time of day,” says Oakley. “They’d been on these personal battles with their own history through their whole lives.”
Oakley was familiar with Newcastle having attended university in the city. “I didn’t want to set [the film] in Manchester, because that was the queer capital at the time,” she notes. “I wanted a place with a queer scene that wasn’t quite as on-the-map as Manchester or London.”
Their feature was developed with the support of iFeatures and BBC Film (Oakley is now working on a new script idea with the funder, set in the US). After a first attempt to secure BFI funding was met with a rejection and several script notes, they resubmitted in February 2021 and were accepted for production funding in April 2021. The six-week Newcastle shoot took place in February and March 2022. UK sales agent Film Constellation came on board and, following a premiere at Venice, sold the title successfully around the world. Altitude is releasing in the UK in February 2023.
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