In the ‘About’ section of his production company’s website, filmmaker David Hastings wrote that “he loves making films for the simple joy of it rather than the red carpets or the showbiz glitter and that he’s passionate about creating and developing films that can bring people together and allow them to appreciate the world through a lens.” It’d be too easy to dismiss the idealism of an emerging talent with cynicism but upon watching Grid – his latest, heartfelt, short film – and after chatting with him on Skype, it’s evident how this promising, young British filmmaker actually embodies his mission statement.
Based in the Midlands, just off of Birmingham, Hastings studied Film Theory and Production at Manchester Met University, although he immersed himself into filmmaking from an early age. He grew up with horror films, which hugely affected his imagination, especially the Hammer ones, but he has developed a versatile taste in all sorts of storytelling: “I love horror films – they are a guilty pleasure to me – but I do love dramas as well. I grew up with films like ‘The Remains of the Day’ and I’m kind of a sucker for a good love story too, so I want to do as much diverse stuff as possible because it widens your scope as a filmmaker and shows what you can do.”
In 2007 the young filmmaker formed Lightbeam Productions and has been writing, directing and producing numerous projects within a wide range of genres ever since – his short Halloween Night Terror won best film at the Phoenix ComicCon Film Festival. In 2014 he worked on his first feature, Checking In, an anthology film he did with some filmmaker friends, which includes 5 stories set in a hotel over 24 hours, each one directed by a different filmmaker. It was Hastings’ first proper foray into LGBT characters as his story – the last one in the film – dealt with a guy who would indulge in gay one-night-stands whenever he’d go away for work, leaving his girlfriend behind.
Grid is a delicate piece of filmmaking set in the mid 80s during the AIDS crisis, back when doctors were still trying to figure out what the horrible virus was all about. Yet the stigma plaguing gay men as much as the disease itself had already started to get them ostracized by society. Albeit fictional, the short film is inspired by true stories that Hastings researched thoroughly: “I usually do a lot of research when I write my scripts and I certainly wanted to do justice to such a delicate subject and telling an intimate story within that period. I read a lot about the virus itself and what it does to people, which was horrific and upsetting to read and to see pictures of people whose lives were devastated by this dreadful illness, yet I wanted to make sure that my characters was portrayed authentically on screen.”
Hastings likes to find little known stories and being a gay man himself and a British filmmaker, he’s always been interested in the AIDS crisis and the fact it hasn’t really been addressed that often in British cinema: “Despite being a horrendous time, there are actually so many amazing stories that are full of hope and love, showing how people came together. The fact that many of these little stories had never seen the light of day really intrigued me and that’s why I thought it was a good idea to pursue for this short. I guess the British perspective was something else that interested me since we haven’t seen it represented so much over here and also trying to find something new to say about it and portray the time when the lack of information made it even more terrifying. I guess the first big newsworthy case in our country was Freddie Mercury and even then of course the press wasn’t being kind about it with AIDS having become a stigma and some sort of righteous punishment for homosexuality. I remember this advert about the illness in the 80s, which had a gravestone and a voiceover and was terrifying for 8 years old me. So I thought it was important to tell a story that would highlight how in such a difficult time there was still hope and love and solidarity out there.”
In Grid, the filmmaker follows a young female nurse (Charlie Clarke), who is assigned a night shift to care for a special patient whose peculiar condition has scared off her coworkers. Whilst getting debriefed on the case by the kind-hearted doctor (Ernest Vernon), who has the young man under his care, it becomes promptly clear to the viewer what mysterious virus the clueless doctor is talking about. It’s actually eerie to imagine what it must’ve felt like back in the day, when the merciless disease broke out, leaving everyone baffled about its nature. Our nurse though doesn’t seem the kind of person to get easily intimidated and if anything, her overwhelming empathy and altruistic spirit fills our heart with warmth as we see her tend to the ostracised patient (Steve Salt).
Hastings reveals how the source of inspiration for this character was an American woman called Ruth Coker Berks, otherwise known as “The Cemetery Angel” who back in the early 80s when the virus broke out, ended up caring for those patients who were disowned by their families and left to die: “She had no medical training but she would spend a lot of time with these men and become like a sister to them. She would even pay for their cremation and bury them in this little graveyard not far from where she lives and she basically became the only family they had left. I found that to be extremely moving and reading all about her and all these men’s stories hopefully helped my short to feel authentic. I actually was lucky enough to get in touch with Ruth and send her the script to get her approval before I even shot anything. She loved it and the other week, I showed her the finished film and she was overwhelmed by it and by the fact that I dedicated it to her. She said that we got the visuals right and that’s how she remembers her experiences, which of course meant the world to us since we partly based the film on her stories and we wanted to do right to the people that were lost and those who are still fighting today.”
There’s no denying the filmmaker has achieved his goal – Grid showcases his great sensibility at tackling such a challenging topic that despite the progress medicine has made, still is an open wound in the gay community and mankind in general. Speaking of how gay-themed cinema may eventually become an integral part of our cultural fabric, Hastings notes that it’s no easy task: “A film like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was fantastic and definitely opened the doors for LGBT issues to get more visibility but unfortunately, after the hype of the moment, I feel it all died down a bit and it went back to being alternative cinema.”
Meanwhile, speaking about what’s next on his slate, the filmmaker is currently in post-production on another anthology film, although a horror one this time, called The House Of Screaming Death, which is an homage to Hammer horror films and hopefully it should be out in the next few months. But he is also shooting another feature film at the moment, called Sustain and it’s about the repercussions of a crime when one of two brothers is murdered in a racial attack: “It’s a pretty diverse filmography because I don’t necessarily like sticking to one genre although you could say I’m intrigued by those kinds of stories about an event that disrupts a community or certain lives within that community and the repercussions of that and how people respond to such events. It was the same with ‘Grid’ in that respect as we see the repercussion of the virus and how people cope with it but since we tend to always hear the negative stories or stories about celebrities, I thought I’d rather focus on stories of hope and about everyday people with no resources.”
Given his passion, dedication and work ethic we have no doubt that David Hastings will keep making movies one way or another and we can only wish to hear his name alongside some major British talent as well.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Lightbeam Productions