Christopher Amos: How Peter Tatchell brought Human Rights to the Mainstream

Christopher Amos’ documentary Hating Peter Tatchell tells the true story of how one man defies critics to create change and bring human rights issues into the mainstream, with LGBTQ icon Sir Ian McKellen serving as a narrator.  We arranged an interview with Mr. Amos to discuss the project and learn more about Tatchell’s story.

How did you first meet Peter Tatchell?
When I first arrived in London I was aware of Peter because he was making headlines outing bishops and attempting a citizens arrest on Robert Mugabe! I can’t actually pinpoint the first time I met Peter but I do remember hanging out with him at Birmingham Pride and there were launch parties pretty much every day of the week in London at that point so our paths crossed quite a few times. I was fascinated by Peter as he was from Australia too. The National Portrait Gallery had an exhibition of well known Australians and Peter’s portrait was included in this. I was thrilled to see this. Then in 2001, I became the editor of Bent Magazine and naturally I had to give Peter a monthly column because he always has something important to say.

Were there any issues you faced when filming?
A lot of the film will be from archives and rare footage I am uncovering. However, I have a big list of people I would like to interview. This will be the greatest challenge to get people on record discussing their thoughts on Peter. Some of them have come around to appreciating Peter, some haven’t. I am an investigative person by nature and love a challenge. I am very much looking forward to spending the next few months tracking down these people and filming these interviews.

What plans do you have on distributing the film? Are you aiming for a theatrical release?
The film will hopefully play in film festivals around the world. It is getting harder for independent films to get a theatrical release especially documentaries. So if we can win some awards perhaps we stand a chance. I would like to organize a UK screening tour, if Peter is willing, where people can watch the film and participate in a Q&A with Peter. Most people will get to watch this film via TV and Video on Demand I expect but I want them to be watching a feature length film not a TV special on Peter.

Director Chris Amos with Peter Tatchell.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I am working on a narrative feature film titled Dancing Queens, set in the world of same-sex ballroom dancing. Basically a film with a forbidden dance theme like Footloose, Dirty Dancing and Flashdance but set in a contemporary setting. There is also another feature length documentary in development about the New Romantic scene in the early 80s. This will be my third counter culture documentary set in London and in a way will form a trilogy with this Hating Peter Tatchell doc and Dressed as a Girl from last year.

Would you like to say something about your other projects, “Dressed As a Girl” or “Dancing Queens?”

Dressed as a Girl was an amazing experience. It was introduction to the business side of the industry. This is now on Netflix in the UK and we are hoping its success here will see Netflix roll it out in other countries. Documentaries are quite difficult to find audiences. There is a lot of media content out there now but Dressed as a Girl has managed to break out from East London. Sharing the inspirational story of the six performers filmed over six years is something that had to be captured, a significant moment in British culture.
First of all, why do you feel it’s so important to make this film?

When I first met Peter Tatchell 16 years ago I admired his point of view and his common sense. Also his dedication to campaign work for human rights all around the world not just in the UK. The passion is incredible. I have come to appreciate firsthand Peter’s eccentricities, his meticulous organizational detail and bravery defending human rights. But despite his efforts, he has come under severe criticism. He is the person who for decades the media and critics loved to hate. Through this documentary, audiences will have the chance to meet the real man and hear the true story. Peter grew up in Australia in a family dominated by church life, he is an Australian legend, someone who never gives up for what he believes in. Really Peter epitomizes what it is to be an ‘Aussie battler’. He has based himself in London to achieve his ambitions. In doing so he has been able to give himself a far reaching platform to speak out against human rights. I think audiences will be inspired by his life.

Why is the film titled Hating Peter Tatchell?

I don’t want this film to just glorify and praise Peter’s work. I will be showing this film through the eyes of people who have criticized Peter over the past fifty years. I want to see how they were effected by Peter’s direct action campaigns and see what their opinions are now in hindsight. I don’t know if this will be a negative or positive response but as a documentary filmmaker I am hoping audiences will be more engaged to see how his opponents justify their viewpoints on the hot topics.

What impact do you think this film will have on the LGBTIQ community and the community as a whole?

The best documentaries are ones that make you feel something, that make you want to do something. If by sharing Peter’s life story, this inspires people to go out and campaign for something they believe in, to go and fight injustice then I will have made the film I wanted. Peter is a shining example of how one person can make the world a better place. Also I want to show audiences how Peter’s campaigns have affected people. At the time many were upset by his Easter sermon protest but you know what, it made the Church of England think about their position on LGBT issues and brought them to the negotiation table. The list of causes he has helped move forward is considerable.

Why do you think Peter Tatchell was subject to hate for so long, and why has that perception now changed?

Society is usually unkind to those who shake up the status quo. People are afraid of change. Also in Peter’s case, he makes people have to think about their own views on human rights issues. Sometimes facing ugly truths can be a terrible shaming. A lot of people feel his direct action tactics are a step too far, too confrontational. But Peter is actually one of the most peaceful people I have met. He is non-violent and uses words not weapons to make his point. He has spoken out for human rights abuses when others have stayed silent. Next year he will have been doing this for 50 years! It is hard to not respect someone who has given their life to righting wrongs in society, even if you do have a different opinion.

Peter Tatchell and Ian McKellen

How did it come about getting Sir Ian McKellen on board?

Peter has a lot of celebrity supporters including Sir Ian McKellen who is a patron of the Peter Tatchell Foundation and he himself is a longstanding human rights activist and supported many campaigns. Having Sir Ian narrate this film will hopefully help the documentary reach audiences who might not have wanted to watch this film. Hopefully when they do watch, they will see the admirable qualities that Sir Ian and I both see in Peter.

How different have you found the LGBT culture in London compared to Australia where you and Peter both grew up.

I was a child growing up in a small town Australian town Rockhampton in the 80s and our family were friends with lesbian families. At first, growing up, I was unaware of any stigma. By the time I was 12 years old, in grade 8 at school, I started to realize I was gay. The other children at school were starting to tweak too. I was bullied by them, name calling mainly and excluded from peer groups. The pressure made me beg to leave Rockhampton to go to boarding school in Brisbane instead. Which didn’t really help matters as I was bullied there too! My nickname was “Gaymos”. It is hard growing up in Australia as a gay person. Especially when the government does not give the community the equal rights which basically tells bigots that we are not equal to the straight community. When I meet people overseas they are surprised to hear me tell them how homophobic Australia is as they perceive it to be a very liberal society. London on the other hand, draws a lot of gay people to live here because they can be accepted and integrate much more easily. In fact, we are celebrated here.

How will the documentary be made?

I am going to tell Peter’s story chronologically using archive footage, photos, news reports, music, what every media I can get my hands on to tell this narrative for the that particular period of time in the film. This will be intercut with exclusive interviews with people who were involved at that point in Peter’s life. I will hold back using footage of Peter as he is today until the final act of the film. I want people watching the film to see Peter grow up on screen in a narrative way, so they follow his life. Each moment in his life, impacts on the next. I am a big fan of the Seven Up! films and in a way, this film will be similar storytelling. Given how much excitement has surrounded Peter’s life and the events he has been a part of, I expect audiences will be glued to their seats.

Why do you want to make the documentary now and why crowdfund this film?

In 2017, Peter will have been campaigning for human rights for fifty years. This is a milestone that needs to be acknowledged. It is also timely because showing how much has been achieved in the past fifty years, we can all have hope that even more injustices will be put right over the next fifty years. Especially at a time like now, when it sometimes feel like we are going backwards when caring about human rights, we need to be reminded this is a fight that never ends and that through persistence and people like Peter Tatchell there is hope. The crowdfunding campaign partly funds the film and gives the public a chance to participate in the filmmaking and support this documentary.

If you wish to pledge to help make the film this must be done by 12 October 2016 here is the link:

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