Years after the death of one of her mothers, Beth Tweedy-Bell (Jane Watt) languishes at her family home with her surviving mother Ruth, unlike her three siblings who have long moved away. On the eve of Ruth’s sixtieth birthday and after a vivid dream, a vision entices Beth out onto the property, where she discovers a greenhouse that sends her into the past; where her mother Lillian is alive and a younger Beth is trying to deal with her own burgeoning sexuality. As her siblings and a past love return home, tempers flare and Beth’s retreats to the greenhouse are discovered. But as the fractured family begins searching for what they’ve lost, an unexpected decision will change not just their past, but also their future.
Starring Jane Watt, Camilla Ah Kin and Rhondda Findleton, The Greenhouse (2020), which was part of the BFI Flare this year, explores several notions of the human condition, including love, grief and estrangement. The film premiered on Bohemia Euphoria on the 22nd of June and was followed by a live Q&A with the film’s writer/ director Thomas Wilton-White, producer Lizzie Cater and host Annie Wade Smith.
In the exclusive, Thomas and Lizzie spoke about the challenges of getting an LGBTQ+ film, or any film about marginalised communities, greenlit in their home country Australia. Their mission when making The Greenhouse was to empower the LGBTQ+ community, telling a powerful story of familial and queer love and more importantly, portraying them both as valid. The writer/ director recalls seeing very few films growing up that “captured the complexity” of growing up in a “rainbow family” like his; with two mothers (Amanda and Polly) and queer siblings, just like there are in the film. With his original ambition being to showcase the story of four queer siblings, he ended up cutting down to two out of the four, drawing from his lived experiences as a queer man himself. Beth, though not outwardly comfortable with her sexuality is a lesbian and her brother Andrew is gay.
Breaking stigmas and barriers is of great importance to Thomas, who believes that a queer Marvel film for example would be a “raging success”. He understands that for the LGBTQ+ community, real systemic and cultural changes arise when there is diversity and representation in high positions of power, from lawmakers to filmmakers. “Making sure the people who are helming the projects, who have veto power, who have creative control are LGBTQIA+ people who can pull from their own experiences and who are trusted to do so”. From a producorial perspective, Lizzie highlights the need for bigger budgets to allow for as many mainstream LGBTQ+ films as there are indie films.
All three panellists have experienced the loss of a parent, connecting deeply to one of the film’s most prominent themes. Annie shared that like Thomas, many of her personal relationships suffered in the aftermath of her loss. “Because grief is so taboo even still (to talk about it), it means that when we experience grief we’re totally lost. We don’t know what to do with it and we have a lot of these emotions that we have no idea what we’re doing… Certain things are socially acceptable in terms of processing grief, like crying and the rest that comes with it is not even touched.” She appreciated Thomas and Lizzie’s choice to include “anger and pain” in the film’s “interrogation of grief”, especially towards the third act rather than only focusing on “sadness”, “melancholy” and “reflection” as is typical of the industry.
Harmful stereotypes and comments about the LGBTQ+ community often lead to distressing situations. For example, Thomas revealed that for a while: “I didn’t want to come out because I didn’t want to confirm to everybody that lesbians raise queers.” Though it should have been easier to come out of the closet and celebrate his sexuality having queer parents, queerphobia and concern for what other people would think affected his willingness to stay true to himself. This is also seen in the film as a struggle Beth has to deal with. Lizzie also shared that she has “a bit of imposter syndrome” because she “came out quite later in life even though” she’d “always kind of known it”. “I hadn’t claimed it until really recently. Even when we were shooting the film I sort of sold myself as more of an ally as opposed to being part of the community.”
Aside from acceptance, one of the key lessons The Greenhouse teaches us is that as comforting as holding on to the past may be, “particularly with grief”, it is not somewhere you can stay for long and it is always healthier to live in the present, preparing for the future. “You have to face forward and you have to look into the future… Start planning again and living again”. You can watch The Greenhouse online on Bohemia Euphoria. The live q&a is also available to stream alongside the drama fantasy film.
Read about inspiring LGBTQ+ figures in film here.