Behind ‘The Bower’, a poetic short film on queer life
Director Marco Alessi and award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell discuss the legacy of Derek Jarman, HIV and their fruitful collaboration
Monday 26 September 2022 By Soho House
In the pantheon of queer pop culture, British director, author and activist Derek Jarman is certainly no less than a saint, and his house and garden in Dungeness, Kent is a site of pilgrimage. In 1991, Jarman was canonised by a group of queer nuns named Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – political activists drawing attention to the HIV and AIDs epidemic, advocating for LGBTQIA+ equality. This beautiful chapter in British queer history has become the foundation for Marco Alessi’s short film The Bower, and documentary, Saintmaking, in which they both feature.
The Bower takes place in Dungeness over the course of 30 years. Set in 1991, it follows a young man living with HIV, who takes his friend Terri to the Kentish town, where they witness Derek Jarman being pronounced as a queer saint. Thirty years later, Terri repeats the journey with a young employee as he struggles with a recent diagnosis of his own.
For the film, Alessi collaborated with legendary costume designer Sandy Powell, who worked on notable films such as Carol and The Young Victoria, and has 15 Academy Awards nominations, including three wins under her belt. It’s not the first time Powell and Jarman have teamed up – they previously joined forces on his films Caravaggio and The Last Of England. Powell also made the original gold gown that Jarman wore in his queer saint ceremony, which was recreated for The Bower.
Ahead of the short film’s screenings in the UK, which will take place at Soho Farmhouse, White City House and Soho House 76 Dean Street this week, Powell and Alessi (who is a prolific Soho House Under 27 member) sat down to discuss the costume designer’s friendship with Jarman, HIV, queer histories and their collaboration in a one-off Soho House podcast episode, available to listen to now.
The Bower is screening at Soho Farmhouse on Monday 3rd October (with a special Q&A with Sandy Powell), on Wednesday 28 September at White City House, and on Sunday 2 October at Soho House 76 Dean Street. Please book via the SH.APP.