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Scottish BAFTA winner Sean Lionadh on the fight for LGBTQ+ rights

By Rory Mullen

Writer Rory speaks with the Glasgow-based filmmaker and poet.

Sean Lionadh, or to some, just Lionadh, has been doing the rounds of accolades and awards on the British cultural scene. He and his team have been awarded a Scottish BAFTA, a BIFA, and a seemingly endless number of awards and nominations in the international film scene, for his short film: Too Rough. Both 24, gay, Glaswegian, and raised in the context of the many social issues in the West of Scotland that feature heavily in his work, I sat down with Sean to discuss his achievements and next steps.

In 2018, in partnership with BBC Scotland, Sean released his first short film, Time For Love. His oeuvre also includes musical offerings, heading up the band LÌONADH, and he has been writing poems for many years, sharing them in poetic open mic fora around Glasgow, such as Inn Deep, as well as textually in Not Normal Anymore, published by Speculative Books. In charting the fons et origo of his trajectory towards success, I ask him if he had any inclination as to the kind of impact this would have, how well it would percolate, and how well it would carry him to future success. Bashfully, he replies, he has always been focused on the story itself. Scaling it up and reaching millions, as his foray into short films did some four years ago, is a premium on shining a light onto the shameful holdover of institutional and societal homophobia that remains virulent in Glasgow, and the backdrop against which so many Scottish men are reared: “I was hoping I’d be a little further on (for example being able to afford a rug), but if I really try to overcome relentless feelings of inadequacy, I do feel proud that I’ve worked to where I am now.”

Precariously, Sean’s work endeavours towards a future in Scotland which has been unspoken and unspeakable; that homophobia is no longer, and the vile religious and fanatical dismissal of an entire diaspora is overcome, exacting attitudinal change. Transgression, Sean agrees, seems central to much of his work. Referring to himself as “a fired choir boy”, and eliciting disquiet from various flavours of Christianity, is quite the path to tread for a young artist. Though there is the granular (and important) Glasgow context, his work transcends far beyond it. I wonder how Sean reconciles the distinctly Scottish premise of his short films, and the resonance of his work across the globe. Without indulging the ego too much, I get a wry smile on zoom that attests to his part in this battle for LGBTQ+ rights: “Storytelling is one of the best ways I can see to share this feeling, as I think empathy is the fuel on which a story runs. In saying that, I don’t quite understand how nearly every story we can hear promotes empathy, and yet people still vote Conservative en masse.”

Implicitly, from his own experiences, and from the many others reflected in his work, Sean knows only too well the difficulty of growing up gay. Add Glasgow, alcohol and other social ills to that: you have happy bedfellows indeed. Sean’s latest offering, Too Rough, which in rapid succession claimed a Scottish BAFTA and BIFA, signals the resonance of these issues in modern Scotland and Britain. After a night of heavy drinking, Nick (Ruaridh Mollica) awakens next to Charlie (Joshua Griffin). As a director, Lionadh captures perfectly the indefatigable sense of shame that accompanies so many gay livelihoods in Glasgow; the divided duty between family appeasement and personal happiness that rends many souls in two. The intolerance and alcoholism of Nick’s family wade in as, like Anne Frank, his inamorato is hidden.

Recently played at a showcase of Scottish short films at the GFT, I ask Sean whether this success will keep him on his toes (Douglas Stuart seems to continue to pump out more of the same gay/poverty fuelled narratives). Sean assures me that his next short will be a Horror, and his creative agility remains despite these recent successes. He recalls the many influences and sources of inspiration that have fed into all that he has hitherto achieved: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Florence and the Machine and Patti Smith clearly inspire the sense of humanity that only a true poet can discern.

Sean’s music also retains a grip on his focus. His debut EP robustly engages with many of the social issues outlined, infusing his poetic gumption into a musical militancy against the British government. Recalling the banalities of personal injury claims adverts, Sean belts out: “Did you have an accident? That wasn’t your fault? Cause I did. It’s called Britain every morning…”

Fiercely political and spirited, Sean is one to watch. At 24, he’s pulled off more than most, but he won’t be effing off to America anytime soon, nor leaving the fight. Glasgow’s acclaimed voice for the working classes, the dispossessed and the other may reside in New York right now, but Sean’s work shows there is talent much closer to home.


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