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Director Walter Martyn Cabell advises aspiring filmmakers to “get their hands dirty, and be fearless”

By Nikos Papanikolaou

Filmmaker and director Walter Martyn Cabell grew up with horror movies and adult comics. While growing up, Cabell set his sights on painting, drawing and filmmaking. His film ‘Blanche Dumas from B to Z’, included in the film anthology ‘Grindsploitaiton 3: Video Nasty’, introduced the character of Blanche Dumas, and her further adventures are detailed in the screenplay “Scream Queen”. The script won Best Screenplay (Comedy) at Famous Monsters of Filmland/Silver Scream Festival 2018 and Best International Feature Length Screenplay at the Houston Comedy Film Festival 2019.

Cabell always had an interest in films as far as he can remember. His father was a journalist who used to write for The Hollywood Reporter, and his mother was running a small hotel that catered to impoverished aristocrats and starlets on the rise.

“At one point, the mother in law of what would later become a very prominent British production designer was among our resident guests. So you could say that I existed in a film adjacent universe, rife with delusion and possibilities,” Cabell says.

Photo by Walter Martyn Cabell

Being a director was not a childhood dream for Cabell, as many other directors would say about themselves. It was mainly escapism long before it became a viable form of self-expression. Some of the movies that fuelled his imagination very early were ‘Little Big Man’ and ‘Cabaret’.

“My parents saw no harm in exposing me to Native American promiscuity and the debauchery of Weimar’s Berlin. All I can tell you is that those films surely planted the seed for my later appreciation of Ken Russell’s The Devils’ and John Waters’ ‘Pink Flamingos’. I did not have enough talent to be the next Egon Schiele. But John Waters? That seemed more within my reach. I mean, he’s the pope of filth; I am from Rome, I grew up within earshot from the Vatican, you do the math,” Cabell explains.

Photo by Walter Martyn Cabell

For Cabell, any filmmaker that sets out to make a cult movie sets out for failure. “Cult,” he says “, is not a genre, but a status”. He advises aspiring independent filmmakers to “cut the crap, stop daydreaming, get their hands dirty, and be fearless”.

Apart from the movies, Cabell loves to create queer collages, and many of them can be characterised as shocking and twisted. Is that his way to go against homophobia and toxic masculinity? “It’s possible,” he says.

“I am an ancient Roman ruin, minus the stench of cat urine. You see, I grew up at a very different age. I was nine years old when the poet filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered; I still remember people saying things like: “He (Pasolini) had it coming.” And those were the nice, civilised folks. That is to say, I was raised in a society rife with homophobia and misogyny. And a deeply rooted hatred for all things feminine is the core and fuel of every homophobe’s reveries,” he adds.

Photo by Walter Martyn Cabell

Cabell believes that there will be a need for stories to be told as long as there are human beings. He thinks that streaming services are a place to provide diversification and inclusivity of content, something that was unthinkable a few years back. That is the reason why the amount of queer content has multiplied exponentially.

“Think of Opera. It used to be a prevalent form of entertainment across all layers of society. That’s until feature films became the next hot thing. Has Opera died? No, it simply survives as entertainment for the elites and the initiated. I am actually very optimistic about the future and the opportunities for young and independent filmmakers,” he explains.

Photo by Walter Martyn Cabell

And what about Brexit and the pandemic? How will it affect the arts across the UK? How will the arts survive? Cabell understands that survival has always been difficult for any artist, especially when you do not aspire to direct the next big studio movie franchise. As for Brexit? It will complicate things, but for him, “a true artist does not take no for an answer”.

A native of Rome himself, if he could make British people adopt two Italian habits, these would be idleness and speak their own mind. The first one thinks that it is a fundamental part of the creative process. The second one helps people keep their blood pressure in check, preventing deep sediments of resentment. Also, an occasional afternoon siesta will do no harm.

For many, moviemaking is all about glory and money. For some others, it is a way of life, a way to express their true selves. And through their work, people who didn’t have a voice found one. And it is getting louder. Is there anything more artistic and powerful than that?