Interview conducted by Leeds Beckett University Business School journalism student, Emilia Kettle. The Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett is the official education partner of the 2021 Harrogate Film Festival.
John Dower and Nathan Bell first met in 2013 when working together on ‘The Day After Stonewall Died’. A few years later the two kept in touch and one day Nathan asked John if he would be interested in documenting his upcoming tour of England, Wales and Scotland. At first, John was hesitant knowing that there would be no money, no crew and it would be his first documentary. But after a discussion with his wife, John knew he had to do it:
“I told my wife and she said, don't be stupid, don't be ridiculous. Nathan's great, just make it yourself, shoot it yourself, which is what I ended up doing, do the interviews yourself, just do it, you can get the record, you get the sound mixes from the mixing desk, it's not that difficult. And she was right, I mean, it was a lot of work, but it was possible. So, she’s the person who really kicked my ass and said do it”.
It wasn’t just John’s wife that convinced him to make the short film, part of his reasoning was down to Nathan’s personality and skills as a ‘brilliant performer’:
“Part of the reason I wanted to make the film is because I think he's brilliant. He's kind of old school and he's making music that feels old school. But my kids think he's cool and they're relatively young. They're in their 20s and they think he's quite cool. So I imagine there's something interesting about him as a performer”.
Although from the heartland of America, Nathan has found that his music is appreciated more across the pond, and he’s not the only one, John also thinks Nathan’s lyrics are understood more in the UK.
“What's interesting about Nathan is that his work is better received here than it is in his home country. Which I think, well he certainly thinks, is to do with the fact that America is a much less oral place, as in wanting to hear stories, it's much more visual. So he feels that his work is better received, particularly by a Celtic audience”.
For John’s first attempt at making a documentary, he has deservedly received a lot of praise. When asked if would consider creating another documentary, he replied “only if it was something he had an interest in and love for”.
“You have to love it. You have to love what you're making, you have to think it's brilliant. And I think if I was going to make a documentary again, it would have to be with someone I thought was brilliant. I'd make a documentary about him (Nathan) again. I'd like to make a longer film about him, a concert film which is more a portrait of him as an artist”.
As a filmmaker, John knows what it’s like to be young and eager but over the years there is one thing that John has learned and always tells himself before agreeing to be part of production:
“Have a story to tell, because that's what you are as a filmmaker, as a director, you are a storyteller. If you don't have something to say, why are you saying it? You don't have a story to tell, why are you telling it?”
Being selected by Harrogate Film Festival is a great honour for John, even more so with his connection to Yorkshire. From both his parents growing up in the county to schooling and eventually teaching at the Northern Film School. But despite growing up in the south, John has never let his northern roots fade and says there will always be a part of his soul in Yorkshire.