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Glenn Meads chats with Sam Retford and George Webster

The short film S.A.M. explores themes that you rarely see on screen, how people living with a learning disability can feel about love and sexuality. It stars Sam Retford (known for his sterling work in Ackley Bridge and on stage in The Newspaper Boy and Closets). Acting alongside him is Down's syndrome actor George Webster who is also a Mencap Ambassador. 

This new coming of age film is directed by Manchester creatives Neil Ely and Lloyd Eyre-Morgan, who have worked together on the hit musical Closets – which was staged at the Hope Mill Theatre a couple of years ago. 

Eyre-Morgan and Ely are a young writing team who have made several feature films and critically acclaimed short films. Co-writer/director Neil Ely has worked with Mencap for over 5 years and worked with people with learning disabilities for 15 years.  

The film was conceived by Lloyd and Neil when they held a drama workshop for young adults with learning disabilities, in which it became clear they felt sexuality wasn't represented when it came to portrayals of people with disability, an already underrepresented group.  Currently approximately 0.3% of the television and film industry has a disability.

We caught up (socially distanced, of course) with Sam and George to talk about lockdown, disability, and sexuality and what the first thing they want to do when social distancing is but a memory. 

How has lockdown been for you both? 

Sam: Personally, the lockdown has been great! I’ve been able to get more time out exploring in the woods, more time with family and of course finally enough time to binge all the films I’ve been meaning to watch.  

George: For me, lockdown has been quite stressful to start off with as I had to finish my college coursework. But since then it's been alright as I've been cooking with dad, virtual yoga over Zoom, virtual catch ups with friends and watching films/TV. 

What positives have come from the current situation we find ourselves in? 

George: A positive that I can think of is that it’s helped my fitness both mentally and physically as I’ve been going on quite a lot of runs. It has helped me to understand why it’s important to keep safe and not catch the coronavirus. 

Sam: It’s been beautiful to see so many families out together. Something I think a lot of us had lost touch with previously. I’ve also seen a huge rise in people exploring locally and appreciating the beauties we have on our doorstep.

 What attracted you to the film S.A.M? 

Sam: Firstly, anything that Eyre and Ely do is a pleasure to be a part of, so I was already hooked on the idea, then after reading the script I knew it was going to be something special. The innate sense of humility on the page was evident but after reading with George, it was clear he was going to amplify that quintessence. And that, was exciting.  

George: The important message of acceptance. It’s not right to judge people on their background, sexuality and their learning disability which this film picks upon. 

How did you get to know each other before filming?

George: We met in Manchester to have a workshop and we worked around improvisation. We also went through the script. Me and Sam went for an afternoon out to get to know each other more. 

Sam: George took me for dinner in his hometown. We drank beer. After that, we were ready.  

Why do you think sexuality is not represented when it comes to portrayals of people with disabilities? 

Sam: I don’t think people understand it enough. They don’t want to take “the risk”. It’s easier for people to play into an algorithm that they know will work. But when you have everyone in the team coming to set with at least a base knowledge and passion for disability and sexuality representation. It’s easy. Then the truth comes out. It just becomes two boys on a swing.  

George: I think it’s because some people are too nervous to talk about it and they don’t want to represent it the wrong way. 

What has been the best thing about making this film?

George:  I loved the whole experience of filming S.A.M. and I had a blast. We all became really close like a family. 

Sam: Making our little S.A.M. family. We all got on so well, it was one of the most pleasant and collaborative sets I’ve ever had the privilege to be on.   

When normal life resumes, what are you itching to do that you cannot do now? 

Sam: Go to the theatre…I miss theatre so much. 

George: I would love to go to the cinema to watch new upcoming films with my friends as I’m a massive fan of all genres of films including horror. 

What would you like people to take away with them, after watching S.A.M?

George: I would like people to take away the message of acceptance. We all need to be judged fairly and with respect as you would respect yourself.

Sam: That no matter who you are, or who anyone’s told you, you can or can’t be. To know that you can. Whatever that is, in front of or behind the camera, on set or off set. We’re all just two lads on a swing.  

S.A.M. will screen at Inside Out (Canada’s largest LGBTQ+ film festival) from October 1-11. More details via below link

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Published: 12-Sep-2020

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