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Interview: Jesse Keddie

Words By: Samuel Bangs


Jesse Keddie talks as quickly as he thinks. He’s not afraid to express strong opinions, and delights in provocation. “Bureaucrats have destroyed my life time and time again. I hope they go bankrupt and drink themselves to death.” Probably not an uncommon sentiment in the midst of an election year. However as a chronic sufferer of debilitating bipolar, Jesse has first-hand experience of the ineptitude of a system that in aiming to cater for all, sacrifices many, particularly with mental health issues. “I have all the symptoms required to go on the Disability Support Pension but they say I’m not ‘Disabled’ enough”.

Luckily, Jesse found solace in filmmaking. “I knew I wanted to be a director when I saw The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition in Amsterdam. In a land of vision, the Auteur is king – that’s what I strive for – to present to you my ultimate vision of perceived reality.” He’s just released his first major film – a loving homage to riotous Perth punks Hootenanny – and is fundraising to complete a Masters at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. “Going on exchange to LMU will give the edge required just to compete with everyone else. I have to show that I have a greater grasp, greater skills, greater qualifications due to the stigma of mental illness. This will give me a chance to prove that I can do it, that all my work hasn’t been for nothing and that if others in my situation could be given the same opportunity, then maybe they wouldn’t be lost down the bottom of a bottle or at the end of their rope”.

What’s a normal day like for you?

Well I try to refrain from killing myself. Depending on where I am in the bi-polar cycle it can be dicey. Sometimes I can’t get up at all and the day is just wasted. I’ll sleep and hope that I wake up feeling better. When I do get up, I look for the news of the day. In all that mess I try to find compassion and hope in people’s responses. It isn’t always there.

From there, I try to watch one or two films a day. Some I’ve seen before, some I know are rubbish. But even in that rubbish you may find a little gold nugget – a performance, a shot, lighting, design. Something inspiring. Then I’ll work on some ideas, ideas from the struggle of survival, from everything that has happened in my life – how it’s shaped my perception of reality, my emotion, my psychology. Sometimes lightning strikes, and when it does I try to find out if it’s an idea that’s been had before and who has delivered it. Eventually if I get enough of these I try to craft some kind of narrative/story/idea and go from there.

What inspired you to make films?

Light. How it can warm your face. Touch your body. Give you energy. How it can blind you, show you paths old and new. How it presents you with a new day. How are you going to use that day? How are you going to illuminate your journey before you get to the clearing at the end?

Light needs to be a another narrative/character entirely in my work. To illuminate – to highlight what you’re trying to say that the characters aren’t. Emote something the characters can’t. Create a separate narrative to what is going on yet easily ties back to the core emotion. I let light be my guide – how is it catching my eye and how can I use it in the performance. It tells my work how it could be not what it should be. You can be as beautiful as this warmth! So why aren’t you?

How would you describe living with severe bipolar and post-traumatic stress syndrome?

Sometimes the light is just too far away. You can’t get to it. You can’t think. You’re unable to talk due to an immense stutter. I have nightmares every night. Every night. So I generally wake up exhausted. I have to wake up twice. Get 3-6 hours of “sleep” so I can get the nightmare part out of the way, then hopefully 2-4 hours of “restful” sleep.

You can’t hold onto many relationships or friendships because your behaviour is too erratic. When I get into a depressive swing it’s like watching someone give up on life. Who’d want to do that?

I was obese for a while, I ate my feelings. Gainful employment is difficult because of the stigma around bipolar. “What if this person blows up at someone? Attacks someone? Blows themselves up? Are we covered? Are we insured?” But, of course, I’m not “disabled” enough.

The good days are days where I can feel love from someone else. I can not only see and touch it, but feel their love, really feel it. Feel their admiration, their compassion, their love for me, their inquisitiveness into how I do it, my spirit to survive. If you’re born with pain and it’s all you know….it’s all you know. It’s like being born deaf dumb and blind. It’s normal.

Arts therapy is something that you’ve mentioned helped you with your illness. How has it helped you?

Art is my Therapy. Doing it is therapeutic. I have no art therapist that helps me do this, the specific manner I need to be doing it. No one suggested it, no one introduced me to it. I just needed a new direction in life, to try one last thing, so I went to Uni. Doing the course work I found all the art based stuff therapeutic, a great outlet for my issues. It assists in getting all the symptoms out, all of the trauma that was buried. You get it out in words, in writing, on the screen, in music. It’s just my own way of dealing with the illness. don’t really have demons. There isn’t two sides to me – i’m just me. All my personality, all my thoughts, feelings, emotions. It’s all in my work. Even the shit stuff, the garbage I won’t screen online or show anyone!

Does it fuel your creative process? How so?

To be blunt, the main thing that fuels my creative process is when I can go “fuck you, you said it couldn’t be done this way, well here it is!” My Hootenanny project is a prime example of that. It breaks every rule of conventional cinema…. Crossing the line, out of continuity cutting, out of continuity blocking… When I started the last cut I just thought ‘hey..what would Sodenberg do?’ That’s his style of editing – disruption of continuity. Scorcese does it a little too. You change your technique to best suit the information you’re trying to present. And if you can make that feel ‘correct’ the audience isn’t going to know. They aren’t’ going to see the man behind the curtain and the mistakes they have made. It feels as it should be.

You were recently accepted into the exchange program with Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. What’s the appeal of the university, or Munich in general?

Well I’ve always been fond of Werner Herzog – he had a brief stint there studying English and Lit. I’m attracted to his philosophy on the madness of men. In order for us to be human, we must also be inhumane and do acts of inhumanity – man’s folly to himself and the object’s he idolised. Bertolt Brecht also studied at LMU. His theatre of self-reflection has been missing from a lot pop media these days. Instead of watching the sceptical or drama on gaining entertainment from that, he manipulates you into feeling the drama and spectacle within yourself. Like Werner, analysing your own humanity.

I did an experimental art piece on Super 16mm a few years ago called ‘A Fist Full of Sand’. It was about displacement and the horrors we commit to each other for that displacement to happen. Whenever I get the chance to go to Europe I try to take in as much of the remnants of WWII as possible.I’d film in black and white to remove any sense of modernism or time. I photographed a lot of Auschwitz in this manner. You felt the horror, the death, the smell of corpses. The ripping away of what makes us human and the infusion of makes us monsters. And that’s what I’m most interested in.

You also set up go-fund-me to help you get there. Tell us a bit about that?

I’m doing my Masters at a local University here in Perth. Unfortunately, it’s a non-government supported place, so you get no financial assistance. As I mentioned before, because of my illness, some of the time I’m not fit for work, and it’s very hard to find. My (three) doctors will scream at me “GET BACK TO THE ART AND STUDY! We’re trying to keep you alive here buddy!” But even though it’ll give me a better qualification, and bring me up to a level playing field, I’m still not supported by the system that says this is what I have to do be included.

Financial pressure is a huge huge triggering issue. I hate that word. Triggering. But it’s true! You don’t have money so you can’t eat, you can’t pay bills. Getting a 9-5 job, whether it be call centre, admin, retail, whatever – it has always led me to suicide watch. I’ve finally found the thing that doesn’t – practicing art. Fundraising opens up the doors of opportunity and can bring in the support I need, get me closer to equal footing a more abled person may not realise they have.

One of your films has been posted on your Go-Fund-Me page. What were you trying to evoke with the projections of the dog’s faces?

That was an experiment using Google’s DeepDream, which is their AI. You feed it an image to think about and then it shows you what it thinks it saw. It chose dogs! I wanted to see if it worked – if it was unnerving. If it gave you a sense of other worlds on top of, and under, our own.

You recently completed a concert film on local blues-punk heroes Hootenanny – what drew you to wanting to capture them in performance?

I wanted the audience to see what I saw, feel what I felt when I watched them play with their fearless and ferocious energy. 2 ladies filling a stage that can fit 7. They defy political correctness and sing about confronting issues. The things we lie to ourselves about. Hootenanny know they are in a rock band, know they are hot, know they are babes to their audience. They know it’s shocking when they are heard screaming “SUCK MY FUCKING MOOT CUNT!”  Why not get in peoples faces? It’s more shocking when you’re presumed to be sweet and innocent.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from the Hootenanny film?

I want them to feel inspired to pick up an instrument and do it. Play, Play loud. Write stuff you know will piss people off, that will upset mum and dad. Don’t play it safe. Ever. Break every rule you know to make your point hit as hard as possible, to show truth as it is. If you do anything in life the way everyone else is doing it, don’t cry when you get lost in a sea of mediocrity. Stand out. It’s not going to happen because you think its ‘your turn’ to get a gig, or a screening or whatever. Prove to everyone that you deserve to be up there. Hootenanny did. They stood toe to toe with the boys and beat them at their own game.

I may be disconnected with my peers or audience or whatever – it’s not going to stop me from making art, stop me from pushing myself into madness, death, displeasure and delusion. I’m going to keep going until it has exploded all over your face and you need a mop and a bucket. I refuse to be mediocre. Cos shit stinks – and it follows you around.