The Side Ward
Set on Christmas Eve in Liverpool, 1985. Rosie, a nurse working the night shift at a hospital, befriends Steven, an AIDS patient. As they build a connection and mutual understanding, Rosie is forced to confront her own prejudices and the prejudice of those around her. A short film, written and directed by Ellie Hodgetts (Fairview Park, Home Safe), produced by Laura Torenbeek (Deer Woman Child, The
The Side Ward
Set on Christmas Eve in Liverpool, 1985. Rosie, a middle-aged nurse working the night shift at a hospital, befriends Steven, an AIDS patient. As they build a connection and mutual understanding, Rosie is forced to confront her own prejudices and the prejudice of those around her.
This short film is written and directed by Ellie Hodgetts (Fairview Park), and produced by Laura Torenbeek (Deer Woman Child, The Reckoning of Erin Morrigan)
We begin with Rosie, a 58 year old nurse, reluctantly arriving at a hospital for her shift on Christmas Eve, 1985. We see her prejudiced beliefs almost immediately, when she warns a fellow nurse that the room he’s about to enter is an “AIDS room”. The nurse proceeds to slide a tray of food across the floor. When Rosie is subsequently called into the room, she meets Steven, a young and self-assured AIDS patient who’s obsessed with watching the news. Throughout her shift, Rosie encounters the concerned and ill-informed opinions of several staff members whilst simultaneously building an unexpected friendship with Steven. When Steven asks her to help him cover his lesions with makeup before he sees his mother, Rosie initially refuses, only later to confront her own prejudice, questioning the relationship she has to her job as a nurse, someone with the insatiable desire to care for others.
During the AIDS epidemic, there were several cases reported of medical professionals refusing to treat AIDS patients or those believed to be at risk of contracting the disease (namely gay and bisexual men). The stigma around the disease was rife, with many men having to not only face their medical condition, but also the deep shame and prejudice imposed on them by a society that refused to help them. By the end of 1985, hundreds of AIDS cases had been reported in the UK, and the number of people dying was rapidly increasing. However, Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, fought continuously against addressing AIDS and opposed public campaigns due to her fear that they would encourage young people to “experiment”. The government was accused of costing lives by acting too late in launching the awareness campaign that did not exist until 1987, six years after the first AIDS related death in the UK.
Writer / Director Ellie Hodgets
Ellie is an award-winning filmmaker based in the UK. She is particularly motivated to make films centring around women and the LGBTQ+ community, with a particular interest in 20th Century Queer history. Most recently, she has written and co-directed BFI + Dublin Pride supported short film Fairview Park, based on the homophobic murder of Declan Flynn.
Producer Laura Torenbeek
Laura is an award-winning filmmaker based in Leeds. She was nominated for a best producer award at Underwire in 2015, and has just produced her second independent feature film. She is interested in telling stories of marginalised people and is passionate about sustainable filmmaking.
Cinematographer Alex Stagg
Born and raised in the small country of Brunei as half Bruneian, half New Zealander. Alex is a Manchester, UK based Cinematographer with an undeniable passion for story. At my core, I believe in the philosophy that films have the power to speak truth; to be more than art. It is a philosophy that I hope to apply to every project I have the pleasure of working on.
Why we make this film
As queer filmmakers, we are drawn to making films that centre LGBTQ+ characters and stories from our history that would otherwise be erased. The AIDS epidemic had a detrimental effect on the Queer community during the 80’s and 90’s specifically, but also one that is still present in our community today. The stigma around HIV and AIDS is something that we are slowly recovering from, but unfortunately, attitudes towards the virus are still wholly negative and prejudiced due primarily to the lack of LGBTQ+ sex education and HIV prevention.
We have been building this film over the last couple of years and having written it during the first Covid-19 lockdown, it was surprising to see some of the devastating similarities and stark differences between both AIDS and Covid-19 and the public reactions to them. Both viruses have caused millions of deaths worldwide and have affected even more lives. However, it’s important to recognise the sheer lack of public outcry towards the deadliness of AIDS during the 80’s and 90’s, which resulted in huge scientific delays, ultimately costing lives. But, because the virus was primarily affecting gay men and drug users, people didn’t care enough.
This film has been carefully researched to give an accurate representation of the kind of behaviour that existed towards AIDS patients in 1985, and specifically, the discrimination that existed within hospitals and amongst medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. Many professionals refused to treat patients with AIDS because of the lack of information around the disease. However, for some patients, the nurses taking care of them were the only source of comfort and affection they had left.
We aim to approach this film in the most authentic way we can, by conducting further research into hospitals that existed in 80’s Britain, to provide a realistic look for the film. We also intend to cast Queer actors in Queer roles as well as hiring a diverse crew, with a particular emphasis on hiring members of the LGBTQ community and those with lived experiences around HIV and AIDS.
Since we are telling a very sensitive story, our main priority is to tell it well and with great care. It is important that both the cast and crew is diverse and we have the LGBTQIA+ community well represented. A lot of the HOD’s and crew that we have approached are people that we have worked with before on different projects. This means that the connection is already there and good working relationships have already been established.
We plan to shoot for 3 days and our aim is to shoot it all on location. However, we do have a backup plan for filming in a studio and are budgeting for both possibilities.
The main challenge for this project, and something that we have to budget for really well, is costume and specifically makeup. Not only is it a period piece, it is a film that talks about AIDS and it is very important that everything looks authentic.
Through this film, we hope to share messages of tolerance and self-reflection, as well as the importance of human connection in the darkest of times. It’s important to me that this film is seen by an audience that exceeds the LGBTQ+ community, as the themes that we are exploring are universal ones that everybody can relate to.
We would be incredibly grateful for any financial help you can give us to tell this important story. Below is a graph where you can see what the money will be spent on.
Thank you for your support!