The revolution begins with love. That’s the message we took home from Samuel Kay Forrest’s memorable debut HipBeat; an intense queer drama about an anarchist looking for love and acceptance in the heart of Berlin, a city which thrives on artistic and romantic expression.
In case you were wondering, the word "HipBeat" is a portmanteau of “hippy” and “Beatnik” and was invented as a fresh concept by Samuel to encourage self-expression.
“It stands for “be yourself”,” the director revealed to us in an interview. “I guess I was very inspired by the Beatnik writers; those writers that were trying to challenge the status quo; and my mum was a bit of a hippy. I wanted to create a word that had its own rhythm and wasn’t attached to any meaning.”
Challenging the status quo was certainly a big part of the movie, which begins and ends with a real-life protest on the streets of Berlin. In fact, Samuel ended up getting arrested twice while filming at anti-fascist rallies. Naturally, they didn’t have the budget to recreate a massive riot, and so they had to be resourceful and get involved with real protests that were taking place. Those intimidating shots of the polizei? All the real deal.
“We needed a riot and we wanted to capture the real feeling of it,” he explained. “I wanted to capture how police usually abuse their power. I felt that it was really important to show the truth and the realism of that.
“We had a little help from one of the police commissioners of Berlin to find locations, and they told us about this protest. I was on the frontline and I guess I looked very convincing as an anarchist.”
He revealed that the protest took place on May 1st 2019, and indeed May Day is a significant date in Germany’s history of anti-fascist and workers’ rights demonstrations. So significant is the date that it is apparently illegal to wear masks to a protest on May 1st (ironic given the oncoming pandemic).
“They had come for me because I was at the front acting and making my voice heard and I had this mask on and apparently that’s not allowed and I didn’t get the rundown so they just came storming at me,” he recalled. “It all worked out in the end because we got it on camera which was fantastic. The crew was fine, everyone was safe, I was the only one who actually got manhandled by the police.
“I wanted to start the film off with a bang and bring an honesty to it right in the beginning,” he added. “We wanted to show that hate incites hate, but love incites love. We started in a riot and it ends in the peaceful unity of a love protest.”
We did wonder why he managed to avoid arrest for all that graffiti he did, but Germany has a law called Freedom of Expression, which legally allows for all kinds of creative expression including spray-painting (as long as it’s not on private buildings).
But the biggest part of freedom of expression within the movie was Samuel’s character Angus’ exploration of gender identity, and when it came to finding his inner Evelyn, Samuel assures us that it all came rather naturally.
“We all have an inner female and an inner male,” he says. “I think it was fun to explore that - I’ve definitely got the heart of my mother, so to speak. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to tap into that because it’s a big part of me. I grew up with a mother who was very open to that, and my siblings were huge inspirations to me because they’ve always been very courageous when it came to being themselves and expressing who they are.”
Samuel and his crew were careful when it came to casting that real people became involved. All queer roles were played by queer actors, and all the smaller roles went to people within Berlin’s LGBTQIA+ and rave communities.
“It was a big part of making a story with the city, not about the city,” he says. “They were a part of telling the story. It wasn’t about them, but they were part of it.”
Not everyone gets to live in the melting pot that is Berlin, among all its unique personalities. Becoming comfortable with one’s own identity isn’t as easy in other places in the world. But regardless, Samuel had some solid advice about learning to accept yourself as you are.
“It’s ok that it’s a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and it can change”, he says. “Always explore your authentic self. It’s ok to not know. But always stay true to how you're feeling in the moment, even if people don’t understand.”
Samuel’s wisdom and visionary skills are currently being put to use on a new project; he’s in post-production of a European and West African film called Voices of My Ancestors which is due to hit the festival circuit in the summer.
“It’s about family and re-connecting with family they haven’t seen in over ten years,” he reveals. “It’s messy but it’s the messiness of our families. It’s a beautiful journey that starts in Berlin and ends up in West Africa.”
HipBeat is available to watch now on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Dekkoo, YouTube and Google Play.