Life peer Michael Bishop, Lord Glendonbrook is the biggest sponsor of Iris Prize through his charitable trust, the Michael Bishop Foundation. The former BMI airline owner and Channel 4 Chair talks to Suryatapa Mukherjee about coming out in the 90’s, the importance of Iris Prize, and filmmaking as a medium of awareness.
Why do you sponsor Iris Prize?
We actually didn’t begin sponsoring when Iris Prize was first instituted. But we did come in fairly shortly afterwards. But once we did come in, we have been steadily increasing the amount that we donate through the Michael Bishop Foundation to the Iris Prize. We always thought that if we kept a continuous donation, we would attract other sponsors who would come behind us and make the total available for the Iris Prize swell to a much larger figure. And fortunately, that is what has happened.
I’ve read that you have been very out and open about your sexuality. So, can you speak a bit about why it is important to be visible?
I think that as you probably gather, I’m from a slightly different generation to the people making films today. I actually came out in the 1990s. Although there have been many areas of life where it is easier to come out, there are certain areas in society where it’s always been quite hard – sport is one of them, business is another, and many other professions are the same. And I wasn’t able to come out until I felt secure that it wouldn’t badly affect the business that I was running. Because not only does it affect the individual, it can also affect their company sometimes. So, there was a combination of reasons why I came out. But of course, when I did so, it was very rewarding.
And why do you think that LGBT+ film festivals like Iris Prize should exist and it’s important for them to exist?
I think that you can always spread the right message through the demonstration of film. I think the film is a great conduit for showing the real situation of gay people, rather than one that is sometimes in the public mind. And I think this is a testament to the success of the Iris Prize that it’s just become so widely recognised. In the beginning of course, people were not aware of it. The awareness of the Iris Prize grew through the years. And in the foundation, we intend to continue supporting it.
So, what has been the most memorable experience that you’ve had at Iris Prize and what has been your favourite film?
I don’t really have a favourite film because I think all of them convey different messages. All of them that get to that stage of being showcased, have obviously been regarded by the judges as worthwhile. And I have enjoyed all the ones that I have seen. Some of them, they cover such a range of subjects that watching them always gives you a wider insight into LGBT+ life.
It has been 50 years since same-sex relations were legalised in England and Wales. Before the legalisation, did you ever think that someday we would have something like the Iris Prize?
Well of course, there’s always been films like the short films that are being shown at Iris. They have always been around but they were more underground. And now such films are being covered in the press. And important donors have come in to support Iris Prize. Not the Michael Bishop Foundation particularly, but the fact that other donors have come in like Pinewood Studios in particular – I think that was the most important new donor that came in behind our donation. And there have been local government organisations who have supported the festival through the years. And other significant sponsors as well. All of that helps the integrity and the recognition of what the Iris Prize is.
Published in the Iris Prize magazine: https://issuu.com/irisfestival2017/docs/buzz_iris_guide_2017_online