A new documentary film sheds light on the interior world of gay farmers and their often isolated lives. Q&C speaks to its producer Rupert Williams to find out the story behind Landline.

Photographs // Matt Houghton

In 2010, Keith Ineson, a chaplain from the north of England, set up a helpline for gay farmers struggling with their sexuality. As a gay man from a farming background Keith believed the unique isolation and loneliness experienced by many LGBTQ people in rural communities was profound enough to set up the helpline. “What I'm finding when gay farmers ring up”, said Keith, “is that they think they are the only gay farmer in the world.”

For almost a decade the helpline has provided a friendly ear and essential support to hundreds of LGBTQ farmers who often have nowhere else to turn. Alongside the helpline, Keith has set up a number of social groups and continues to foster a safe environment for anyone struggling.

Now a unique documentary film has been made about the helpline, using a series of recorded telephone conversations and reconstructed visuals in order to present the stories of this rarely heard community.

The film, Landline, was featured in the British Council and BFI Flair’s #FiveFilms4Freedom campaign which made it available to watch in every country in the world, including those were LGBTQ rights are extremely restricted or illegal. It was seen almost half a million times in twelve days and according to the filmmakers, the feedback has been overwhelming not only in local communities in the UK but also in rural areas across the world.

Award-winning filmmaker and director of Landline Matt Houghton has said: “Keith Ineson’s helpline seemed a unique lens through which to explore the experiences of LGBTQ people in the British farming community as well as ideas of identity and isolation. Over the course of about a year, we collected stories and experiences from those who have at one time or another called the helpline. A series of recorded telephone conversations emerged as the emotional center of the film.”

Emerging filmmaker and producer of Landline Rupert Williams is also a social worker for young people and their families, and has worked at the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard as well as dabbling in stand-up comedy.

Williams is a farmer’s son who grew up on a Lancashire farm and is all too aware of what it’s like for those living and working in rural communities. His interest in telling stories across different platforms about masculinity, sexuality and identity led him to Keith at which the idea for the film was born.

Speaking to Queen & Country magazine, Rupert said: “The decision to make Landline was partly prompted by not seeing my experiences of growing up in a rural farming community represented anywhere. I wasn't sure if many other gay men from rural backgrounds existed so I was always intrigued when I did meet people from this world. By doing stand-up comedy and making the film I think I was always trying to tell a story and create a world of my own, as I didn't feel I belonged to the one I was born into.”

“I hope the film gets seen by people who might not be aware of some of the issues that can exist for gay farmers."

His wish is not just that the film provides a voice to our farming friends in need, but that a dialogue can begin about this and other marginalised communities: “I hope the film gets seen by people who might not be aware of some of the issues that can exist for gay farmers - isolation, difficulties in mental health but also some quite sweet, funny and unexpectedly moving stories. I hope to start a conversation amongst people who would make assumptions of the experiences of farmers and LGBTQ communities alike.”

He added: “I'm definitely keen to make more films about these communities and marginalised identities, both making more documentaries but also thinking of ideas for comedy too.”

As part of the project, a crowdfunding page has been established to help Keith raise funds to continue the good work in running the gay farmers’ helpline, as well as raising awareness and support for the community. Please donate to it here 

Landline will be showing at the Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018 in June. Find out more details here.

Visit the Landline website here: