Dorothy Towers (2022) 




Dorothy Towers is the story of the legendary Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers, two residential blocks in the centre of Birmingham, UK. Completed in 1971 as a social housing development and located adjacent to Birmingham’s Gay Village, the towers’ proximity to the community means they have long been a haven for LGBTQ+ people.

The 31-minute, 16mm film opens a space to reflect on the complex relationship between architecture, community and memory. It features testimonials from current and past residents and explores ideas of queer kinship and inheritance alongside experiences of HIV in the 1980s and ’90s. Dorothy Towers frames the buildings in a continuum of history that extends back to the city’s postwar redevelopment via its nightclubs and modernist underpasses.

A live score, composed and performed by Sean Burns and Leo Francisco, accompanied the film’s initial screening at Vivid Projects, Birmingham, alongside a new installation produced by local practice Intervention Architecture. Owain Harrison’s accompanying text, A Cornucopia of Experience, merges the factual history of Dorothy Towers – the colloquial name bestowed on the buildings by local LGBTQ+ communities, owing to the number of queer people living there – with a fictional narrative based on first-hand testimonials.

Dorothy Towers
first screened at Vivid Projects, Birmingham, in September 2022. It subsequently appeared at Auto Italia and the British Film Institute, London; Edinburgh Art Festival; TULCA Festival of Visual Arts, Galway; and the Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts, Sussex.

Dorothy Towers Playlist was a documentary film series programmed by Sean Burns for the Flatpack Film Festival, Birmingham. The film was the centrepiece of a solo exhibition at the Edinburgh Art Festival, where the artist hosted workshops on the city’s queer histories with partners, including Dr Cole Collins, Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive and the Lothian Health Service Archive.

Dorothy Towers was supported by Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Images: Sean Burns, Dorothy Towers, 2022, 16mm film still. Installation photographs: Stuart Whipps