Luke Willis, The Peace Studio Fellow 2023-2024

Luke Willis


Luke Willis’s award-winning short films have been screened at more than 40 film festivals around the world, including Academy Award and BAFTA qualifying festivals like Outfest, Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, BFI Flare, Encounters and NewFest. Several of his films can be seen on Nowness and Here TV. Luke comes to filmmaking after 20 years in the theater, 10 of which were spent as a classical ballet dancer for the San Francisco Ballet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. In 2014 he retired from ballet to pursue his other great love of writing and directing. He honed his craft while studying in the Production division at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and afterward developed his passion for queer cinema while working as an assistant on the 2019 Tribeca Audience Award-winning feature documentary Gay Chorus Deep South, about The SF Gay Men’s Chorus of which he is also a former member and guest artist. Luke loves stories of magical realism, romance, and adventure.

Who Luke is as a filmmaker is very much rooted in his experience growing up as a gay boy in the conservative South in the 90s. It was not a fun upbringing, but he found his refuge and sanctuary in the theater. Then in college Luke was bit by a new bug and left acting school to become a classical ballet dancer. This was his awakening to storytelling that transcends language – the art of communicating all the things left unsaid.

Ballet very much informs his sensibility as a director: timing, musicality, a deep understanding of physicality, and an obsession with the moving visual tableau to tell high-stakes stories. Luke also loves to juxtapose fantasy or magical realism with hyperrealism to get deeper into a character’s mind. To show how there is a rich subtextual creative undercurrent brewing in all of us that helps us find our way in the world. In some subtle way, there is always a “dream ballet” woven into all of Luke’s films.

As a young man, Luke was starved for queer stories and is committed to stories of hope and healing for queer communities and all historically excluded communities. He is excited to be part of a new generation of queer storytellers that are celebrating queer joy and is passionate to contribute to the new repertoire of queer heroes in media that are inspiring new more open minded and loving generations.

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