Beyond stoked to be a part of Cardiff’s 2013 Iris Prize Festival. In honor, here’s my interview with the fabulous festival folks.
- What are you looking forward to most about being part of this year’s Iris Prize festival?
To be a part of the history. It may sound über corny but it’s true. I first heard of this fest senior year of high school when I heard about a fest that rewards the filmmaker with the chance to make a new film. What could be a better pay off than that?! Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything substantial enough. In all honesty, I had only briefly even dabbled in LGBTQ cinema so to finally have something I felt was substantial enough to submit and then actually make it to the festival means a tremendous amount to me.
Every year I look at the incredible list of Iris Prize films and mark them (and their filmmakers) into my ever-growing list of “LGBTQ Films to Watch” because I know there will be something not only thought-provoking but also something that’s furthering the way my fellow LGBTQ community is being seen (and portrayed) in film. So, to put this overtly long response simply, it’s just downright exciting to finally be a part of such an incredible event in the world of gay cinema.
- What influenced the production of Finding Franklin?
My great-grandmother, Violet Foster was such a dear soul in my early life. She was always there to teach me something new and crafty, always there to let me rest on her big ol’ warm lap and always willing to read to me, talk to me or just be with me. She was an incredibly wise woman and someone I aspire to be as I grow. Unfortunately, she never got to know me as an adult or more importantly as the man I am today, so, I wrote this film with her in mind as if she was now a part of my life as a 20-something homosexual filmmaker. The relationship I had with my great-grandmother is where the backbone for this film came from. There’s just something so beautiful about individuals (family or not) from entirely different generations connecting and taking the time to understand one another.
- What would winning the Iris Prize mean to you?
Winning the Iris Prize would not only give me the chance to see the UK but it would allow me and my peers to create in an environment only witnessed through photographs and video footage. In other words, winning would mean a whole new chapter in life that I would otherwise not be able to have at this point in life. Taking home the Iris Prize would be the greatest opportunity in my career. Period. The fact that Pariah started out as a short in this festival and then went on to become one of the most powerful LGBTQ films is inspiration in itself but experiences like the Iris Prize don’t come around often so winning would mean everything to me as an LGBTQ filmmaker at this point.
- Do straight audiences respond differently to your film than LGBT audiences?
In the first 30 seconds of our film, a line given from Velma to Violet over the phone says point blank “I need my big sister right now.” This is played over a shot of the two characters hugging at the train station. Apparently this seemingly straightforward intro is open to interpretation because true to the fabulous unexpected film festival fashion, we have discovered (and now expect with each screening) that this relationship will be the grab bag depending on the orientation of the audience.
Now, I will admit that part of this is our fault for not making the audio a little more clear considering a lot of LGBTQ festivals screen in older theatres, so it may be a technical thing but personally it seems pretty obvious why this happens.
First off, when an audience isn’t expecting something in the film to be gay (i.e. a non-LGBTQ-themed category or festival), they accept Violet and Velma as sisters because it says so and why would there be any reason to believe otherwise? On the flipside, in LGBTQ festivals, we know going in that there is going to be something gay so our perception changes from “who is who” to “who is gay” and since the sisters start the film off and are rather touchy/feely, they come off as the “gay theme” well before the actual one is shown.
What is kind of awesome about this though (other than talking with people afterwards and slowly realizing what kind of decision was made by the audience) is hearing how it changes the viewer’s takeaway. For example, when we screened at Frameline37 and a gentleman came up to lead actress, Chloe Godard (Violet Foster) and exclaimed “I just loved how your first reaction to Franklin being gay was so judgemental yet you were in a gay relationship yourself. It was such an interesting choice.” Being the champion for unexpected moments that she is, Ms. Godard just played along as did I but it reminded me that even when you think you’re guiding the audience in a certain way, they’ll surprise you with a unique perspective and prove that film truly is an interpretative art.
- Have you ever been to Cardiff, and what are you most looking forward to?
I have never been to any country not bordering the USA so for me, just knowing that my film is going to be played overseas is enough to make me want to run around like a pre-pubescent version of myself. It’s quite an honour to be welcomed into a world you have previously never been a part of in such an intimate way: screening your film to a brand new audience in a brand new place. There really aren’t words to describe that feeling.
- Were there any challenges that you encountered during the making of your film?
While the majority of our cast and crew was in film school, we decided to make this a summer project unrelated to any class project. We wanted to make a short the right way but all on our own and even though Finding Franklin ended up being the smoothest production I’ve had the privilege of ring leading, our challenges came right where they were expected to in the funding chapter via Kickstarter. While we made our goal (and then some) but there was an amount of stress added to production that only those who have crowd-sourced funds understand: that middle time lull. It honestly terrified me when activity on our page started to halt and I thought it would be the end of this film being made which broke my heart because we had all put so much hard work into pre-production so when it all came through, I sat with my producer Arabella and drank the cheapest of beers in honour of surviving another possible hurdle. It was the best can of PBR to date.
- Did you feel that the challenges gay men faced during the 50s was an important issue to highlight to the modern day community?
My “first love” came along in high school. The butterflies. The first kiss. The first sexual experience. It was all there like most teenagers my age only we hadn’t confided in a single person. Not close friends. Not one person. It wasn’t for romantic reasons. We weren’t secretly cheating on anyone. We were just finally experiencing what everyone around us was. The only real reason for hiding this exciting part of our lives was that we were both male and not at a point (or environment) that accepted us without brutal strings attached.
To date those early years were the oddest of my life. Here I was finding myself in so many outward aspects (theatre, film, the arts in general) but my relationships were stunted in a way heterosexuals weren’t: a privacy that made my “relationship” feel like something wrong or invalid. I honestly remember getting so upset with myself because I would refuse to really address that aspect of my life (even to the gent I was secretly seeing). I had this quiet anger towards myself that exhausted me day in and out because I was living in fear of my peers finding out who I really was: a “fag.”
When I started writing this script, I spent a substantial amount of time thinking about how my life would have been had I lived in the time of Franklin and Eugene. At first I was overwhelmed with how un-relatable that era would have been until I took a trip back to my hometown over the holidays and was instantly brought back to my closeted years. Pictures will do that for you in an instant. It’s all in the smile in my opinion. Unfortunately, for the Eugene’s of the world, it would never come through in a smile because you never get to see their “after” smile: just the “before.”
To think that so many men and women over the years lived their entire lives like my high school years absolutely breaks my heart.