Interview by Cesar Solla
Answers by Craig Newman, Jen Pitt, and Michael Barringer
For me, this short film reminded me of Yasujiro Ozu, how it was shot, the pace of the narrative, and how it expressed the drama of everyday. How did you develop this story? Was there a film(s) that influenced you? In expressing the banality of everyday, I believe the location had an influence to the film. How did you find the place? Was it in the script first or did the location help shape the film?
We adore Ozu's films: we didn't discuss his work specifically, but we're fans of a type of meditative film that reveals itself slowly. We knew we wanted a lot of long takes; we wanted to sit with the characters and not do a lot of shot-reverse-shot. Early on in the film, the scenes are purposefully a bit strained and uncomfortable -- the characters are trying but not quite connecting. We wanted the audience to sit in that, to feel the mix of emotions that result from reconnecting with an old love.
This film was developed and executed in a very collaborative manner. We had received a residency through the wonderful folks at Barn Arts Collective in Bass Harbor, Maine, and the three of us challenged ourselves to come up with a story we could shoot, edit, and screen (a rough cut, that is), in the space of a single week. Inspired very much by the late Abbas Kiarostami's workshops, we began with the location first and let that everything develop from there. Somehow we struck on the idea of a former couple who meets up, one of them having recently transitioned, and how that interaction might develop over a single day in this small coastal town. Once we arrived on Mount Desert Island, we had to react to the available locations and the fickleness of the weather -- the fog rolling in was an unexpected blessing that added a lot of atmosphere and tension. In one instance, we had written a scene in a lobstering boat. Sitting in Brooklyn, it was the first image that came to mind about the lobster industry. But once in the town, we found out a lot more about how that industry works and met incredible people who allowed us to shoot at their lobster processing plant-cum-restaurant. We sought a kind of documentary quality to the images, and a truthful representation in everything. Even the name of the film, Backsiders, comes from a term for people who live on the less well-off, or "backside" of the island.
In terms of inspirations, our film is in direct conversation with a film called Right Now, Wrong Then, directed by Hong Sang-soo. It too uses a time-loop structure, á la Run Lola Run or Groundhog's Day, where a day repeats itself. There's an emotional response to that structure, possibly because it feels very truthful to our subjective reality: we over-think, we agonize and relive days and decisions all the time in our heads. This tendency, this headspace, felt like an exciting thing to attempt to represent in a short film. It was a way for us to explore some universal issues related to relationships, change, loss, the anxiety to get things right, and the wonder at what could have been.
The last few years have seen a push in diverse representation in film. Was this a film in response to that and pushing towards more inclusive stories or was this film in conception before the past few years?
Yes they have! Which has been extremely exciting. Diverse representation and inclusion are extremely important to us, and that was part of the project from the very beginning. Friends of ours who have transitioned were huge inspirations. A big impetus for this story was to take transitioning as a nondramatic element, as a fact of life, as just one aspect of a very complex character. On that note, another touchstone for the project was a film from several years ago, Tropical Malady, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The first half of it is a love story between two men, but their identity as gay men is never directly addressed or talked about; the film simply observes and treats them as human beings. In making a film about a transgender man, we didn't want to show a character as a victim or as ostracized from his family or community: we wanted to show a different side of things.
Our script called for a recently transitioned man and a gay/queer woman, and we all felt we had to cast appropriately. There simply wouldn't have been a film otherwise. Somehow we were lucky enough to find and work with really amazing actors, Hennessy and Liza J. Bennett, and once we found them, the characters were reshaped to reflect the actors' personalities. In creating this story, we -- a group of cis-gendered, straight people -- were very aware of our limitations and blind spots, and our actors became instrumental in evolving the script and bringing their truths to the situations.