Indie Focus: ‘Weekend’ couple being gay is partly beside the point
For his second feature, British editor turned director Andrew Haigh wanted to pick up on the rhythms of everyday life, capturing both the highs of budding romance and the spaces in between. In “Weekend,” which opens in Los Angeles on Friday (the same day it will be available on video ondemand), Haigh follows with naturalist grace as would-be partners meet, fool around and then fall in love.
That the characters happen to be men is intended to be at least in part beside the point.
Although “Weekend” has played some of the most notable gay-themed film festivals in America, Haigh said he has made every effort to prevent the movie from being branded simply as a “gay” film. It had its world premiere this year at the Austin, Texas-based South by Southwest Film Festival, an event better known for shaggy indies, bawdy comedies and out-there genre fare, where it picked up an audience prize.
The movie opened the prestigious BAM Cinemafest series in New York City this summer and will have its United Kingdom premiere next month as part of the BFI London Film Festival.
“I’m not a massive gay cinema fan or even that knowledgeable about the history of gay cinema,” Haigh said in Los Angeles this year. “I just love films, and I see myself as a filmmaker. This film obviously has gay characters, and it is about the gay experience, but for me it’s just a film. I wanted to be part of that mountain of just films, and not just be compared to gay films.”
Quiet and observant, “Weekend” begins with Russell (Tom Cullen) attending a birthday party for straight friends before heading alone to a nightclub. After tentative flirting with one stranger, he ends up taking another guy home, the mercurial Glen (Chris New).
The two end up spending the weekend together, opening up to each other as they bond over sex, talk, a little drinking, a bit of drugs, a lot more talking and Glen imminently moving from Nottingham to America.
The film captures the same sense of intimate discovery and the longueurs of extended conversation as “Before Sunrise” with the political undertones of the more recent “Medicine for Melancholy” — a film to which “Weekend” has garnered comparisons — all while conveying what it’s like to be gay in a predominantly straight community.
“On one level it’s a very specific film,” said Kim Yutani, director of programming at Outfest, noting that the film “raised the bar” for other lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender filmmakers at his year’s fest, where “Weekend” was awarded a jury prize. “I think the thing that makes it totally special is the way Andrew is able to capture two people who are getting to know each other, those connections that you have with somebody when you first meet.”
Shot in a little more than two weeks in October of last year on digital video, “Weekend” was filmed in sequence, which allowed Haigh, Cullen and New to spend each evening going over the next day’s scenes, subtly tweaking the script to include things that emerged from the day’s work.
“I just wanted to be as authentic as I could be — to me even the theme of the film is probably authenticity,” said Haigh, 38, citing current American filmmakers such as Kelly Reichardt, Ramin Bahrani and Joe Swanberg as influences. “I wanted every element of the film to be true to that.”
To that end, he tried, whenever possible, to shoot in single, unbroken takes. “I wanted to approach it almost as if it was a documentary,” Haigh said. “This was life unfolding in front of our eyes, and I had one chance to capture this moment…. I find it quite powerful when something is shot in a long take. You’re allowed to look around, and in some way it becomes almost more intimate, like sitting in the corner and watching.”
“Weekend” is Haigh’s second feature, following 2009’s docu-fiction hybrid “Greek Pete.” He began his film career working as an editor and editorial assistant, with a hand in such diverse projects as “Gladiator” and Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely.”
With this project, though, Haigh did infuse the story with some of his own experiences, particularly a sense of dislocation he often felt being gay in mainstream society. For that reason it was important to Haigh that the film be set in a rather provincial town like Nottingham rather than a more cosmopolitan locale like London.
“I’ve always, as long as I can remember, felt like I haven’t really fit in, in the gay world or the straight world,” Haigh said. “And I think it’s how a lot of people feel, especially if they don’t live in West Hollywood or London and they aren’t surrounded by gay people all the time. And you carry that with you constantly.”
As much as “Weekend” is shot through with the gay experience, its larger ideas — the difficulties of finding one’s place in the world, the awkwardness of meeting and becoming comfortable with a partner — help transform the film into a more universal romance.
“That’s what’s important for me about the film,” Haigh said, “it’s about something more than just being gay.”
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