Grant Scicluna’s short film, The Wilding, has been making a splash at film festivals around the world, including winning the Iris Prize, the world’s biggest LGBT short film award, which provides funding and support for filmmakers to make another movie. BGPS’ Adrian Naik adored The Wilding when he caught it at Iris in Cardiff, giving it a rare 10 out of 10 score!
However not everyone is able to get to film festivals to see great LGBT shorts like The Wilding, which is where the Boys On Film DVD series comes in. The latest release, Boys Of Film 9: Youth In Trouble, is released in the UK on April 29th. The disc features eight shorts, including The Wilding, allowing a wider audience to see its tale of love in the violent and difficult world of an Australian Youth Detention Centre.
We caught up with Grant to talk about The Wilding, how it felt to win the Iris Prize and the importance of gay film festivals.
Where did the idea for The Wilding come from?
The idea came out of a workshop. I know, how dull? A number of filmmaking teams had feature films and we extrapolated elements of our feature films that we could put into a short. For me it was an enclosed location, a love triangle, sensuality and brutality. From that shopping list of sorts I basically had the detention centre, the boys and the story formed within an hour or so.
Did you spend any time in real youth detention centres?
Only in my imagination. They are notoriously easy places to get into as a juvenile, and incredibly difficult if you are media or a film practitioner. Instead, I read lots of testimonies online, and also a very seminal book about the culture within an Australian juveniles’ centre from the 1960s. Much of what you see in The Wilding came from that book.
How difficult was it to get the film made (such as finding funding, etc.)?
We worked pretty hard to convince Screen Australia, and in the end they really responded to the script and had never seen any short film set within a juvie. The funding came entirely from them and they have been so incredibly supportive of the film and us ever since. The most difficult thing was finding the location really, because all prisons are overflowing, and the disused ones are so archaic that you would not buy it. In the end we got lucky when we heard about this disused asylum prison on the outskirts of Melbourne, and we turned up and it was perfect.
The film is pretty intense, but in a short film you don’t have much time to build that tension. How did you go about ensuring the audience was on the edge of their seat?
I think that comes from a few tricks in the story setup. One is a surprise fight that erupts within the first minute or so. It tells the audience that the lead character is not one to be messed with. Then there’s an old Hitchcockian suspense trick where we know another character has a knife and wonder when he’ll use it. The rest of the plot is simply about getting the main character to breaking point. This is achieved through the pressurised violence around him, but also the burgeoning intimacy he feels for his cellmate.
How did you ensure that the film felt real, as there’s a lot of drama in a short time, and with a lot of directors they would have turned the whole thing into an over-the-top melodrama, but The Wilding stays very grounded?
The whole thing is deliberately very messy. I told everyone on the film that I was going to embrace their mistakes. I wouldn’t make them look silly, but if the shot dropped focus, or if a line got fluffed, or if some wardrobe was wrong, all those imperfections were inherent to the style. Why make a film about imperfect kids and not be open to imperfections in the filmmaking? We also do a lot of shots that are basically steadicam shots, but we couldn’t afford any gear, so the cameraman is literally running with the camera and he trips at times. That makes it feel pretty real, I guess.
Where did you find the main actors for the film, as I believe they aren’t professionals?
The leads have all acted before, in fact Reef Ireland who plays the main character is quite an accomplished young actor. But they know these characters because they’ve all grown up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. A lot of other kids in the detention centre we pulled off the streets around where we were shooting, and sometimes got their parents in as guards. Having that mix of professionals and courting the chaos that some amateurs can bring really makes the film feel alive I think.
While set in a detention centre, did you think of the film as being at least partly allegorical about wider issues surrounding love and sexuality (e.g. people hiding their feelings behind closed doors in a homophobic society)?
Absolutely. The film really connects with young people because I think the theme of bullying is so strong and such an issue in our schools. Also, there is a powerful message in the film that love is worth fighting for. In a very dark and violent world, it is literally the last thing you see still standing in the film, so I think it taps into a fight for equality and recognition of gay love.
How did you feel when you found out you’d won the Iris Prize, Cardiff’s annual gay and lesbian short film festival award?
It was very surreal. I had convinced myself that there was no way The Wilding would win, and that it was just wonderful to have it recognised in such an amazing line-up. So I went to sleep. Around five o’clock in the morning my time, my phone kept lighting up with notifications from people congratulating me. I got up, stumbled about, kind of did a little dance, then I called up Reef and Jannine, the producer we met and had a congratulatory beer.
The film seems to have had a great reaction at screenings around the world. Has it exceeded your expectations?
Mega. We’ve screened almost everywhere now except Asia. We’re wondering why we’re not cracking Asia… but the film has been embraced right across Europe – especially with the Germans and the Spanish! – and the United States, and many countries in South America. It is boggling to me, and I’m so humbled by it. I guess something about the message of the film connects globally even though it’s a very idiosyncratically Australian film.
One of the issues with short film is that there’s a limited number of places for filmmakers to get their films to audiences. Do you feel there should be more outlets for shorts (such as the Boys On Film DVDs)?
Boys on Film is so important because not everyone can get to a short film session at a film festival. People live remotely, they are busy and try as they might, they cannot always get to see it. That’s why I’m so thankful to have Boys on Film and other distributors like Peccadillo who are working to get the shorts out there to people who want to see them. I’d also like to see more broadcast opportunities for short filmmakers. That appears to be shrinking. We had a screening on a local TV network in Australia and finally got to reach so many people who were really wanting to see it.
Some are starting to suggest that as mainstream film festivals embrace more LGBT-themed films, there’s less of a place for gay film festivals. Do you feel they still have an important role to play?
Someone once said to me, “Oh gay is so hot right now,” which made me sick. It’s not. Gay films are still incredibly difficult to get financed and to get distributed, so without gay film festivals many, many gay filmmakers would have no outlet for their work. My thoughts on the crossover into the mainstream is far more complex than I think I can address here. I think an element is that many gay filmmakers are now seeing their audience as comprised of both straight and gay eyeballs. This inevitably has an impact on the stories they tell, particularly in terms of how palatable they make their subject matter. In reaction, there are many gay filmmakers going the other way and deliberately making the edgiest cinema out there. So the gay film festivals are once again bringing the marginal to the centre. I think without gay festivals, gay content would die or become very, very dull.
What can we expect from you next? Have you had an idea about what you’ll do for your Iris Prize film?
I’m hoping to shoot an adaptation of a short story by an American writer in Cardiff in September. It’s a corollary to The Wilding in a sense, because it’s about imprisonment but of a completely different kind. It is about a man trying to rescue another man from a life of servitude and is a moral minefield about masochism, slavery and negotiation. Three things that as a filmmaker I know all about!
Thank you Grant.