Bullying affects millions of people across the globe. An estimated 200 million children are bullied, making them 9 times more likely to think about suicide and more probable to develop psychosis in adolescence.
Sexuality would seem to be a fear that instigates some of the worst bullying and targets anybody who doesn’t fit into the standard male or female blueprint, in one disturbing word, Homophobia.
A film currently in production sets to tackle this problem head on. The film DROWN directed by Dean Francis is based on the hugely popular play by Steven Davis and starring Matt Lucas. It is a dark, funny, very sad and hugely challenging moving where it does not only contests the issues of bullying and homophobia but also what it means to be a non-stereo typical male in a prejudiced world.
I interviewed director Dean Francis on why Drown is an important and timely movie to make and why the production is veering away from the traditional film-making set up.
What’s Drown About?
“Drown is about being trapped into certain behaviours by what the world expects of us. It’s about what men do to each other to hold onto their power. It’s about the fear of male intimacy that drives so much violence; it’s about sport and sporting culture, what makes an Aussie hero.
It challenges the assumptions on which the Australian male identity is based. It’s about the origins of bullying. It’s dark and it’s funny.”
I’m Scottish and Scottish men are very much like some Australian men. It’s a very straight line, your either male or female. If you’re a female, you are emotional. If you are male, you don’t show emotion as it’s a sign of weakness.
“Definitely, my mother’s Scottish and I spent a bit of time in Edinburgh, and it’s true. The reality is in Australia, we grow up with a very narrow defined sense of what we need to do to be properly male. It’s extremely limiting for a lot of people, but rather than run the risk of being singled out as different. What most of us do is toe the line even if that means condoning dreadful violence.”
Dean said when he read Stevens script, he had never been so moved by a piece of writing in his life. “I was riveted to the page it was so sexy and ever so sad. For me there was urgency about the story because of its potential to address bullying which affects millions of people but which is not discussed enough. I felt that if we made the film, we could make a talking point and create a positive change.”
Do you think that the people who need to be convinced to change will be going to watch the movie?
“That’s certainly we hope for. What will change it will be what we term a cross over film. So initially it might have a niche audience which is people who don’t need to be persuaded about the issue. Because the film has a very iconic aspect to it mainly that it is set in the surf lifesaving community as a back drop, it also deals with sporting culture. We’re hoping that these aspects will mean that it will cross over into the main stream.
Certainly in so far as the media attention to this issue, it is anticipated that it will go out fairly widely but you know like anything we have to rely on word of mouth and marketing and make sure it does reach a wide audience.”
The play was in Queensland. It must have been quite controversial there.
“Yes it was and it ended up reaching a mainstream audience.”
Have you heard of the Gay Panic Defence in Queensland. It’s so stupid it beggars belief really. Doesn’t it?
“It certainly does and that’s something that’s very much at the heart of Drown. Our film deals with a different sort of gay panic than the one that Campbell Newman has in mind. We’re dealing with the panic that a straight man feels when he finds himself attracted to a gay man and as we know that is also a recipe for violence and we see that quite a lot.”
Who needs to take responsibility to enable change?
“I went to a [email protected] the other night to hear the Archbishop come out and babble that bull shit about gays having a shorter life span. All this nonsense doesn’t help from the people who should be the role models and of course that argument has totally overlooked the fact that gay people are 6 times more likely to commit suicide. People like the Archbishop and other people who should be role models for the community need to update their views.
The film industry has to take some responsibility, because the version of masculinity that’s represented is extremely limiting and narrow minded- Hollywood action movies, Bruce Willis that’s what we’re fed on.
I think what we’re trying to do not just for this project but more broadly is to diversify the way that men and masculinity and women for that matter are portrayed in film. We know we are sort of shaped by entertainment culture, as we take for granted so many of those messages that get force fed to us through these mainstream types of entertainment.”
So the film industry has a major role to play in the way we identify with the world we live in?
“One of the most important functions of cinema is to draw attention to issues that no one wants to talk about and make their discussion acceptable. It’s time we instigated a complex discussion about bullying and homophobia and their root causes.
Cinema allows us to harness all the emotional power of the issue and entertain an audience as well as provoking them. Think about all the different human rights struggles the world has gone through in the last 100 years. It’s very bad to realise that we’re back where we were in the days of segregation, and ultimately I think it doesn’t matter if your gay, straight, transgender or whatever.
I think we all need to step up to the fact that we all live in a very discriminatory world and I think we all have a responsibility. I think the vast majority of people have had some sort of passion about changing that.”
“Drown” is not being produced or funded in the usual way, why and how does it differ from the traditional methods?
“From start to finish a film usually, it took about 5-7 years to be produced, including shooting. I think this is a topic that needs to be addressed urgently and that’s why we’ve gone down the untraditional path of crowd funding the film. Actually, out in the community and the world, we must be part of it rather than going through the very conservative process of film planning and distribution.
Of course the thing we are up against is, yes, the movie industry is I think quite homophobic in its output. Ironically, the people in the film industry aren’t themselves homophobic. Increasingly, the film financiers only care about how much money a film will make at the box office.
So stories are constantly dumbed- down to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the audience. Notice how many re-makes and superhero movies are at your multiplex this year?
Drown deals with ideas that are important and sometimes uncomfortable. To do the subject matter justice we need the freedom to really go deep into the characters and not shy away from hard truths. Our audience will find the film in a number of ways-including cutting edge distribution methods like peer-to-peer file sharing, online delivery, and pop up cinema, event screenings and the building of an international social media community that has emotional ownership in the project from construction to release.
We’ve got a number of other ideas in mind, for example we are looking at pitching an hour long TV documentary to coincide with the release of the film which looks at the making of the film on a really personal and emotional level. What we’re realising is that pretty much everyone we’re working with on this picture has got some sort of horrifying bullying story, which is another reason why we’ve got all these people who want to come and work on this picture. Weare happy to defer payments, because they feel it is important. But there’s got to be a way to broaden out what we’re saying with the film beyond the cinema audience. We’re looking at this like a special project as well as a film.”
People now have the opportunity to stand up, be counted and make an impact on how we shape our society into one that not only faces the harsh realities of bullying and homophobia that effects our young people every day, but a country that implements change and cultivates a culture of understanding.
Set against the iconic backdrop of Bondi beach, three surf life savers head out on a big night out, jealousy homophobic fears and unrequited lust culminate in a tragic booze-fuelled episode of near fatal bullying.
The characters in Drown are not only probable but familiar. There is Len, the protagonist, surf lifesaving champion and a bit of a hero. Len doesn’t like strangers especially if they threaten his top dog status. He has grown up fearing intimacy. For Len, intimacy is something women do and women are weak. Weakness is death in Lens world.
Phil is 19 and has just come out as gay. The story opens with Phil meeting and falling in love with a boy. He joins the local surf lifesaving club and is victimised because of his sexuality. Keen to be a part of the code of mateship in the club, he doesn’t speak up about the humiliation and violence from Len.
Phil doesn’t want to embrace gay culture. Marginalised by straight culture, he discovers that Len is secretly attracted to him and tries to save him from impending self-destruction. But Len needs to destroy his own uncomfortable feelings of same-sex attraction, so he sets about destroying Phil.
Meat is the mate. he is the loyal follower. He starts to question his role. He sees his friend imploding and tries to help but is honour bound by the code of mateship. There are certain things guys don’t discuss. Faced with condoning unimaginable violence, Meat has to make a choice between loyalties to a mate and doing the right thing.
DIGITAL CINEMA AND HOW IT’S CHANGING THE WAY MOVIES ARE MADE
Red Digital Cinema released the Scarlett-X camera this year; it shoots twice the resolution of 35mm film and is small enough to take into all sorts of places. For the filming of Drown, Scarlet was able to film on the dance floors of Sydney night clubs and the late night streets of Kings Cross. The affordable package gives greater flexibility with schedule and budget and enables most of the post-movie production process to be done on iMacs.
Dean Francis-Director/producer/writer- Dean is an award winning director his directional debut feature film ROAD TRAIN sold in over 40 countries and theatrically released in Australia in 2010. Dean also has credits in as a producer in comedy and factual television.
Stephen has developed and written for television working with ABC, SBS, SOUTHERN STAR, NETWORK TEN, GOALPOST PICTURES, COLUMBIA TRISTAR and 20TH CENTURY FOX to name just a few, three of his feature film scripts have been produced.
Dean and Stephen passionately believe that as film makers they have a responsibility to share their knowledge and experience with future film makers and teach at various film schools around Sydney from time to time.
“Drown is a great opportunity to give some emerging film makers a leg up and invite them on the journey to make a film which we hope will contribute to redefining how cinema is made.”
MORE INFO BOXES
To get involved with the movie and to watch the trailer visit the site.
Official Site: www.drownthemovie.com
Production Companies: jj splice films Pty ltd, Pigsy Dunkit Pty Ltd, Azure Productions Pty Ltd
CERTIFICATION: Drown is a 15 and over film.