In Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, the chance meeting between Russell and Glen isn’t intended by either of them to lead to anything more than a one night stand.
But over the next 48 hours, as they share their personal histories, beliefs and aspirations, a strong emotional connection develops between them.The relationship between the two men, however brief in length, is one that will have a profound impact on them both long after they’ve gone their separate ways.
The fact that the romantic and sexual relationship that forms the heart of Weekend is between two men is garnering the film a lot of attention—though the fact that it’s an excellent film is helping quite a bit more. Weekend has received extensive critical praise: A.O. Scott of The New York Times called it “a bracing, present-tense exploration of sex, intimacy and love.” It’s also been a success on the film festival circuit and was picked up by Sundance Selects shortly after its premiere at this year’s SXSW film festival, where it won the Emerging Visions Award.
Haigh took the time to chat with MovieMaker about his film, which hits theaters in the US on September 23rd and in the UK and Ireland on November 4th. To watch the trailer and to find out if it’s playing in your city, visit www.weekend-film.com.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): As evidenced by last year’s Blue Valentine ratings controversy, the presence of sex scenes that don’t just fade to black can cause difficulty when it comes to distribution. Given that, did you have any trouble getting Weekend funded?
Andrew Haigh (AH): It certainly didn’t help, and it was an uphill battle to get this film funded. Personally, I have never really understood the fear that comes from sexual content, whether it be straight or gay. Sex is such a fundamental part of our lives, and most of us do it, so it seems so strange that people have such a problem with it [in movies]. Violence, of course, doesn’t seem to worry people—but sex is a different matter.
MM: You worked as an assistant editor on big-budget films (including Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven) for years before directing your first feature, Greek Pete, in 2009. Now that you’ve stepped into the director’s chair, do you anticipate ever working as editor on someone else’s film again?
AH: No. I can’t imagine doing that. I enjoy editing my own work mainly because I’m a control freak, but I’m not sure I could go back to working on other people’s films. It was a great place to learn about story structure, though, about what you need and don’t need to make something work. It also taught me, despite what people say, that things cannot always be solved in the edit.
MM: What was behind your decision to get minimal coverage during shooting? Did that strategy result in any difficulties or unexpected developments as you edited the film?
AH: I wanted the film to feel as authentic as possible. I wanted to approach it almost as a documentary, to feel like the relationship between these two guys was unfolding before our eyes. There are, of course, challenges that you face in the edit when taking such an approach. Some of the shots are over seven minutes long, so everything needs to work: The pacing, the timing, the acting, the camera. And with that approach, the edit becomes about finding the best complete take rather than piecing parts together. Also, you have to rely on the actors to an incredible degree. I was very lucky that Chris [New] and Tom [Cullen] were brilliant in that regard, in their ability to sustain their performance.
MM: Society as a whole has grown more tolerant of homosexuality in recent years, but many people who see the words “gay” and “sex” in relation to a movie can be put off on seeing it. Even if they don’t consciously think “I don’t want to see this movie because it’s about gay people who have sex,” it’s still an influencing factor. Did this at all impact how Weekend is being marketed?
AH: I think those two words do put some people off. They presume that it will offer them nothing or make them uncomfortable; maybe that is true in some cases, but I won’t pretend that it doesn’t annoy me. I do seem to spend a lot of the time telling people that Weekend is a “universal” story, that they should give it go. It is frustrating, because of course it is a universal story! These are just two guys with many of the same struggles as everyone else in the world. I am gay, and I see films with straight people having sex all the time, and I am not offended or uncomfortable. They resonate with me, because they are always about more than just sex, the good ones anyway. In the end, I think it does show that there is still an element of deep-seated homophobia at work some of the time.
Sundance Selects, however, has done a great job at marketing this film. They may play down the sexual element and play up the romantic element, but that actually does represent the film as a whole anyway. It is not a film about sex. It is a film about, among other things, intimacy and how fucking scary it can be.