The breakout film at this year's SXSW Film Festival was Andrew Haigh's "Weekend," which screened in the out-of-competition Emerging Visions section and received the audience award. "Weekend" is Haigh's second feature, after 2009's "Greek Pete," which chronicled a year in the life of a rent boy. In "Weekend," Russell meets Glen at a gay bar after an evening spent with his straight friends. It takes a bit of work, but by the end of the night the two have found something special in each other. From Friday to Sunday, the two become entangled in a knot that promises to leave traces on both of them forever. Read Eric Kohn's review here.
indieWIRE sat down with Haigh last week in Austin to chat about his film, shooting its sex and drug scenes and Haigh's status as the "little gay brother" of the UK film industry.
indieWIRE: It seems like the Emerging Visions section is where all the buzz is here at SXSW. How does it feel to be in that section?
Andrew Haigh: It's great. It seems like the films I've seen have been in that section. They all seem quite distinct from each other, which is nice. The point of this festival anyway is to discover new voices. We don't make these types of films in England. I think that's a real shame.
iW: Joe Swanberg was at our iW talk series the other day talking about how your film is what SXSW is all about.
AH: SXSW has championed those kinds of films. The types of films that he does are certainly influential to me. He can just get up and make his own films. If I can be part of that scene, that would be fantastic. I feel more in tune with that scene than most British filmmakers.
iW: How does knowing people like Joe help you with your craft?
AH: In England, I watched "Nights and Weekends." I met Joe when [Haigh's first feature] "Greek Pete" was playing at Maryland. We hung out at a baseball game. It's interesting to know how people make these films, financial struggles, etc. Neither Joe nor [Joe's friend] Ti West has spent years and months making a project. I wouldn't want to spend six years writing this script. I knew I wanted to tell this story and I knew I could make it with a certain amount of money.
iW: What brought you to this story? What made you know you wanted to tell it?
AH: When I was coming up with the idea, I wanted to tell the relationship drama honestly and have it about gay people. To try to tell a story that had wider resonance than that. That's the thing about a lot of gay films, they're just about being gay — nightclubs, coming out when you were a kid. I wanted to focus the everyday aspects of being gay. If I was straight, I would've told it about a woman. It's after you make the film that the gay word gets used constantly.
iW: How do you see your previous film "Greek Pete," which is about a rent boy, relating to this film?
AH: For me, I see the films quite similarly, I see the films as extensions of the world. Pete, and Russell and Glen in this film, are just trying to figure out what the hell they want to do with their lives and find their places in the world. Pete wanted to be an escort, with commitment to his work. They're both about people muddling through their lives, trying to work out how to make the best of it. Everyone gets overtaken by the fact that it's sexually explicit. Hopefully, people get over that.
iW: Right, so how do you negotiate that potential reaction with the explicit scenes that you know you want to shoot?
AH: For me, I don't want to focus on the sex and I don't want to focus on the drug taking. Lots of people, when they are in relationships, they take a lot of drugs and have sex. The conversations that the two guys have are as important as the sex that they have and the drugs that they take. There's a relative objectivity in how I approached all the scenes.
I know people may find the sex scenes sexy. I had to show that these two people were close together intimately. I don't know why people get hung up on it. I think the drug use…drug use is associated with some decline in something. They're very much recreational drug users who probably just have drugs every now and then. It's funny what people get hung up on. It sometimes overshadows things — this is not a film about sex and drugs — you hope that that doesn't overshadow anything else in it.
iW: So who are you making films for?
AH: I'm assuming most people are interested in finding some meaning about life. For me, on a personal level, it's finding my way in the world — don't find myself in the straight world, gay world, in mainstream filmmaking.
It's hard; if you are gay, you have to think of those questions early on in your life. You don't fit in and you realize you don't fit in. Maybe those larger existential questions get brought up earlier. It's those questions that I'm interested in, but doing those in an unpretentious way.
iW: This film explores the effects of a one-night — well, one-weekend — stand, which is something most people don't think about. Were you telling this story from personal experience?
AH: I've met people that I've spent a weekend with before and it had that effect. It's not autobiographical. These short, transient relationships can be incredibly intense and can resonate within your life. If you know there's no future to it, you let your guard down and open up in ways you've never opened up before. When you meet someone, you understand their character — you talk about your past, you let snippets of your life come out — you try to define yourself for another person. There's few moments in your life where your putting yourself on a plate trying to get someone else to understand you. Plus we all have one-night stands.
iW: And how do you feel about all the attention headed your way with this film?
AH:They feel I'm their funny little gay sibling. This is gonna help me get some respect from the upper echelons of the UK film industry — funders. I'm not sure they think gay stories are the ones that are worthy of funding. There's a tendency to look down on gay films a little bit, which is frustrating. People like to pigeonhole things and that can be to the detriment of films and filmmakers.