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Outfest 4 in Focus: “Open” Director Jake Yuzna On His Queer Aesthetic

Outfest 4 in Focus: "Open" Director Jake Yuzna On His Queer Aesthetic

With the distinction of being the only American film to win the feature film Teddy and an acting award for star Morty Diamond at this year’s Newfest, “Open” compels wherever it plays. Says Outfest, “First-time feature director Jake Yuzna presents a beautifully shot, intense film that blurs the borders of gender and sexuality. As transwomen, Gene and Jay – inspired by artist Breyer P. Orridge (of Psychic TV fame) – alter their bodies to become a single Pandrogynous being. Syd, a young gay transman, deals with dating cisgender hipster Nick. OPEN is an uncommonly human and yet equally esoteric portrait of transgender men and women and the complexities of their relationships.” [Synopsis provided by Outfest]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a collection of interviews with the filmmakers from Outfest 2010’s “Four In Focus” selection, which features work from four first time directors

Outfest screenings: July 11 & 14

Yuzna on the filmmaking blood pulsing through his veins…

There was never a defining moment when I decided to make cinema. That desire has always been there. Ever since I can remember. To put it simply, it’s what I do. All of my other pursuits are chosen either to support the creation of new work, or the refinement and development of my own practice. I’m a bit obsessive like that.

I also come from a creative family, my mother being a poet and my uncle a director. You could say there is something in the blood.

On coming to the story for “Open”….

When I was 17 or so, I became active in the homocore scene in the Midwest. It was a place where punk and queer culture overlapped. A lot of people who didn’t fit in anywhere else found a home there. Through this I met a lot of transmen, and I began to wonder what it would be like to have a child with a transman. At the same time I’ve always been interested in alternatives to conventional society and culture. From the situationist international to COUM transmissions. Groups and artists who are exploring other options of living and being. I wanted to create a film that showcased this diversity of humanity. Both the people who are still living in the fringes of culture, as well as those exploring new frontiers of love, sex, and identity.

Yuzna’s evolution as a filmmaker…

I came out of the American film education of the early ’00s. During this time I felt surrounded by my fellow students, who created works that where direct imitations of their favorite filmmakers. Looking around, one would constantly see little packs of Tarantinos, Wes Andersons, and Spike Jonzes. It seemed as if my classmates where attempting to recreate that special feeling these directors’ films gave them. It just seemed like everyone was chasing this strange cinema high. That it had become a big feedback loop. Without breaking free from what has come before, a lot of the work suffered. Suffered from lacking a reason behind why it was being made. I wanted to break from this. Instead, I was interested in seeing what new possibilities still lie in the form and themes of cinema. Utilizing the medium to explore uncharted waters.

On gaining support for the film…

It may seem surprising, but we had a lot of support. From the film community, from the queer community, even from funding groups. Hell, even the National Endowment for the Arts supported us. The only real challenge was working with a small budget, but that always leads to difficulties. Then again, what independent film ever has the amount of money they would like to be working with?

On what audiences can gain from “Open”…

A new perspective. It was important for the film to showcase queer, trans, intersexed, and pandrogynous people as people. First and foremost. To not see these individuals as freaks. ‘Open’ was made to be a very unique film. I like to think of it as similar to the first time you kiss someone with tongue. Its a bit different. Not what you expected. But at the same time compelling, and if you’re lucky, it’ll open you up to all kinds of new experiences.

On influences (that aren’t Tarantino, Anderson, and Jonze)…

When I first began to make “Open” I saw it as a strange love child of the work of Greg Araki and Sébastian Lifschitz. But films have their own life in a way. Like a child, you have to let them grow and find themselves. After Open was finished, I saw an influence from directors like Michael Haneke, Pasolini, Von Trier. But I am sure there is a lot of other influences floating around in there as well.

And new projects??

I don’t like to talk about projects until they’ve already begun. It’s more fun to keep it a surprise.

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