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Filmmaker Brian Sloan On The Re-Release of ‘WTC View’

Filmmaker Brian Sloan On The Re-Release of 'WTC View'

This week, I did my first interview for my
film WTC View’s digital re-release,
which goes up on iTunes this Tuesday. The interview was with a DJ at a popular
New York radio station and we had an intense discussion about life here in the
city during that strange post-9/11 month during which the film is set. It
wasn’t until the last couple minutes of our chat that the interviewer realized
we hadn’t even discussed the fact that Eric, a photographer who is meeting with
potential roommates for his SoHo apartment, was gay. As we talked about this,
she said that his sexuality really didn’t matter in the larger story of the
film. And to me, that showed how radically the landscape for LGBT characters in
film and TV has changed since the movie’s original release 10 years ago.

When the film was completed back in 2005, it
was a challenge getting festival programmers and distributors to see the actual
film. Sure they would screen it, but they couldn’t seem to get past the fact
that Eric was gay. Even though “WTC View”, as the title indicates, was not
about Eric’s sexuality (which was presented more as an assumed fact of his life),
those who were viewing the film for the first time couldn’t seem to get beyond it
and see the real story for what it was. Because of this, we were told that the
film too gay for “straight” festivals. And when it came to some gay festivals, some
thought the film wasn’t gay enough! In retrospect, it’s clear that Eric being an
out gay man was a major stumbling block for most viewers at the time—something
that got in the way them seeing the film clearly and experiencing Eric’s
extraordinary journey in post-9/11 New York. They couldn’t understand that Eric,
and the movie itself, was really concerned with much bigger issues than who he
might sleep with; it’s really about this one character’s struggle to keep his
sanity and find a roommate during one of the most frightening and unusual
periods of the city’s history.

Eventually, the film was accepted into the
New Fest, New York’s premier LGBT film festival, and “WTC View” had its
world premiere here in the city. It seemed the perfect place to debut the film
because New Yorkers would understand the real story we were trying to tell.
Being gay here is a just another fact
of life for most people—it’s just another part of the city’s diverse landscape.
For our first screening, we had a full house at the AMC Multiplex on 34th
Street and an audience filled with people who got it and gave the film a very
warm reception. After that, distribution was the next challenge and again,
people on the business end of the film industry had some trouble seeing beyond
the fact that I had placed a gay man at the center of this post-9/11 story. It
felt like it disqualified the film from being taken seriously.

During this period, I kept hearing
questions about why I “had” to make the lead character a gay man. This question
was annoying then but, given how much our culture has changed in the past 10
years, it seems almost offensive now. But these days I can’t be too offended as
I’m relieved that so much has changed in terms of LGBT representation in films
and on TV. In the last decade we’ve seen breakthrough shows prominently
featuring gays and lesbians like Glee
and Looking and movies like I Love You Phillip Morris and, most
recently, The Imitation Game where
characters who happen to be gay live extraordinary lives and are the center of
some pretty amazing adventures. I’m thrilled that so much has changed in terms
of LGBT representation in narrative media, to the point where having a gay
protagonist or major character in one of these shows seems quite normal these
days, as indicated by my recent radio interview.

But back to that semi-annoying question
about whether Eric “had” to be gay. Of course, he didn’t “have” to be gay. As a
writer, you make choices. And though Eric is certainly inspired by my
experience, he could have been straight and breaking up with a girlfriend instead
of a boyfriend. But doing that would have felt false and the whole point of
this project was to be honest and tell the true story of life in Manhattan
during that time, something I felt people hadn’t seen in other films and
stories about 9/11. Simply put, my perspective was my truth, and pretending
otherwise would probably strike a false note. But beyond the issue of personal
truth, there is another even stronger reason I chose to make Eric a gay in this
story and it’s not just because it was my own perspective. 

For decades, New York has been viewed as something
of a safe haven for gays and lesbians who were drawn here from around the
country, and even around the world, because of the city’s widely recognized
history of accepting attitudes towards sexual difference and queer
sensibilities. After all, New York was where the world’s gay rights movement
began, first with Stonewall in ‘69 and then with the first ever gay pride march
a year later. In many ways, the city has been viewed by generations of gays and
lesbians, as an almost mythical promised land of Oz, with many of them yearning
and struggling to get there. That same pull is surely what drew Eric’s
character to the city from rural Delaware and it’s probably what also brought
his previous roommate Stephen to town from his home in Ohio. When New York was violently
attacked on 9/11 and thousands were murdered for living here, the entire city’s
sense of safety and security was destroyed. But for the thousands of LGBT people
who flocked to New York because it was this refuge, I believe the 9/11 attack
hit even deeper. It destroyed in a way their Emerald City, shattering with it a
sense of security that the city itself represented.

In a bigger sense, the film is about this
security being taken awaken in a violent and shocking manner. How does Eric
adapt and survive after such a shock? He shares a sense of disillusionment
certainly that many felt in that period—that as gays as lesbians maybe nowhere
is truly “safe”. In Eric’s case, he has a growing fear too which keeps him
locked inside his apartment. But eventually, because of this extreme situation
forced by 9/11, he matures into a true adulthood for a character who is at a
crossroads in many aspects of his life. No, the city he loved is no longer the
place he left home for. But his boyfriend might possibly offer a different type
of security and the question is whether he will go with that in the end, growing
and evolving and becoming an adult in the process.

For me that’s truly what the film is about.
And I’m thrilled that audiences who are now much more used to seeing gay characters
on screens big and small will be able to watch “WTC View” and see the real
story of this film and not be distracted by the now less-than-unusual fact that
the lead character is a gay man.

Watch the trailer below:

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