CLASH journalist Dóra Bartal recently sat down with Sleeping Giant director Andrew Cividino to talk about his latest film.
DÓRA BARTAL for CLASH: Originally Sleeping Giant was a short film which had its premiere in Locarno last year, why did you decide to expand the story?
ANDREW CIVIDINO: I always intended to make a feature and we were ready to make it happen when the money fell apart in the summer of 2013. So I decided not to waste an entire opportunity, I held some scenes and made a short film out of that. That allowed me to take more chances and risks, with exploring how I want to make the short film. I had a year to recalibrate, rewrite and that process dramatically changed how I approached the feature for the next summer.
CLASH: It is quite common that first time filmmakers start their career with coming-of-age films.
CIVIDINO: Yes, some ways it is almost a cliché. It stressed me out a little bit, and I didn’t really like the idea, but I was very drawn to tell this particular story. It was in my head for a long time, so I needed to get that out first. And it was a kind of film I could on my own, because it is a contained world. I know how many times that road has been walked before and I was very aware while making the film. The familiar part of the genre has been done before many times, so I wanted do something which is my own voice and expression, which had its own energy and tone.
CLASH: So other films were in the back of your head?
CIVIDINO: When I was preparing, I watched almost everything I could think of in the genre. The films are really enjoyed are Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, Stand by Me, Lord of the Flies. An Australian film, Picnic at Hanging Rock was an inspiration for the treatment of the landscape. And I seen other films that I liked that I didn’t want to make, like Kings of Summer. I was already very deep into working on my own film, when that movie was going to come out and I was so worried that Sleeping Giant would be no longer relevant. Then I watched it and realized that is not the movie that I want to make. It is not because it is not good, but to me, that is the glossed over, kind of Hollywood version of this and I wanted to make something with teeth.
CLASH: We have seen many narratives when a city boy experiences coming to the country, but I really appreciated that in your film the contrast with the nature is never oversimplified. Do you think this duality of nature is also connected to your representation of adolescence?
CIVIDINO: For me that setting was very important for the story because, I have a personal connection to it. I grew up and spent my summers up there, in Thunder Bay and felt that I had never really quite seen that space before on film. There is a danger and violence lurking beneath the surface of that landscape that is really appropriate for the story. Even when we are having fun and laughing along with the characters there is this tension underneath, that something bad could happen in any moment. I wanted to show the joy and the intensity of being that age, without nostalgiazing or romanticizing that experience because it is very raw and can be cruel and destructive, as well. That male adolescent energy is something I remember very strongly and I wanted to evoke that feeling in the film without making it seem that being that age is all fun all the time.
CLASH: You cast non-actors for the roles of the cousins, how did you find Reece Moffett (Riley) and Nick Serino (Nate)? In what way was it different than working with professionals?
CIVIDINO: Lot of the work comes down to casting. I was trying to find somebody close to the characters as possible, because a person lives in your mind and then you try to find them in the real world. But later you need to delete the person in your head and accept the one that you got in front of you. If you try to get a non-actor to go too far outside of their own personality, they start to perform and they are going to be bad. It is all about asking them to focus on their own experiences and making sure that they are comfortable. We were talking about the intentions, meanings but I was trying not getting too technical with the instructions, and giving them too many things to think about at once.
There was specific story that was outlined, every scene had its beats and needed to go somewhere and it was really important to be true to that, because the story would fall apart. It was very important to allow them to bring their own, natural voices to it, to lend the film a kind of authenticity. If I would put word in their mouth I don’t think they would have been able to achieve this. We were starting with improvised, long takes, which were around 20 minutes and I re-watched them and we workshopped down and down until we had something what was working quite well. There was this very small window where it was clicking but not yet tired. They are not professionals; you can’t shoot forever, you have to have your one take before the scene runs out of that natural energy.
CLASH: There were no difficulties?
CIVIDINO: There were tons of difficulties; it was a nightmare (laughs). Of course, I am kidding but working with young boys was a real challenge. They are living that exact phase in their own lives and we were asking them be disciplined and show up to set every single day from beginning to end. They are just tired and want to go home and you have to convince them why it is important to stay, to make them understand that we are working towards something together. Keeping that motivation going you feel more like a coach than a director. But at the same time they gave a lot, so it was a very rewarding experience but by no means easy.
CLASH: You said that you relate to all three characters and I also had the feeling that in the process of the film, first we identify with Adam (Jackson Martin) but later we get to know the other boys, too. This developed naturally?
CIVIDINO: Originally I set up for Adam to be the protagonist, perhaps that is why he is still starts as a character that we most understand. As I got to know the actors that I worked with, I incorporated some of their stories to the plot I felt more and more the importance of the trajectories of these characters, recognizing that all of them are coming from somewhere and that this collision is not just about Adams experience. Adam was the core, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to expand and make it an actual ensemble.
CLASH: I am very happy that at the discussion someone from the audience pointed out the homosexual subtext of the film. When watching the film I also had this feeling that Adam might be gay but somehow tried to watch it from a heteronormative perspective. Do you think the viewers can read the film in both ways?
CIVIDINO: I think it’s a 50/50 split, between people who think that Adam’s character is attracted to Riley and those who don’t and think he is only attracted the girl. That is exactly how I wanted to be. To me this is not a coming out story, it is about this boy who just starts to cope with his burgeoning sexuality and trying to understand these different impulses and whether he is genuinely, romantically attracted to Riley or he is mixing those emotions with admiration. He is just figuring all of that out and it is about that confusion, that discovery. He doesn’t know and I think he can consciously know yet who does he loves, what does he wants by the end of the film. And I think that’s what drives him to behave such increasingly out of control ways.
CLASH: You mentioned before that he is in a presexual period compared to the cousins who talk loudly about fucking with girls. I am pretty sure that I heard such conversations between boys before.
CIVIDINO: Boys in that age they talk a lot of shit and they don’t even know what they are talking about. Most of them never had any of those experiences, what they are saying is most often really terrible and awful; it is just a bunch of bravado. The conversations that they have are quite intense, but I didn’t want to shy away from showing that. And this illustrates, how Adam doesn’t know how to engage with them at first, that he is coming from a much more protective family.
CLASH: For your next project you plan to carry on with the theme of youth?
CIVIDINO: No more adolescent movie for a while. Every piece of work I do, in some ways, is an allergic reaction to the last one. I would love to take the model and the process of filmmaking that we used for Sleeping Giant but I am always trying to change formally and genre-wise. You devote so much time to a project, that you almost you get sick of it, so now I am looking for a next challenge.