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My Future in Film

My Future in Film


Jeremy Podeswa is known for his work on projects that deal heavily with issues of sexuality like Six Feet Under, Queer as Folk, and Nip/Tuck. But with his latest film, Fugitive Pieces, which is about the Holocaust, he looks past identity politics and hopes to redefine what it means to be a queer director.

OK. Here's the thing. I've just made my third feature film, Fugitive Pieces, and it's a story about a young, Jewish Polish boy whose family is killed in World War II. He is found and saved by a Greek man, who at the risk of great personal danger, hides the boy in occupied Greece throughout the war. He then effectively adopts the child (with whom he has no shared language, culture, or history). The film goes on to dramatize the life of this boy as he grows up, becomes a famous writer, gets married, and grapples with the legacy of his traumatic past.

The film is based on the profoundly moving literary bestseller by Anne Michaels, which has won numerous awards internationally. All very well and good.

But why am I writing about this film for The Advocate? Fair question.

I have previously made two feature films that directly addressed issues of intimacy and sexuality, gay, straight, and not so well-defined. Those features, Eclipse (distributed by Strand Releasing) and The Five Senses (distributed by Fine Line and starring Mary Louise Parker), and a number of short films including Touch (part of the DVD compilation Boys Briefs) are of obvious interest to gay and lesbian viewers. I have also directed episodes of the TV series Queer as Folk, The L Word, Six Feet Under, Nip/ Tuck,Rome, Dexter and The Tudors... all of which might be of more obvious interest to readers of this publication. But what about Fugitive Pieces?

All right. Well, there are a few ways to answer this question. The first has to do with the culture's evolving notions surrounding identity politics. When I was growing up (a few years ago), there was an expectation that gay and lesbian artists would consistently deal directly with GLBT issues in their work. The understanding was that there was a lot of political and social work to be done in the world and the onus for artists was on producing work that might effect change -- or at the very least affirm the needs and desires of a community that needed to be accepted, understood, and valued. For the consumers of gay and lesbian artistic practice, positive affirmation was prized above all -- often above artistic merit. I understood that imperative, even though as an artist I bridled against its confines. It was a natural response to decades of invisibility and even downright hostility.

But there has been a sea change in expectation and in identity politics. It is understood now that gay writers, filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists are not solely (or even largely) defined by their sexuality. They are defined by their gender, their age, their nationality, their cultural background, their ethnicity, their religion, their economic bracket, their education, and their political persuasion. And at any given time, an artist might choose to address all or none of these realities in their work. Inspiration is complicated, and the diversity of our experience is something that is now being acknowledged and accepted more than ever. It's clear that there is a lot that gay and lesbian artists have to contribute to the public realm on an unlimited array of issues, many of which have little to do with sexuality.

But that is not to say that sexuality has become increasingly irrelevant to gay and lesbian artistic discourse. It is just that it has been repositioned and reframed. It could be argued that sexuality informs to some degree everything that gay and lesbian artists produce, whether or not it explicitly deals with that subject matter. The stated subject of any work is only its surface, it might be said. Who we are will subtly or overtly affect our approach to any subject, and we are increasingly becoming sensitive to and appreciative of those nuances. For example, anyone who has been marginalized as a result of their sexuality will speak of social issues, or about public policy or about race, or about any other number of issues from that position of marginalization. Sexuality, whether referred to explicitly or not, is clearly not irrelevant.

Fugitive Pieces, while not dealing at all explicitly with sexuality, does deal with issues of intimacy, with the repercussions of political persecution, and with the importance of compassion, charity, and self-sacrifice. What gay or lesbian viewer cannot find a point of connection with any of these themes?

In the early '90s, the New Queer Cinema movement was the first step in exploding queer audience expectations. By presenting complex, confrontational, and often problematic gay and lesbian representations in movies like Poison,Swoon, and The Living End, new filmmakers urged audiences to look beyond their desire for positive affirmation and to find inspiration in a range of more diverse, challenging, and true-to-life representations.

Now, 15 years on, there is an understanding that while positive affirmation has its place, so does a recognition that values are expansive and not strictly defined by sexuality. A gay Democrat just might have more in common with a straight Democrat than a gay Republican. And a gay viewer might occasionally be more interested in seeing his political ideals and personal values reflected than his sexuality.

It's an interesting development and I think it speaks well of our plurality and our complexity as a community.

So. Why Fugitive Pieces in The Advocate? Why not?

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Jeremy Podeswa