Saturday, 31 March 2012

BELGIAN GAY TEEN COMING-OF-AGE FILM RAISES MORE THAN, UM, EYEBROWS

 Bavo Defurne (L) directs actor Jelle Florizoone on the set of North Sea Texas (Photo courtesy Indeed Films)

If Toronto’s film festival has become an indispensable tool in the Hollywood publicity machine, then the Montreal World Film Festival is still an event that is principally about discoveries. And this past year no film was more anticipated than director Bavo Defurne’s debut feature film North Sea Texas, about two teenage boys who fall in love.

The Flemish-Belgian production was released in Belgium 2011, had its international premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival last August where it won the Silver Zenith Award in the First Films World Competition, as well as the International Federation of Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize, again for debut works. And it is the closing film at the BFI’s 26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, screening twice on April 1, before is goes into wide release across the UK on April 6.

“This film explores many of the same themes as my short films – the discovery that you are not the same as everybody else, that you are different,” says Defurne, the widely-acclaimed (and openly gay) director often described as Belgium’s best kept secret – until now, that is. “But my short films didn’t go far enough, they didn’t explore what happened afterwards.”

Jelle Florizoone and Mathias Vergels
star in North Sea Texas
(Photo courtesy Indeed Films)
So Defurne decided to film North Sea Texas, adapted from a novel called This Is Everlasting by André Sollie, a heartwarming coming of age story that follows a teenage boy called Pim (wonderfully played by Jelle Florizoone) who falls in love with Gino, the rugged, motorcycling boy next door (Mathias Vergels).

“Coming of age films usually end with the discovery of one’s identity, but in this film identity is not the issue, it is about love,” Defurne says. “The film is about what’s next. It is a film about finding happiness. So many [gay films] do little to uplift gay people. I saw Brokeback Mountain and it is a touching and heartbreaking film that makes us all cry, but not in a good way. I wanted to make a film about the life they could have had, a happy film.”

The press kit for North Sea Texas emphasizes that this coming of age tale is universal. And it is. But many straight people will insist that any film that focuses on two gay teens is not “universal.”

So it’s no surprise that Defurne and producer Yves Verbraeken (who also co-wrote the script) had trouble securing financing for their film. “Belgium is a country of beer drinkers and there is one Belgian beer company who sponsors all films and they told us, ‘Your film is not the target audience of beer drinkers.’ As if we only make films for gays and gays don’t drink beer.”




But Defurne was delighted with the raves North Sea Texas garnered following its international premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival.  Even Variety swooned in their review, “The [film] benefits from an artful combination of naturalistic performances and attractively stylized visuals, aided by judicious use of an evocative score. The isolated seaside location (unspecified in the film but shot in Ostende) practically becomes a character itself, with gorgeous shots of crashing waves, blowing reeds and empty sand dunes employed lyrically throughout.”

Defurne is currently screening his film on the gay-and-lesbian film festival circuit. “In an ideal world it wouldn’t make a difference,” he admits. “I wish heterosexuals would be just as charmed by my film as gay people were charmed by Titanic. But that’s not reality.”

North Sea Texas is the closing film at the BFI’s26th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, screening twice on April 1, before is goes into wide release across the UK on April 6.

Click here for the official North Sea Texas website 

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