When Teenage Kicks director Craig Boreham set about casting his latest feature Lonesome, which enjoys its Australian premiere as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival (SFF) he hit on an unusual approach to ensure it was appropriately queer.
‘There’s a whole conversation about authentic casting happening at the moment, but it turned out to be a lot more difficult than you’d imagine,’ he says. ‘Going through the traditional channels, you can’t just ask people if they’re gay in an interview. A lot of the time, their agents weren’t really sure or weren’t sure if they would disclose, and a lot of openly gay actors don’t want to be pigeonholed doing queer stuff.’
The solution? ‘I ended up hitting up Grindr.’
No, this isn’t a gross casting couch scenario, though you can’t blame star Daniel Gabriel for being unsure at first. ‘I convinced them that I was legit, that I had a film on Netflix, and they checked it out,’ Boreham chuckles. ‘We went and had a coffee, and they had a lot of insights into the character.’
Gabriel plays Tib, a city drifter who invites a parade of guys round to the warehouse-like space they’re crashing in at night, while gardening during the day to save up money to handle their mum’s visa issues. In wanders Casey (Josh Lavery, also marking his feature debut) as a country cowboy type fleeing a traumatic situation and feeling a little lost in the big city.
They started as sketches for two separate shorts, Boreham says. ‘I wondered what would happen if I brought these two characters from very different worlds together and it erupted from there.’
Boreham drew on classics such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle and John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy for inspiration for this unashamedly erotic movie, indulging in plenty of homoerotic cowboy iconography. It also features an eye-opening turn from former rugby player Ian Roberts, a Boreham regular. ‘I really wanted to demystify gay sexuality instead of panning away to a tree,’ Boreham says. ‘Sex is so visceral, sweaty and shiny and it looks great on screen, so I wanted to be as in amongst it as we could.’
They worked with an intimacy coordinator to ensure Lavery and Gabriel could navigate these sequences safely while also traversing difficult places emotionally. ‘I think it’s something that a lot of gay men experience, especially in their early years of coming out,’ Boreham says. ‘Putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations because you’re new and everything is a bit uncharted and you’re working it out as you go along.’
While the film lands on a jaw-dropping harbour shot, after an opening sequence that sees Casey hitchhike the hell away from overflowing wheat fields via a roadside pick-up, Lonesome predominantly deals in Sydney’s lesser-seen stretches. ‘I wanted it to feel like you’re in the back alleys and you’re on the rooftop rather, rather than the glossy postcards,’ Boreham says.
The writer/director grew up in Yulebah in Western Queensland, ‘which has about 20 people in it,’ before moving to Brisbane and then on to Sydney, so he understands Casey’s dislocation. ‘Sydney can be a cold, heartless bitch when you’re from somewhere else and it takes a little while to find your tribe here. That was the beauty of finding Josh, because that’s very much his story too. He’s from a remote town in Victoria and was pretty much the only gay in the village, then he found his way to Melbourne.’
Indie film champions Breathless Films, a local production company founded by Ulysses Oliver and Ben Ferris, helped get Lonesome off the ground.
The Longest Weekend
They also backed Molly Haddon’s debut feature and fellow SFF highlight The Longest Weekend. With a screenplay penned by Bump script coordinator Jorrden Daley, the Inner West-set story throws three estranged siblings – Mia Artemis as Lou, Elly Hiraani Clapin as Avery and Adam Golledge as Rio – back into each other’s arms and through the emotional wringer when their abusive father (Sea Patrol’s John Batchelor) resurfaces.
‘Jorrden and I went to AFTRS together, had done a couple of short films, and we both really wanted to do a feature, but it’s so hard to get any money when you’re unproven,’ Haddon notes. ‘Breathless were looking for [emerging] filmmakers, we pitched to them and were successful. It was great because it meant we didn’t have to come up with the money ourselves and they could handle the business end of it.’
That left them more time to focus on the film. As with Lonesome, The Longest Weekend explores queer life in Sydney, this time from the perspective of Artemis’ loose unit Lou. We see her get blind drunk and wind up in bed with best friend Sasha (Alex King) after a big night out in the opening scenes. When later busted sporting a hickey from another woman (Dannika Uusi-Hakimo), she refuses to be backed into a monogamous relationship that she views as an unwelcome heteronormative construct.
‘It was really important to us that being queer was not Lou’s challenge,’ Haddon says. ‘The film isn’t about her trying to justify any of that.’
The most interesting aspect of this tightly knit emotional drama are the familial bonds that are harder to break. ‘We did a lot of workshopping with the actors about how often the siblings see each other, which we decided was probably a couple of times a year,’ Haddon says. ‘They’re living very different lives and not really putting any effort into those relationships. I think Avery carries a lot of that guilt as the oldest, because she was maybe the first to initiate walking away.’
While the longest weekend of the title is technically the October break, which Haddon says they went to excruciating lengths to depict on phones and clocks despite the unlikelihood of anyone noticing, really it refers to the gulf between the trio. ‘It’s funny, because they do still have a strong rapport. And I think even if siblings live apart or maybe aren’t as close, as soon as you back in the same room, those pre-existing dynamics totally happen.’
Working out the details of their backstory before the 17-day shoot allowed Haddon to focus on the big picture. ‘While I definitely love to be there for my actors on set, there’s just so much going on during the shoot that if we have a groundwork that we can pull from, we can easily tap into that stuff in a safe way.’
Even an unexpected pandemic-related hiatus worked out well in a weird way. A location fell through, leading them to beloved Art Deco pub the Erskineville Rose. ‘It’s not something we would ever have been able to access had it not been locked down,’ Haddon says. ‘They would never have given us a 12-hour shoot for the rate that they did, so it really was a boon.’
The Sydney Film Festival runs June 8–19.