Q&A with the Creator of Faces: Ben Empey

Isn’t it scary how you can date someone, break up, and then realize that you never really knew who they were? Faces is a Dekkoo-original short film that dives into this topic as the protagonist, Ryan, embarks on the emotional journey of dating Nathan. As is the case with many relationships, things start off great. But how well does Ryan really know Frank? I sat down with the writer and director of Faces, Ben Empey, to talk about the making of the film.

Christopher Charles Baker and Matt Pascua in Faces

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Ben Empey. I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of San Francisco. I went to film school at the University of Southern California, graduated in 2011, and have made a couple of short films since graduating. But before Faces, I hadn’t been behind a camera in six years. I was on a journey getting to know myself and my voice.

What was your main source of inspiration for the film?

The name for Faces comes from the 1968 film of the same name directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, John Cassavetes. His movies are all about authenticity, and it was between his third and fourth films that he decided to stop kowtowing to the studios. So, he made the movie with his own money in his own house with a circle of friends as the cast and crew. I am so inspired by his methodology, and I wanted to honor him.

What can you tell us about the narrative of the film?

It was really important to not clearly delineate what is real and what is in Ryan’s mind because it’s all real in terms of Ryan’s emotional journey. It doesn’t matter what his literal experience was because the narrative is honest to Ryan’s perception of how his relationship progressed.

Christopher Charles Baker and Matt Pascua in Faces

What has your personal experience with dating been like and how has that influenced Faces?

I see myself in both characters. I’ve never really been in a relationship for longer than a couple months, and that’s where Ryan is at the beginning of the film. I’m also like Nathan in that I am emotionally stunted, have issues with vulnerability, and push people away. I find that I chase unattainable men because I know I will never have to be vulnerable with them. I think that some gay men tend to project this armor to protect themselves, and everyone does it a different way. I tell jokes rapid-fire and don’t date men who might actually ask me to open up. I also insulate myself so I don’t have to do the real-relationship thing. Nathan does this too by presenting a glossy version of himself in the first half of the movie, and as that facade breaks down, Ryan gets to know the real Nathan. Michael Benjamin (Nathan 2) is a good friend of mine, and I wanted him to play the part because he projects such warmth and honesty. That gives the character an extra dimension and shows that he’s not a villain. He’s trying his best but is maybe just messed up emotionally from a past relationship. And now, he’s hurting Ryan unintentionally. That will probably fundamentally change Ryan which might lead to him unintentionally hurting his next boyfriend.

When working on Faces, did you have specific directions for the actor playing Ryan (Matt Pascua) when acting in a scene with Nathan 1 vs. Nathan 2?

I really just let the casting do the directing for me. I believe you never want to tell an actor to not feel what they’re really feeling. I don’t think it’s my job to dictate what an emotion is supposed to look like. So, I just let them go. There’s nothing better than watching an actor do something that isn’t how you initially imagined it, but it’s totally dead on. That’s why they’re actors, and I’m not!

What do you think the Nathans meant to Ryan?

Nathan is essentially Ryan’s first love. He’s never had a real boyfriend before and is ready to go all in. The relationship is no doubt going to leave an indelible mark on him.

Habits and falling back into old routines seem to be a major theme in this film. If you could scream something at Ryan through the screen—a warning, a piece of advice, a criticism, etc.—what would it be?

I wouldn’t yell anything at Ryan, because if he guards himself, he’d just turn into Nathan. I wanted him to have this experience and be able to move on to his next relationship knowing that there is no perfect relationship, but he should still be open and dive as his true self. It sucks, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.

Christopher Charles Baker and Matt Pascua in Faces

What do you think queer viewers will gain from this film?

I’m not interested in watching queer stories where the fact that they’re queer is beside the point. Why can’t we have a major superhero movie where there is a solid romance about two same-sex characters? We get a lot of characters that are flawless models or progressive liberal fantasies. But that’s not human. It’s not real, and it doesn’t interest me. We all have parts of our personalities that we wish weren’t on display, and that’s exactly what I think we should be displaying.

What would 15-year-old Ben say about seeing something like Faces on screen?

15-year-old Ben was so deep in the closet, he probably wouldn’t have watched this film! Haha. But maybe at 17, I would have been incredibly excited to see a well-rounded gay story. I was 17 when Brokeback Mountain came out. It was very important to me to have this gay romance exist at the highest level of studio filmmaking. I wasn’t out then, but looking back, I can see it was hitting me on a subconscious level. It validated my existence in the cinematic world. Film has always been a big passion of mine, and seeing queer stories on screen helped me accept that I was gay. I can’t imagine who I would be if I’d had even more stories or the access to queer content that teens today have because of the internet. Now, you can look up listicles of classic queer cinema and find the movies online. I love it.

What’s the main message you’d like your audience to walk away with after seeing your film?

It all comes back to Papa Cassavetes: be authentic. When you aren’t authentic with other people, getting hurt is inevitable. It’s not sustainable. And part of authenticity is vulnerability. So, reveal yourself! It’s gonna hurt sometimes, but it’s worth it.

Christopher Charles Baker and Matt Pascua in Faces

How does it feel to have Faces featured on Dekkoo?

I’m so thrilled to have Faces on such a cool platform. I remember Dekkoo was featured in Film Comment about a year ago, and I thought, “Damn. One of the best film magazines in the world is devoting space to an all LGBT streaming site. That’s so exciting.” This is the first instance of my work being distributed, and to have it be on an LGBT streaming platform is amazing.

What are your future plans?

I’m trying to get my first feature as a director financed which is an uphill battle. It’s probably clear after viewing Faces that what I’m writing isn’t exactly what you’d consider “commercial.” I like to play with form in everything I do. I’m a bit of a tough sell, but that’s okay. I’m also writing a couple of other things as well that I’m really excited about—all queer in some way. The straights have enough.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me on twitter @realtoddhaynes. I am also a co-host on a podcast called movies imo where we pick a new release and discuss it in combination with some other films. You can find it on the podcatcher of your choice.

Christopher Charles Baker and Matt Pascua in Faces

You can watch Faces right now, available for streaming on Dekkoo!

Pride Month Spotlight: Real Boy

Real Boy is the coming-of-age story of Bennett Wallace, a transgender teenager finding his voice – as a musician, a friend, a son, and a man.

Directed by Shaleece Haas, the film follows Bennett over the first three and a half years of his transition – as he grapples with issues of identity, sobriety, and connection to the people he loves. And the person he loves most is his mom, Suzy, who struggles to accept and understand his decision to transition.

As Suzy works to overcome her misgivings, Bennett finds support in the people who understand him best – his musical hero Joe Stevens, a celebrated transgender musician fighting his own demons; and his best friend Dylan, another trans teen on a similar path to young manhood.

At its heart, Real Boy is a story about growing up. It’s a story about the meaning of family, given and chosen. And it’s a story about how our search for identity isn’t just personal, but involves those closest to us.

One of our Pride Month selections, Real Boy is now available on Dekkoo. You can watch the trailer below.

Now Available: 1:54

Tim (played by Antoine-Olivier Pilon, the star of writer-director Xavier Dolan’s acclaimed 2014 art-house hit Mommy) is a shy sixteen-year-old athlete with a natural gift for running, dealing with the loss of his mother as well as his sexuality.

Antoine-Olivier Pilon in 1:54

However, the last four years of high school have been tough on him because of Jeff (Lou-Pascal Tremblay) and his crew. In his last year of school, Tim is sick and tired of feeling like a loser, and wants to shine for once. He decides to stand up to Jeff by dethroning him in the 800m championship, the event Jeff is known for in school.

Lou-Pascal Tremblay and Antoine-Olivier Pilon in 1:54

But behind the competition and rivalry, a secret is wreaking havoc. After a personal video is shared on social media, Tim’s private life is about to explode into the public eye. Soon Tim finds himself pushed to the edge because of the pressure he endures, the edge where human limits reach the point of no return.

Lou-Pascal Tremblay and Antoine-Olivier Pilon in 1:54

An emotional coming-of-age high school sports movie, 1:54 is now available on Dekkoo. Watch the trailer below.

 

Eyes Wide Open is an extraordinary portrait of forbidden love

Powerfully moving and quietly humane, Eyes Wide Open, Haim Tabakman’s, debut feature is an extraordinary portrait of forbidden love in an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem community.

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Aaron (Zohar Strauss) leads a quiet life. Each day he heads from his tidy apartment where he lives with his four children and his wife Rivka (played by an actress with the unlikely name of Tinkerbell) to his butcher-shop to his synagogue to pray.

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Aaron is a tzaddik, a righteous man, and when Ezri (Ran Danker), a beautiful twenty-something man arrives at his shop in a rainstorm looking for shelter, he gives it. But something more happens as sexual desire develops between the two men. Ezri wants to kiss Aaron, but Aaron tells Ezri that it’s a challenge for them to pray about. Ezri takes Aaron to a spring outside the city, and desire bubbles to the surface between the two men.

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As their gay love is consummated, the love between Aaron and Rivka becomes troubled. And a self-appointed “God-squad” of Jewish thugs warns Aaron that Ezri is a they don’t want in their neighborhood.

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Beautifully insightful and almost delicate in its storytelling, Eyes Wide Open, is a stunningly essential film in the cannon of queer filmmaking. With not an extra word, frame or movement, director Haim Tabakman and screenwriter Merav Doster craft a truly gorgeous and unforgettable film.

Eyes Wide Open is available now on Dekkoo.

We can’t recommend the gorgeous historical romance The Circle more highly

Part documentary, part narrative feature film, The Circle is a moving tribute to a life-long relationship that overcame intense obstacles and an insightful look at an important chapter in gay history.

Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbühler in The Circle

Winner of the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival, The Circle tells the true story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, a schoolteacher and a drag entertainer, who met through their participation in a social network of gay men that developed in Zurich in the 1940s and 1950s. The two began romantic relationship. Interviews with them and other survivors and experts on the era are interspersed with documentary film and photographs as well as a scripted dramatic enactment of the story.

Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbühler in The Circle

Founded in the early ’40s, the network around the magazine ‘Der Kreis’ (‘The Circle’) was the only gay organisation to survive the Nazi regime. It blossomed during the post-war years into an internationally renowned underground club.

Sven Schelker in The Circle

Legendary masked balls at the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich provided visitors from all over Europe with a secret and safe space to act out their ‘otherness’ in a self-determined way. It is there that timid teacher Ostertag falls in love with drag star Rapp. Ernst searches for a way to fight for his gayness to be accepted as normal outside the boundaries of ‘The Circle’ network without losing his employment as a teacher. Röbi champions the joint fruition of their love.

Matthias Hungerbühler in The Circle

Following a murder in the gay community, violent repression against gay people also endangers ‘The Circle’ network. Stefan Haupt’s riveting film uncovers the fascinating universe of one of the first gay liberation communities. Enriched by impressive conversational records with Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, the film depicts a decades-long love story – made taboo by society – and reveals the couple’s inspiring self-knowledge and courage.

The real life Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp

Watch the trailer for The Circle below. It’s now available on Dekkoo.

Robin Williams will break your heart in Boulevard

A beloved American icon who left us way too soon, it’s hard to watch just about any Robin Williams performance without feeling some sense of loss and sadness. His performance in the melancholy drama Boulevard, one of his last, adds even another layer.

Directed by Dito Montiel from a script by Douglas Soesbe, the film follows Nolan Mack (Williams), a middle-aged man who has worked at the same bank for almost three decades in a life of monotony. He and his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) have embraced their marriage as a convenient and comfortable distraction from facing reality. However one day, what starts as an aimless drive down an unfamiliar street turns into a life-altering decision for Nolan when he meets a troubled young hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire) on his drive home from visiting his ailing father at a hospital.

Nolan begins to seek Leo out and spend time with him. The relationship is never consummated, but they spend hours talking. As Nolan spends more time with Leo, he finds himself breaking from the confines of his old life and coming to terms with who he really is: a gay man stuck in the closet. The more he awakens to his true self, the stranger he appears to his friends and loves ones – especially his wife. An unavoidable confrontation – one that should have been had ages ago – starts to brew.

Co-starring Bob Odenkirk and Giles Matthey, Boulevard takes an unflinching look at the difficulties of coming out late in life and features a deeply vulnerable performance from Williams worth cherishing. The film also comes from a place of honesty. Screenwriter Douglas Soesbe underwent a similar coming out experience, telling Creative Screenwriting, “I came out very late and with a great deal of guilt. This movie is not about me, but I really understand that character.”

Boulevard is now streaming on Dekkoo. You can watch the trailer below.

Now Available: After Stonewall

In 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, leading to three nights of rioting by the city’s gay community. With this outpouring of courage and unity the Gay Liberation Movement had begun.

After Stonewall, the sequel to the seminal 1984 doc Before Stonewall, chronicles the history of lesbian and gay life from the riots at Stonewall to the end of the twentieth century.

Narrated by Melissa Etheridge, this film captures the hard work, struggles, tragic defeats and exciting victories experienced during this time, and it explores how AIDS dramatically changed the direction of the movement.

The two films, Before & After, tell the remarkable tale of how LGBT people, a heretofore hidden and despised group, became a vibrant and integral part of America’s family, and, indeed, the world community.

Featuring interviews with Dorothy Allison, Michael Bronski, Rita Mae Brown, Barney Frank, Barbara Gittings, Arnie Kantrowitz, Larry Kramer, Craig Lucas, Armistead Maupin, Leslea Newman, Barbara Smith, and many more!

Watch the trailer for After Stonewall below. The film is now available on Dekkoo.