Kiss Me Softly and Follow Me are two intimate and deeply personal short films. They both depict various stages in the life of Jasper, a young gay man. From his teenage years, to the brink of adulthood, the films explore different obstacles, including parental misunderstanding and romantic rejection.
FilmDoo talks to director Anthony Schatteman.
What inspired you to make these shorts about the life of Jasper, a young gay man between adolescence and adulthood?
The story was inspired by my own youth. I grew up in a very small town, where I did not feel at home. When I moved to the big city, I saw that it was stupid to have hid my sexuality. I wanted to tell this story to show people they should not be hiding and that they should just be who they want to be, no matter what.
In terms of your 2012 short Kiss Me Softly, we see Jasper as a teenager dealing with the struggles of adolescence and bullying as a result of his sexuality. Do you think that these years are more difficult for LGBT teens?
I think it’s just a matter of where you grow up – like, in what kind of setting. Of course, as a teenager growing up it is hard to find out who you are and who you want to be. Not just for LGBTQ+ people, but also for kids who are feeling different in any kind of way. I think things get better with every year, so it’s no longer the same as it was 20 years ago.
Jasper’s father is a singer and Jasper seems to disapprove of this career. What was the idea behind this element of the story?
In the 90s, my father was a successful singer in Belgium. For me it was hard to tell him about my sexuality, as the only gay people he knew were different to me. I just wanted to show him that I was a normal guy, but I always thought he wouldn’t understand and would compare me to the gay people he knew.
The final scene is a very powerful symbol of defiance against homophobia – did you always know that you wanted this finale to be a bold and dramatic act against prejudice?
I didn’t want to make the father entirely bad. This ending is an open ending, so the viewer can guess for themselves what happens after the show. Before I started shooting the film, I gave the script to my father. I asked him for his permission to make this film (as it is a really personal story about him and our father/son relationship). I was sitting next to him when he was reading it quietly. Tears fell down his face while he continued reading it, and after he was done, he grabbed my hand and told me; you have to tell this story!
Your 2015 short Follow Me continues to depict the story of Jasper but does so at a later point in his life, on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood. Why did you decide to depict Jasper at this stage in his life?
Follow Me shows Jasper a few years later. I didn’t want to make movies about the difficulty being gay. This story is just about love and growing up and how people handle their first strong feelings for someone. Jasper is now OK with his sexuality. I wanted to tell a universal story about process of trying to become an adult. The first feelings you have for someone are really intense. I think everyone has felt this at a certain time of their lives, but in the end you know that it was just part of growing up.
The film’s eroticism somehow manages to be subtle and overt at the same time. What cinematic techniques did you find essential to securing this style?
I wanted to be very close to the bodies of my actors, to show how Jasper feels. He is claustrophobic, and when his teacher is with him everything is very exciting and tense. I asked my cameraman to follow every movement of the actors so that the viewers are participating in a certain way.
In terms of rejection and heartbreak, the film depicts the coldness with which an older man seems to take advantage of a younger and more vulnerable man. Why did you want to tell this story?
Gerard, the teacher, is not only taking advantage of the much younger Jasper. He is stuck in his life. In the end he makes the decision that Jasper has no place in his life. Sometimes we think with our head – what would be a better option to get through life? Gerard thinks it would be better to choose the life he is familiar with, the life that is ‘normal’ for him. But, even if we make choices like that, I think in the end you always follow your heart. During the ending, Jasper sees Gerard at the place where he works. I wanted to leave this scene open for suggestion; is this the way they met each other here for the first time? Or is this after they have talked about breaking up?
Are you working on any new projects and will you continue to portray the story of Jasper?
I just finished my 3rd short film, Hello, Stranger, which is about a single dad who takes care of his 7-year old son. During the night he works as a drag-queen; a secret life that nobody knows about. He struggles to compare his two lives and we follow him while he tries to find a solution for this. Also, in the summer we are shooting the final part about the life of Jasper, so I guess this will be premiering at the end of 2017. In the meantime, I am developing the script of my first feature film.