Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Dan's New "Castle"

I recently had the opportunity to chat with director Dan Castle about his "gay Aussie surf movie", Newcastle, scheduled to screen at the upcoming Sedona Film Festival:

NC: Newcastle deals with one of the brothers coming to grips with his sexual orientation. What inspired you to include this in the story?
DC: I started surfing when I was 33 and wanted to bring that outsider experience to the screen in terms of capturing surf culture. It is so insular and exclusive a sub-culture and being gay is still pretty much a taboo, especially among the teenagers, that I thought it would be great from a dramatic standpoint to throw a character who is pretty well adjusted to the fact that he is gay into this ultra-straight gang of surfers and see what happens.

Being a gay guy who learned to surf later in life, I encountered a lot of surfers along the California coast and in Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia who were really helpful and friendly toward me and who I forged some of my best friendships with, so I really wanted to dispel the myth that all surfers are homophobes and that if you're gay you can't learn how to surf or integrate into another sub-culture that isn't gay.

At the same time, I didn't want to make a gay film or make the film specifically centered around Fergus, the gay twin in the film. I just wanted his point of view among this group of teens and to also show the softer side of a character like Andy, who befriends Fergus and teaches him how to surf. We've all met some Andys in our lives as gay men but I haven't seen many characters like him on screen — open, unthreatened, and curious without having too much of an agenda sexually. I think the Fergus/Andy dynamic in the film in many ways represents a lot of people's experiences; it just hasn't been explored much on screen yet.

NC: In your opinion, how well are GLBT people accepted in Australia versus America?
DC: Australia has a vibrant gay community in the big cities, a great parade at Mardi Gras time every year and it has a great metrosexual vibe about it, but it is still a very homophobic country when it comes to the establishment and media. It is still pretty accepted in the mainstream papers and tabloids to exploit or call attention to people's sexual orientation in a negative way.

I was a bit surprised by that coming out of the Sydney press when working and living in Sydney the past six years. Because of its size and dominance in the region of the world, you might think Sydney would be more like a San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York City when it comes to being culturally sophisticated, but in reality, it is a small city in a small country that is very conservative, so I felt it was more in tune with a middle American mentality than the cutting edge cities I mentioned in the US or say London or Paris, abroad.

NC: What feedback on the film has made you the happiest?
DC: I knew when I made the film that it would be a splitter ­­— some would hate it and some would love it, and that has been the case. Thankfully, percentage-wise a lot more people love it, along with critics, than not, but there were some hostile critiques of the film that in many ways I felt said more about the reviewers than the film ... so it was great to have people and some highly respected critics embrace the film and actually get exactly what I was going after in terms of capturing what it really feels like when you are a teenager experiencing this onslaught of confusing emotions that hit all of us at some point in our teens. The ones who get on that wavelength totally go with the film and love it, the ones that don't complain that it isn't what they thought it was going to be or should be — but those types are never pleased, so there's no point in even trying to reach them with anything that isn't mainstream.

NC: What fascinated you about the surfing culture in Newcastle?
DC: Its location. It is two hours north of Sydney, but it is really its own town. Newcastle is a town with no through road, so when you go there, you have to turn off the main highway that runs up the coast of Oz and drive about five miles to get into and then back out of it. I loved that sense of isolation. It was different than most of the other coastal towns I have been to in Australia, or anywhere else, for that matter.

And the industrial port and history of the town was great as a backdrop because there haven't been many industrial surf films before. I loved that it has these incredible surf beaches but also this really tough working class identity all in the same place. And all those coal ships on the horizon waiting to load up with coal was also a great image to play with in terms of the lead character's frustration with feeling trapped in a fate he can't escape other than through surfing on the pro circuit, so the stakes are higher for Jesse than would be if that all wasn't there.

The Sedona Film Festival will run from February 24 to March 1. Click here to watch the trailer for Newcastle.

UPDATE: Newcastle is now available on DVDfrom

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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