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FilmOut Q&A: "Interior. Leather Bar." with Travis Mathews, co-director with James Franco | VIDEO

(Editor's note: SDGLN is featuring Q&A interviews with leading filmmakers from around the world who are participating in FilmOut San Diego's 15th annual LGBT Film Festival, running May 29 to June 2 at the historic Birch North Park Theatre. Follow SDGLN for all the news about one of the top LGBT film festivals in the U.S.)

“Interior. Leather Bar.” is probably the most controversial film at FilmOut San Diego’s 15th annual LGBT Film Festival, and is making its California premiere on June 1 at the Birch. It was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival.

FilmOut tickets are expected to be scarce since the local leather community, FetishMenSanDiego, are co-presenters of the movie and are expected to turn out in force.

Directed by James Franco and Travis Mathews, the hour-long film is a documentary-like reimaging of the 40 minutes of sexually explicit material that the MPAA banned from William Friedkin’s shocking 1980 film “Cruising” starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating murder in New York’s leather bar scene.

The two directors collected a group of gay and straight actors, and pushed the boundaries of acting for some of them as they were asked to explore the S&M scene of a darkened leather bar. Val Lauren, a straight actor and a close friend of Franco’s, struggles with the demands of his role as Steve (Pacino’s character).

That’s not the only fascinating angle of the movie. Franco and Mathews force audiences to decide whether there should be limits on sexual and creative freedom. As a result, FilmOut is limiting ticket sales to audiences to ages 18 and older, due to the graphic nature of the movie. Expect to see oral sex, masturbation, paddling, boot licking and more.

Travis Mathews, who co-directs with LGBT ally James Franco and writes the screenplay, chats with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about the public reaction to his sex-crazed movie “Interior. Leather Bar.”

SDGLN: Why did you decide to “re-imagine” the 40 minutes that were cut out of “Cruising,” the 1980 psychological thriller film directed by William Friedkin?

James [Franco] and I were interested in an unorthodox way of revisiting “Cruising” that wasn’t about remaking it as much as it was about using parts of it to springboard a broader exploration. We both knew the film and its controversial history well, but the lost 40 minutes was a new discovery to us and it fit perfectly in with our interest to examine boundaries of all sorts, censorship and the role of sex as a story-telling tool. But to be clear, it’s not a film with 40 minutes of reimagined footage. It’s much more about our making of said footage. It’s the most meta thing I’ve ever made.

SDGLN: Do you consult with Al Pacino or William Friedkin before making the movie? How did you research the missing 40 minutes? Have either one of them seen your film?

There was a lot of concern that we were remaking “Cruising,” which is far from the case. Most of our energy with Friedkin was spent assuring him of that. No idea if either has seen it. I suspect that they have or will see it.

SDGLN: One of the fascinations about the film is that several straight actors played hard-core gay roles, such as Val Lauren. What boundaries did these actors have to cross, and what do you think they learned from the experience of being pushed to the edge as actors?

Much of the film is about (creative, personal, sexual) boundaries and how arbitrary and individual they can be. As our actors are considering their own boundaries, we’re also dovetailing it into a broader discussion about institutions like the MPAA who mandate more widely felt boundaries that often involve double standards as far as violence and sex are concerned.

SDGLN: The cast included at least two actors with San Diego connections; Brenden Gregory, aka Brenden Shucart (“Bug Chaser”), and Caleb James. Did you have any trouble with casting a graphic movie like this?

I’ve been making gay themed films around sex, intimacy, and story for several years, so as these things go, the casting wasn’t so difficult. I’d worked with Brenden on a short film called "I Want Your Love" and was hoping to work with him again. This provided an opportunity.

SDGLN: What is the genesis of this movie, and what is the buzz on the gay film festival circuit?

James [Franco] approached me based on my film "I Want Your Love," to collaborate on a film that used “Cruising” as a touchstone. He wanted sex to be looked at as a story-telling tool and that’s what I’d been doing already. Our initial conversations were rich with things we wanted to accomplish and so they became part of the piece itself.

We’re just entering the gay film festival season so it’s hard to say just yet. But it’s been made clear to me that this is a polarizing film, and one that is more “queer” than it is “gay.” It’s more meta, more academic and more layered than some people care for, i.e. it’s not 40 minutes of sweaty leather sex. But from others I hear a welcome relief that we made smart, unconventional choices. The New York Times loved us, Variety hated us.

SDGLN: Where did you shoot the movie, and why did you choose this location?

Los Angeles. It was primarily out of convenience, but I also like that it is 180 degrees different from the NYC of “Cruising.”

SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?

There are a lot of things, things I’ve already mentioned. Primarily, I see it as an experimental film that provokes conversation about boundaries.

SDGLN: Do you prefer the LGBT genre?

I think this is all starting to blur in interesting ways. We’re seeing more and more films with mostly gay characters that are having human dramas that don’t involve the oppression of their sexuality as a core theme. That’s making for better films with broader places to explore. There will always be an audience for gay themed issue films but the fact that they can play parallel to less stock gay crisis movies is good by me. And progress.

SDGLN: What’s next for you?

I’m in development on my next feature and continuing to tour with "Interior." In a lot of upcoming festivals it will be paired with my short, "In Their Room London," which I’m excited to see on the big screen.

SDGLN: Single or taken?

Single.

SDGLN: What is something your fans don’t know about you?

I've probably seen "Halloween" over 100 times.

SDGLN: Will you be coming to the FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival?

Maybe. Don’t know the dates and I'll have to check.

SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?

Something selfish, something altruistic and then more wishes obviously.

SHOWING ON SATURDAY, JUNE 1

Time: 10 pm – AGES 18 AND OLDER
Sponsored by ABC10/Azteca America
Co-presented by Micky’s West Hollywood, GayTravel.com and FetishMenSanDiego

“Interior. Leather Bar.” (2013), directed by James Franco & Travis Mathews, 60 minutes, U.S.

California premiere – official Sundance selection

The 1980 film “Cruising” (starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a murder in the NYC gay leather bar scene) was plagued with controversy, and its director was forced by the MPAA to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material. Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews set out to reimagine what might have transpired in those lost scenes in this documentary-style film about the making of a film. The cameras roll as Franco and Mathews assemble a mix of gay and straight men, focusing on the actor (Val Lauren) who portrays Al Pacino. What emerges is a portrait of the fascinating dynamics that drive the filmmakers’ need to challenge normalcy, the interplay of celebrity and experimentation and the dilemma faced by actors struggling with the idea of performing in a sexually explicit, gay, S&M film. The result is a provocative exploration of a radical and transgressive society and its importance to challenge us with new and unconventional ideas.

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR. trailer from Travis Mathews on Vimeo.



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Festival tickets are now on sale at the FilmOut San Diego website HERE.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.