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37th BFI Flare 2023
Interview

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Alex
Matraxia
AFTERPARTY

HEARTS Shorts: Music is the Food of Love 

Saturday 18 March 2023 11:00 - Tickets

alexmatraxiafilms.co.uk

March 15, 2023

Charlie's bath-time is interrupted by some old friends who they haven't seen in years. Though Charlie is bitter about old history, their friends help them come to terms with what they've gone through and what it means to remember.

 

Hi Alex thank you for talking with The New Current, how has your 2023 been treating you so far?

 

The year’s been off to a good start. I finally went to Dungeness to see Prospect Cottage, made a short film on super 8, went to the Alice Neel show at the Barbican, found a signed book by Dirk Bogarde in a charity shop. I’ve met new people and I’ve seen some great movies. I can’t complain.

 

Afterparty was commissioned by BBC x ICA New Creatives how vital are creative opportunities like this for London based filmmakers?

 

It’s really valuable having alternative forms of film funding in London, given that a lot of young filmmakers feel that if they don’t receive BFI or Arts Council funding, then their project is doomed to forever drift in production limbo. What was especially good about New Creatives was, they let you have total creative control, and given that it was a very very modest production fund, this forces you to keep the film small and contained. This was kind of a blessing in disguise.

 

What does it mean to you to have Afterparty, in the HEARTS Shorts section Music Is the Food of Love at the 37th BFI Flare?

 

This was my first short film (I’m erasing the DIY no-budget shorts of my late teens…) so I didn’t really have a festival strategy beyond, I really hope this screens at Flare. Because it’s been a festival that’s meant so much to me over the years. I’ve discovered so many beautiful films there. Something about the atmosphere at Flare is very healing. I’ve also been going to the BFI since I was fifteen, it’s where I first fell in love with movies - so the idea of watching my own film there is kind of surreal, and I’m incredibly grateful.

 

What was the first LGBTQ+ film you saw that really left an impact? 

 

Does My Fair Lady count? I was totally obsessed with it as a kid - the costumes, the colours, the music and glamour. But then I watched it again over Christmas and realised just how obvious it is that Henry Higgins is gay, how he struts around the house arms linked with the Colonel… which makes sense given it was directed by Hollywood queen George Cukor (who is now a favourite of mine, his influence is written all over Afterparty). If that doesn’t count, then maybe Todd Haynes’ Poison. I watched it when I was eighteen and through that film I discovered New Queer Cinema.

"When you write your own characters, you have a much clearer sense of how to shoot them, how youre going to communicate their essence through the camera."

How essential is it for LGBTQ+ filmmakers to continue to push the boundaries of the stories and themes they want to explore in their films?

 

Personally I don’t like to talk about films in terms of themes. I think it makes films sound like A-level exams… but in terms of story, and character, there’s so much more work to be done by queer filmmakers. And it’s not just a case of representation. Representation is important but if we’re going to have new kinds of characters lead our stories, then I think we need new kinds of stories and structures to accommodate those characters. Films where queerness means more than (but not excluding) desire, where it means ambiguity, stylistic innovation, nuance, hybridity and genre-confusion. There’s no point putting glitter on a dead horse. I think Tropical Malady is way more interesting than a film about a closeted policeman…

Can you tell me how Afterparty came about and how you got David Hoyle involved in the project?

 

The idea for Afterparty came about after reading Candy Darling’s memoirs; she mentions taking blue baths, that she’d dye her bathwater blue because it’s how baths looked in old Hollywood movies; and it’s true, productions would tint the water bright blue to show off the beauty of Technicolour. And it was such a perfect image, the blue bath, beautiful and funny and a little sad, trying to make reality conform to fantasy. But also, it said something about the healing nature of movies, how they aren’t just escapism, that they actively help us endure reality. The way reality and fantasy can sit together, that they don’t have to clash, that they can accommodate each other; this was pretty central to Afterparty. I was also doing research at the time about the AIDS crisis, collective trauma, and the relationship my generation has with its own communal past. What our history means to us, how it shapes us, how it shapes the way we see ourselves. Somehow all these things merged: ideas about healing, about fantasy, about intergenerational care.

 

I’ve been a fan of David’s since university, where I first discovered The Divine David on Youtube. And over the years I kept seeing him pop up in other things, like Todd Hayne’s film Velvet Goldmine in which he’s a total scene-stealer. And then while planning Afterparty, I watched Uncle David, a film which David starred in and directed. He’s really incredible in it. No make-up. No larger-than-life persona. So much of the film is David quietly walking and talking, and yet he’s so charismatic in a way that’s also incredibly intimate. After that, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part. We got in touch with his agent and to our surprise, this artist who I’d idolised since my late teens said that he’d like to be in my movie…

 

Was there any one scene that was especially tricky to film?

 

The last scene. Because it was the last scene. It was tricky not getting too emotional and trying to prolong the shoot for the sake of it. You go through an intense few days of rehearsals and shooting and you become emotionally attached to the cast and crew. And when you’re shooting the last shot, you know deep down that the high can’t last. You know that tomorrow you’re going to feel awful, like you’ve been working in the circus and all of a sudden you wake up and realise the circus has left town. And you’re left there standing on the dirt road alone.

 

Looking back at your past film projects and Afterparty what have been the most vital, creative lessons you’ve taken from these experiences?

 

Communication, decision-making, not freaking out when the universe f**** you over. Work. Keep your crew happy. Plan. Prepare. Embrace chaos. Work. Too little light is better than too much light. Your actors are everything. Trust them. Care for them. Work. Rehearse. Play. Laugh.

 

When making a film like Afterparty is it hard not draw on your own life/lived experience?

 

Well, I’m 25… and I made Afterparty when I was 23… so it’s not really drawing from my own life. The film involves a lot of nostalgia, David’s character looking back and remembering lost friendships. A lot of this was informed by what I’d been reading, by conversations with queer elders, memoirs that stuck with me. David’s character has a line about how, if only he’d known that his 20s were going to be the best years of his life, then maybe he’d have appreciated his youth while he was young. I think there was some projection there on my part. My 20s have been marked by horrific governments, global catastrophes, and the insidious homogenisation of queer culture… I really hope these aren’t the best years of my life! But maybe they will be. So maybe I should lighten up.

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You have been shortlisted for several writing labs and competitions as well as receiving the Future Creative Writing Prize in 2020, where did you passion for writing come from?

 

From reading.

 

How much has your passion for writing helped you in your focus and approach to your filmmaking?

 

If I didn’t write, I’d be a very different kind of filmmaker. Developing writing as a craft gives you a very precise sense of structure (which is also helpful when you want to digress from structure). You set your own pace, and when it comes to filming you instinctively know what rhythms you’re working with. When you write your own characters, you have a much clearer sense of how to shoot them, how you’re going to communicate their essence through the camera. It’s also the most pleasurable part of the process, because your film exists as pure potential in the script. Everything’s feasible. You haven’t made any compromises yet…

 

Has your approach to your films changed much since your debut?

 

I’ve learned to have fun on set. Afterparty was a great and memorable experience, but it was also my first time working with a crew, working with an ensemble cast, with art directors and production designers and ADs… you’re overwhelmed by all this for the first time, you’re self-conscious, on-edge, concerned that what you see in the camera doesn’t correspond to what you had in your head. But then with later projects I’ve become a lot more comfortable managing larger crews and embracing the unexpected, which helps you respond to things more spontaneously on set. And you drop your guard, which means everyone else is comfortable around you.  Anyone who spends their time making films is incredibly lucky. Your work is your play, so you may as well enjoy it.

 

Do you have any advice or tips you would offer emerging filmmakers or writers?

 

I’m still an amateur myself so I don’t really know if I’m in a place to offer advice. But watch movies. Watch lots of movies. Old movies! So many filmmakers I meet don’t really watch movies. Maybe they see a handful every month. Which makes no sense to me. Like being a writer who doesn’t read. Love your medium, and if you don’t love it, then why endure all the heartbreak?

 

And finally, what message do you hope you audiences will take away from Afterparty?

 

I hope the audience takes away a feeling rather than a message. Something warm and light but a little melancholy. Feelings are fabulous, whereas messages are kinda dull.

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