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BFI Future Film Festival 2023

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Half-Jewish, bisexual Jonah Dorman comes out to his girlfriend, shaking the foundation of their relationship and launching a tragicomic exploration of love and religion in New York City.


Hi Jacob, it’s great to talk with you. How has everything been going?


It’s lovely to talk with you. I’m well.


Congratulations on having Half, which is also nominated in the Best Writer category,  part of the Future Film Festival 2023. How does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?


One of my favourite films I’ve seen so far this year, Scrapper, is the feature debut of a very recent BFI Future alum, Charlotte Regan. She’s only 28, and she’s a total powerhouse. At the festival, young artists find a forum in which to share their work, and they take big strides forward in their careers. I’m sure I’ll brush shoulders with people who will be–in two years, five years, ten years–among my favourite directors of feature-length films. So I’d say it’s an honour. Definitely.


As well as having had an amazing festival run with Half, you also received Outfest’s Colin Higgins Youth Filmmaker Grant. What has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your work?


The recognition is nice; it feels good. But the only thing better than people complimenting your work is people giving you money, and the award included $15,000 from Outfest and the Colin Higgins Foundation. I’ve used the grant to fund two more short films: a family-comedy-mystery-thriller, Waterfront Property, and a comedic psychodrama, Knowing Me Knowing You. Those are both in post-production. And I’m shooting a third short while I’m in London for the festival! All of these films feature queer characters. It’s not a requirement for my work, but it does tend to turn out that way.


How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?


New voices struggle to make themselves heard in an industry that rewards connections and experience. A young filmmakers festival can be a foothold for emerging artists who don’t yet have that foundation, those resources, that network.


Can you tell me how Half came about? What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?


When you’re bisexual, you’re engaged in this constant process of coming out. Even–perhaps especially–to new romantic partners. I wanted to explore the experience of someone taking the first step on this journey that will last his whole life, trying and at times failing to respond adequately to the pressures of a world that wants him to be one thing or another–never both.


Did you have any apprehensions about directing yourself?


I did. The director is the ultimate arbiter of what ends up in the frame. That’s hard to control from in front of the camera. I relied on my team a lot, particularly my director-of-photography-slash-producer Drew Levin, who is a real gem, one of a kind, talented and pure of heart. You have to learn to delegate. And you have to learn not to be precious about your own performance.


"The movie theatre will be a place people go to shut their brains off and sink into a complacent stupor..."

How close do you like to stick to your screenplay once you start shooting? Do you allow for much flexibility?


I hew closely to what I’ve written. If something’s not working, though, that’s when a little improvisation and on-the-spot innovation come in handy.


What were the challenges you faced making Half?


Some of the challenges were also what made the project fun–the unpredictability of shooting on the street with kindergarteners rushing out of school and trucks whizzing through yellow lights, the stress of filming on a public court without a permit and haggling with a tennis instructor for a few extra minutes at the location. The biggest and least fun challenge is always time. On every project, you always want more time than you have.


Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making this short?


I’m glad I bit off more than I thought I could chew. It taught me that I have a big mouth.


Where did this passion for filmmaking and performing come from?


That’s a good question. I don’t think I succeeded in expressing my emotions, desires, and needs directly when I was a kid. I tended to internalise things a lot. I think performance–and, more recently, filmmaking–have been a kind of release valve, a safe way to let out some of what would’ve otherwise built up and built up inside me until I burst.


What was the experience being part of the legendary Hasty Pudding Theatricals?


I got to take a lot of risks. I always dialled up my performance to 11. It’s a nice contrast to the more grounded work I do now. Hamming it up, making it huge and in yer face… that taught me how to rein it in, to exercise discretion and restraint, to rely on craft rather than bombast. Both in writing and performance. And the community was unbeatable.

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Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?


If they stop, films will be boring. The movie theatre will be a place people go to shut their brains off and sink into a complacent stupor… I’d rather audiences seek out the cinema to be provoked and moved and stimulated.


What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmaker?


Don’t be a perfectionist. Find collaborators you love. Don’t wait–just start making stuff.


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


I hope they’ll see the messiness in the film as an emblem of the messiness of being human–of the struggle to make good choices, to move through the world ethically, to be true to yourself and your desires, to understand who you are and where you belong, to find a community, to build intimate connections, to balance your needs against the needs of those around you. It’s a struggle to be a person. Isn’t it?

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