Once in a blue moon we get to preview a movie that is so wonderfully refreshing that it blows our socks off and we feel the need to share it with you even before it is released.
31-year-old Mexican/writer-director Sergio Tovar Velarde’s remarkable new film Four Moons chronicles four stories about love, heartbreak and self-acceptance. What makes them so unique in our gay culture that is often very ageist, is that he has chosen four different generations of gay men to tell his tales. There is a teenage schoolboy secretly attracted to his male cousin; two college students starting a new relationship that gets complicated when one of them insists on remaining closeted; a couple who put their relationship in jeopardy due to the arrival of another man; and an old man dazzled over a young male prostitute as he tries to raise the money to afford the experience.
They are four differing kinds of love although each one is full of hope and the true value of accepting who you are, and Verlade gives each of these stories the ending they deserve, but not necessarily the ones that we would expect. His stance on these conflicts facing gay men of all generations is a sheer joy to watch, and a remarkable achievement from such a new (ish) filmmaker.
We caught up with Sergio in Mexico City as he was preparing to leave for New York where the movie is about to open, and we talked to him about love and life in general and Four Moons in particular.
RWD: Why did you have this concept of covering four generations of gay men and their lives?
STV: I had been looking for some time at different stories about how people deal with being gay and realised that whilst no two stories are the same, there are elements that are common to us all. Often when we talk about the LGBT community as a whole all the figures and statistics seem to eclipse these individual stories. I wanted to focus on just four of them dealing with both love and acceptance and the fear that accompanies that, and just how these men each evolve through their own journey. For example, back in the 1950’s in Mexico things were definitely more difficult for gay people and in the movie there is a retired married Professor who didn’t have a chance to live according to what he wanted. Then at the other end of the scale there is a young schoolboy facing his future reality, plus a partnered couple who have already accepted it, and then two college chums who will accept it eventually.
Every person has different tools and weapons to deal with what they are afraid of, so I think exploring them from different angles gives us more of an accurate description of what these stories mean. I think it is a matter of diversity because within the same gay community there can be big differences, so the way that I tried to approach the child is completely different than the way I approached the middle-aged characters.
What motivated you to do a virtually unheard of concept of having a young gay guy’s story and that of an old gay guy in the same movie?
I’ve been in all these situations. …(laugh)
No, you haven’t, as you are not that old yet….
But I’ve wanted to be (laugh). In a way, the stories work as a metaphor. I have been in situations when I have not been young enough, or old enough, or hairy enough, or attractive enough, or handsome enough. For many reasons, I believe that you do not have to be an older man to feel the connection with that character as anyone can feel less of a man because of lack of attractiveness. All my life I have never really fitted in and have felt quite awkward. I am too short, and I am chubby and hairy, but not quite enough to be a Bear. I’m a light-skinned Mexican guy, so I don’t even look like a typical Latino gay. In fact, I have felt unattractive my whole life, as I believe most of us do. I can easily relate to paying for a sexual experience even though I am not an old man like the Professor. In a way his particular chapter was inspired by my own story because when I was first a filmmaker, and I had made a couple of films, I was trying to get a very handsome young man into bed by impressing him that I was a very important person, which is very much what the old Professor does.
Did it work for you?
No, but sometimes it does….(laugh). Everybody uses everything they have to get what they want. If you are not tall or handsome then you must try with what you have. Sometimes it’s about intelligence; sometimes it’s about talent or often it’s just the magic of the surroundings.
Was it an important element to you that each of the four stories end on such a positive note of hope?
Yes, and that is why I chose ‘Four Moons’ as my title. The moon has a life cycle and resets every month, and then there is a new moon. When there is the moon it is the night and there is darkness. For a very long time gay people had to be hiding in the dark otherwise they would have to bear too much pain and suffering, which I believe is not the way it should be. So pretty much the film has four different types of moon, and the last segment is the dawn where the sun is rising up again. Even though they are still ‘dark’ places such as Uganda and Russia where life is really difficult for gay people I really believe that this is an evolving world that is allowing us to lead a better life. I believe this is a new era full of hope, and that the future is bright for all gay people, and is changing as it did so in the past for the black community and for women too. It’s important to me to say that good times are ahead and that we are approaching an era of better understanding, of better sympathy for each other, and a world where the small detail of who you go to bed will not matter anymore. I believe we are approaching the end of the night for gay people.
Are any of the actual stories in the movie autobiographical?
They all are! (laugh). When I was a kid I was very curious and was the kind of teenager who would look across the classroom wondering what my schoolmates would look like naked. I was dying to know if they masturbated at all, and if they did what position did they take. I knew such thoughts were forbidden as I was raised as a Catholic and I was therefore totally convinced this was a sin, and I would have given anything in the world just to be ‘straight’. At this point in my life when I look back to those days I realise that I was so stupid as now I wouldn’t give up being gay for anything. But I still remember my childhood fear of being discovered was an unimaginable horror.
Growing up in a Mexican suburb the fear of being ‘outed’ occupied my mind a great deal of my youth. I know there are still places in the world where young people are killing themselves because they feel it is impossible to be who they really are. It’s too tough for them to deal with their own reality. I am an optimist but also a realist too. One review of ‘Four Moons’ critiqued that its stories were neither current nor relevant because they judged it was about gay life back in the 1990’s, but they were wrong as it is still like this in very many places today. I hear stories even today of people who are still being kicked out of their homes by their parents for just being gay. Even on our Facebook page, there are lots of unpleasant homophobic comments from parents and rants from right-wing religious zealots from around the globe. However, the purpose of this film is to contribute not necessarily to the ongoing struggle for acceptance but more towards understanding who we are as people.
Do you think of your stories as purely being about your own Mexican community or did you perceive them to reflect gay men everywhere?
When you are making a film, or a piece of art, you have to try to be as honest as you can in order to be able to really connect with your audience. You bare your soul and open your heart in order to let everything out and when you act like an honest human being then others can relate to you, and that goes beyond our different races and cultures. All gay men are raised in straight societies … at least in our youth ….and discovering our sexuality is the same universally.
Have you had different reactions at International Screenings of your movie?
I had no concept about how other audiences outside of Mexico would react. When we first showed the movie in the US at the Opening Night of the Gay Film Festival in Fort Lauderdale, I was totally shocked. I had thought the audience would like it, but the reactions were overwhelming. The people next to me were crying their eyes out exactly like Mexican audiences, and I realised that maybe I had achieved my goal of being both local and universal. Being honest with my story really paid off.
On a more personal level when I showed the movie to my father, it was like an illustrated confession. (laughs) I thought now my dad knows what I was really thinking about at school, and now he knows how I have sex.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the movie?
Working with the young actors, as one of them was just 12, and the other was 13 years old, and I had to talk to them about masturbation, circumcised penises, and innocent foreplay. I had to work a lot with them and earn their trust and it was important for me to treat them with respect as young adults. We shot their scenes with two cameras and with both sets of parents and a lawyer on the set which didn’t faze the young actors who were superb to work, and the result was really so beautiful and innocent and something I am so very proud of.
A lot of the backers who were so eager to work with me after the success of my first two films withdrew their offers in a panic when they first saw the script. Having two teenage boys touch each and then having an old man pay a hooker for sex was just too much for them. They said it was way too gay, and that they couldn’t be seen by their own families endorsing something that implied they approved of gay life styles, which I found very hurtful.
What happens next?
I’m off to New York for the opening at The Quad Cinema this week, and then the film is getting a general release in Mexico next February, and I’m not sure what to expect. Probably I am going to make a few new friends, but I will also lose a few old ones too, I really don’t know. It’s a film that I am proud of and which I needed to make, and am willing to face whatever comes.