With 20 years of experience in writing, directing, and producing award-winning documentaries and dramas in the UK, Bryn Higgins brings to Toronto his recent film feature Unconditional
. The story puts together two of Britain’s fast-rising stars, Christian Cooke (Liam) and Harry McEntire (Owen), who are part of a conflicted threesome with breakout actress Madeleine Clarke (Owen’s twin, Kristen). The darkly intoxicating film screens in the 20th
Annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival on November 9-17 organized by Workman Arts.
Brian Bantugan: What inspired the film?
Bryn Higgins: Joe Fisher the screenwriter was inspired by seeing a young man in a small hotel by the sea who was running a disco for old folks. He looked so out of place that Joe wondered how he'd got there. At some point in his life Joe has also been a door-to-door salesman and he met some wild, dangerous characters similar to Liam in the film. So he put them together in the story. Both Joe and I are fascinated by outsiders - and by how society forces some people to the edges just because they may not conform to the norm or accepted behaviour. We wanted to make a film about an innocent young man, essentially a good angel - Owen - who falls under the sway of a dark angel, Liam. In the end Owen is the stronger and I hope we feel sympathy for Liam's tortured plight.
Who are your creative influences?
Mostly American and French cinema from the '70s and present day. Badlands
is one of my favourite films, and Jacques Audiard and Paul Thomas Anderson are two of the greatest film makers working today. Also Julian Schnabel for his superb lyricism. I am very keen to remove the machinery of the film making process and try to allow the actors real freedom to explore on stage. Some of the most exciting moments in cinema to me are when you feel something instant and spontaneous has happened - as the painter Francis Bacon said "All painting is an accident. But it's also not an accident, because one must select what part of the accident one chooses to preserve."
What aspects of the film have audiences responded to the most?
One of the things I most like about Unconditional
is that it speaks to different people in different ways. The audience in San Francisco locked into the story of Owen and Liam's struggle to find their true inner selves and despite some difficulties with the language they seemed absolutely hooked and convinced by the inner journeys. We showed the film to a youth festival in Italy and 300 18-year-olds were fascinated by the characters' relationships with their parents. I really like that Unconditional
gives people a big journey despite being set in a conventional world. And I think it keeps people on edge, never sure where it's headed and fearing the worst about how it will end.
Is there such a thing as unconditional love? What’s your take on it personally?
I'm not sure love should be unconditional - I believe we all have strong needs for self-expression and to be truly unconditional would be to subsume that, to oppress ourselves. So I think it's our different needs and personalities that should be respected in a relationship, warts and all, and indeed that is the heart of a relationship. Unconditional
is about the dangerous side of the journey to find love - the mad and dangerous situations we can get ourselves into if we don't have a strong inner voice that we listen to.
How are your other projects related to Unconditional?
As I say I do love stories about outsiders, always have. So much drama these days seems to be saying that the world is an orderly place - a murder will happen, chaos will threaten, but in the end it all wraps up neatly. Not so. I think drama should be about exploring the chaos and unruly side ourselves. I hope the next film we do will be from another script by Joe Fisher that is about a young woman with severe epilepsy. It's a journey through the real world and the very frightening hallucinatory world of epilepsy. She's a wonderful outsider.
Unconditional screens on Fri, November 16, 9:30pm, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W. $10 or PWYC. rendezvouswithmadness.com