by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A local film, described by everyone involved as a 'labor of love,' has been accepted into the international Queer film festivals in London and beyond - and it needs your help to get there.
Heart Breaks Open is a feature film about Queer life, public health, and community accountability which strives to provoke - and does.
The film follows a model Queer activist, poet, and community advocate Jesus (Maximillian Davis) who prides himself on his work with the Seattle LGBT community. At the same time, Jesus is having unprotected sex and cheating on Johnny, his long-time partner (Samonte Cruz). Jesus' world implodes when he discovers that he is HIV-positive, forcing him to confront his innermost fears, his relationship with his ex-boyfriend, and a future living with HIV. Faced with the unknown, Jesus is pulled from the brink of self-destruction by Sister Alysa Trailer (Brian Peters), who leads him down the path of self-discovery.
In a nuanced and subtle way, Heart Breaks Open comments on the notion of a 'second coming' of the Christian Jesus Christ. The film deviates from the traditional three-act story structure, commonly used in fiction film, and follows the path of the Christian 'Stations of the Cross.' Instead of a cross, HIV is Jesus' burden to bear. Instead of the daughters of Jerusalem, Jesus is met by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Heart Breaks Open is a powerful film that will leave you spellbound.
CAST AND CREW
Heart Breaks Open took 14 months to complete.
Emerging from a four-page outline, the 90-minute film was shot using improvisational acting and documentary camera operators, cinema vérité style.
Basil Shadid, the film's producer, said that in order to give the project a real-life feel, actors worked alongside community members at local Seattle establishments. There is an HIV testing scene that was filmed at Gay City, a counseling scene that takes place at Lifelong AIDS Alliance, the pharmacy scenes were filmed at Mom's Pharmacy, nightlife spots like Cuff and Purr were used, and a live show was filmed at The Vera Project.
'Local LGBT community members were involved in this project at every stage of the process,' Basil told Seattle Gay News. 'From the initial auditions to the final test screenings, people from Seattle's Queer community contributed their time, energy, resources, and opinions.'
Basil says there are three ways that Heart Breaks Open stands out in the 'plethora of films about HIV/AIDS.'
First, Heart Breaks Open talks about HIV/AIDS in the context of community accountability. 'With infection rates still soaring, how are we accountable as a community to each other? Our film follows Jesus & who makes unsafe choices while struggling with his emotional demons,' he said. 'These choices lead him to an HIV-positive diagnosis and a falling-out with the community he worked and loved in.'
Second, said Basil, 'As someone who was raised Catholic, I wanted to use the imagery from a childhood religious upbringing to comment on HIV/AIDS, Queer community, and finding love after feeling like you let the world down.'
And third, 'Heart Breaks Open attempts to be educational while being entertainment,' said Basil. 'Using a documentary approach, we filmed our main characters in service-based situations. We hope that people who have never been tested can have the process demystified through the film.'
Billie Rain, the film's director and one if its writers, told Seattle Gay News that 'everyone who participated in the film did so in the spirit of collaboration.'
'As a person living with significant disabilities and chronic illness, the process of making this film was specifically structured to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions,' said Billie. 'This served us very well during the collaboration process as it broke down the traditional hierarchies usually found in film production. At the same time, I was able to maintain my role as a director and feel that my disabilities were not treated or perceived as flaws in my directorial style - instead, they were incorporated into that style.'
Brian D. Peters, an actor who plays Michael and Sister Alysa Trailer in Heart Breaks Open, told Seattle Gay News, 'As a person living with HIV in our community, I feel that what we are trying to do with this film is show the reality of what happens when people test positive for HIV and what they might go through - the turmoil, outward isolation, and so on.'
Brian says he felt drawn to the project immediately. 'The story is so relevant to our community and I know there are other HIV-positive people out there that will feel the same connection that I do,' he said. 'This film is a vessel for their story. Heart Breaks Open is brutally honest, in-your-face, and not sugar-coated.'
Actor Maximillian Davis, who plays Jesus in the film, told Seattle Gay News that when this project came along, 'I thought it was a real opportunity to place focus on some of the lives in our community that very seldom get represented in the media in an honest and real manner.'
Maximillian said the film is so real that the content made for some emotional days on the set. 'With the way we created and shot the project, you had to draw on your own personal experience in order to fill out a story,' he said. 'So the testing scene, for instance, can bring up some scary emotions. But Billie Rain was great at creating a space where everyone involved with the project - from the light and sound people to the clerk at Rancho Bravo counter - felt safe, and could laugh or cry or burp if they needed to.'
'We know the story is emotional,' he said. 'So Billie took great care in making sure that we exhaled during our down time.'
QUEER LONDON AND BEYOND
Heart Breaks Open has been accepted into the International Queer film festival in London. Thus far, the film has not been previewed in Seattle, but the cast and crew are eagerly awaiting word from the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival to see if they can be showcased in the very city the project was born.
'To have Heart Breaks Open make it onto the world stage to share with people from all over the planet proves that we are all not as separated as we may think,' said Brian. 'Just because we do not live in the same part of the world, it doesn't mean that we are not similar, connected, and going through the same shit.'
Obviously there are great costs associated with getting some of the cast and crew to London, so the organizers are asking for your help. On March 6, from 6-11:30 p.m., the cast is hosting 'Bon Voyage: A Benefit for Heart Breaks Open.' In keeping with the movie theme, the benefit will be held in two acts with Act 1 being held at Julia's on Broadway and Act 2 at The Broadway Grill in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
'Come out for an evening of fun, cocktails, food, and a gala advanced sneak preview screening of the film,' said Brian, the event's main organizer. 'Proceeds from our event will send our cast and crew to the 2011 Queer film festival season.'
Act 1 includes delicious appetizers, a champagne toast, no-host bar, and a private screening of Heart Breaks Open. Act 2 includes dinner and dessert buffet at the Broadway Grill with your first glass of wine included, a meet and greet with the cast and crew of the film, live performances from some the artists featured in the film, and a raffle drawing for fabulous prizes.
A limited number of tickets are available in three levels: fan club tickets, $60 or more, are for Act 1 only (50 tickets); sponsor tickets, $100 or more, include both Acts 1 & 2 (75 tickets); and patron tickets are available for $175 or more (25 tickets). Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com.
'You can help make our dreams come true,' said Brian. 'We know you have always wanted to help out with a movie, and here is your chance. Help us get our independent film into as many hands as possible. Come out and show your love and support - we would love to have you be a part of the magic!'
'The film was a labor of love for everyone involved,' said Basil. 'The community-based collaborative approach used in Heart Breaks Open gave us a project that is already a part of something larger than itself.'
To watch trailers of the film or for more information about the cast and crew, go to www.heartbreaksopen.com.
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