Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Deconstructing Turtle Hill, Brooklyn

Ricardo Valdez (left) and Brian Seibert
in "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn"
Before its official theatrical release in New York on May 3rd, I had an opportunity to chat with the men responsible for the new movie Turtle Hill, Brooklyn. I spoke with writers and actors Brian Seibert and Ricardo Valdez on a nice, spring Saturday, as they relaxed in their home garden, which is the movie's setting. 24 hours later, I called director, Ryan Gielen, as he was spending the week in Los Angeles.

Turtle Hill, Brooklyn is about a gay couple, Will and Mateo, played and written respectively by Seibert and Valdez. Will and Mateo are celebrating Will's 30th birthday. A group of their friends come over. They drink. They talk. They laugh. They swing at a piƱata and hang out in a kiddie pool. A couple of people shake things up but it all takes place in one day, starting with Will waking up in the morning and ending with him falling asleep at night.

Both Seibert and Gielen referenced Rachel Getting Married (2008) as an inspiration and touchstone for their movie, even though Turtle Hill, Brooklyn has nothing to do with a wedding. Valdez said when he and Seibert were writing, they took moments from their lives that they thought were funny and laid them down. Seibert affirmed that initially and perhaps still the screenplay was a series of sketches loosely linked together, the undercurrent being the state of Will and Mateo's relationship and if it will in fact survive by the end of the night.

If you haven't seen Turtle Hill, Brooklyn, I'm about to spoil a plot point. One of the two, Will or Mateo, has an affair, and since the two actors are so intimately involved in this movie's inception as well as its execution, I debated asking Seibert and Valdez who are a couple in real life if an affair actually happened to them in their relationship. I didn't ask. When I tried to get Seibert to answer a rather personal question about his past relations and experiences, he politely passed, so I decided not to continue down that path with either him or Valdez.

I of course don't want to speculate, but there is a lot of truth and honesty in this movie. I could be grasping at straws. Both Seibert and Valdez are more than likely the most monogamous of monogamists, and Seibert did say Woody Allen was a favorite filmmaker of his and Deconstructing Harry (1997) a favorite film. Allen, in Deconstructing Harry and practically all of his movies, famously deals with men who have affairs and cheat on spouses or significant others. Maybe it's not out of personal experience that Seibert has made this movie about infidelity. Maybe, it's just in homage to Woody Allen.

Regardless, Gielen said that essentially he recognized some kind of authenticity when he read their script. Gielen did admit that he has been on both sides of cheating himself, and he said, "The script cut through the bullshit." What I believe he meant was that the screenplay gets at some fundamentals about why or what leads to cheating, not that it excuses infidelity.

One of Gielen's favorite scenes is the scene toward the end when Mateo shows a friend a painting that he did which is to be Will's birthday gift. Mateo is an artist who mainly does paintings. The point of the scene is to show that Mateo's gift is not what he wanted it to be and that artistically Mateo has hit a wall, probably due to his vocational and personal frustrations, which is also a theme recurrent in Woody Allen's films.

Ryan Gielen, director of
"Turtle Hill, Brooklyn"
Gielen who is originally from Baltimore knows a thing or two about working through those frustrations. He directed The Graduates, which had no traditional distribution, yet he made it a hit using digital platforms like Hulu. Though he talked to me from L.A., Gielen claims New York is his community. He conveyed that people there understand how one has to struggle, fight and sacrifice for their art, certainly if they want to be a success.

While Gielen was in college at Washington and Lee University, in lieu of going on spring break or even winter break, he worked on editing his short films. It's just an example of his dedication.

Turtle Hill, Brooklyn originally premiered at Newfest, which is the preeminent film festival in Manhattan focusing on gay and lesbian content. The movie played throughout 2012 at other various LGBT-centered festivals. Seibert and Valdez are filmmakers whose films will most likely always feature gay characters in leading roles, but their intentions were not to make a "gay" film exclusively. Instead, Valdez said they wanted something more universal.

Gielen echoed that when he read their script, he didn't feel like it was a gay film either. He simply felt like it was a story of right now. He said it's a bittersweet story set amidst modern and forward-looking people, and Gielen included that amidst modern and forward-looking people there is no dividing line between gay and straight. He added that this is the direction that America is moving. He said, "It's not perfect but it is progressive." I believe he was speaking not only about his movie but also of this country.

To give you more of an idea of who Gielen is. One of his favorite filmmakers is Paul Thomas Anderson. One of his favorite films, the film in fact he said pulled back the curtain and opened his eyes to wanting to be a director himself, was Boogie Nights (1997). That film might also be one that's not perfect but progressive.

There is no denying though that Turtle Hill, Brooklyn will be looked at or categorized mainly as just a gay film. I asked Seibert to comment on that, to comment on the state of gay films and the push to have them regarded as not simply gay films but just as films. Seibert said most gay films can't break away from the label of being "gay" because through either content or marketing, people push or reinforce the idea that gay films have to be about male nudity and graphic gay sex.

Not that there's anything wrong with male nudity or even gay sex, or even a film labeling itself as gay or lesbian, but Seibert said there's more than just that, and that's what has him most interested. He loves to tell stories. Turtle Hill, Brooklyn is perhaps a good exemplum of what he wants to do.

Turtle Hill, Brooklyn opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on May 3rd.
Coming soon to select cities and digital platforms.
For more information, go to:
https://www.facebook.com/TurtleHillBrooklyn 

For more information on Ryan Gielen and his upcoming projects, go to:
http://believeltd.com/

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