Berlinale: Interview with Bruce McDonald (Weirdos)

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Weirdos (dir. Bruce McDonald, 2016)

Weirdos (dir. Bruce McDonald, 2016)

Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) decide to leave their small hometown in Nova Scotia behind and travel to Sydney (in Nova Scotia, not Australia) to visit Dylan’s extroverted and unstable mother. Along the way, they discover themselves and their sexuality and especially Dylan has to come to terms with himself and his family. Weirdos is a tender and genuine coming-of-age dramedy written by Daniel MacIvor and directed by Bruce McDonald. Although it is set in 1976, Weirdos – completely shot in black and white – is a timeless and universal story about growing up and accepting who you are.

During Berlinale I talked to Bruce McDonald about hitchhiking in Canada in the 1970s, Elton John, the idea of shooting in black & white and the autobiographical elements in Weirdos.

Next Projection: How did you get involved with this project?

Bruce McDonald: The writer [Daniel MacIvor] is a good associate of mine and we worked on a couple of movies together. He has written two movies for me and I worked with him as an actor and I once was in a play of his – (laughs) I had one line. I have known Daniel a long time. For our last movie, I came to him with the idea and for this one he came to me with the idea. I helped him and supported him writing the script and I rode shotgun with him along the way and involved him in the casting and editing. He is like a co-director in a certain sort of way. I always liked road movies, so that was appealing to me when he told me the story. I liked all the pieces in it, the whole idea of hitchhiking, Nova Scotia, reckoning with your sexuality and having a weird family.

Next Projection: A road-trip is a classic tool in narrative for self-discovery. What fascinated you about the road-trip and hitchhiking?

Bruce McDonald: It’s like running away from home. It’s like a classic “Huckleberry Finn” or “Heart of Darkness” story or any great road-movie. I guess it is the whole idea of leaving behind what you know and going out there. You are an explorer, an adventurer. You are on a quest, searching. There has got to be something somewhere else, there has got be a better place. It’s like Dorothy. There has got to be a better place somewhere over the rainbow. And this young man dreams of New York and artistic people to surround him but he is nowhere. He has to try to get to that place.

Next Projection: Would you say this motivated Kit to leave his home behind and not necessarily the insult by his father – calling Kit’s teacher a “fag”?

Bruce McDonald: I think that was probably the switch and sort of the permission. Obviously deeper than that he thought “I want to go where life is, I want to find my people. I want to find my tribe: artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians.”. It was the first step out and in a few years, he’ll be in New York or Toronto or any big town.

Next Projection: The story of Weirdos is a timeless story. Why is it set in the 1970s? Was there a specific reason for that?

Bruce McDonald: I think the main reason was hitchhiking because in the 70s in Canada it was a very popular thing to do.

Next Projection: Is it not anymore?

Bruce McDonald: Not really, maybe a little bit. Back then, sort of everybody did it. Even Prime Minister Trudeau. Various people said “Go see your country, go hitchhike out West”. I also did that, I hitchhiked to the East Coast. But today, there is more fear and people are afraid that if you go hitchhiking you get murdered by a serial killer. The other reason is, that Daniel [MacIvor] is that kid Kit. He was around that age at that time. It is not completely autobiographical for him but he is from a small town, he had a strange family and he is gay. And to be gay in the 70s was a very different thing than it is now. Nobody wanted to talk about it but today it is different for high school kids. It is much more cool to be gay, it is like a little badge of honor. People are much more open today. There is still prejudice but back then, especially in a small town and especially in Nova Scotia, it had a bigger impact on Daniel for sure.

Next Projection: Is there anything autobiographical about you in the film?

Bruce McDonald: Oh yeah, sure. I hitchhiked and I dreamed of other places than the one I grew up in, which is the suburbs, a kind of boring place. I loved Elton John a lot and I had the same poster on the wall from Caribou, the Elton John album. It was very exciting for me because we got permission from Elton John to use that picture in the movie because a friend of a friend of a friend knows his husband David Furnish, who is from Toronto. Before we went to Berlin, Elton and David wished us good luck. That was pretty awesome. But yes, there is a lot of me in Kit. Not so much the family thing because my family was very normal and always there. I think it was that dreaminess, being that age, that I totally identified with.

Next Projection: Why did you decide to shoot the film in black and white?

Bruce McDonald: That is an interesting question, I am still thinking about that. I always loved black and white. The film had a modest budget, way outside the gates of Hollywood, and you have certain resources that you prioritize. One of the super fun things about making movies is design. If you got the resources and talent of Wes Anderson you get to make beautifully designed movies. But it takes time and money to do that as well. Maybe I am just lazy, but I thought one way to created an instant sense of design is black and white. It is something that is very unifying and takes you back and makes you feel like a memory. That’s very much what it is – a memory of a time. It served the story in that way, trying to reach back to the 70s. It’s kind of a snapshot of an old photograph.

Next Projection: While casting your actors, what were you looking for in them specifically?

Bruce McDonald: For Alice I was looking for someone who was confident and intelligent. With Dylan’s character Kit I was looking for someone who could portray unsureness and innocence. I worked with Dylan before and I had a nice relationship with him. Julia was brought to my attention by Molly Parker, who plays the mother, and her agent also represented Julia and told me to have a look at her new client Julia and I hadn’t had an opportunity to see her work until she brought that up.

Next Projection: Weirdos is playing in the Generation section of the festival. What do you hope young people will take away from the film?

Bruce McDonald: I hope they keep the little door in their heart open. It is tough to be a young kid, you want to fit in. Even today, they want to be different but they also don’t want to be different. I hope they take away a little bit of courage.

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About Author

I’m a German based passionate film lover with main interests in contemporary, arthouse and independent cinema. I love the cinematic experience on screen, unconventional storytelling and getting carried away by it. Besides film, I am also interested in general pop culture and addicted to way too many TV shows I never seem to be able to catch up on.