Yesterday, my short film from 2010 “Communication” was released in the United States on a compilation called “Black Briefs”. There are six short films, all with gay central characters and all with themes looking at the darker side of life.
I was conscious when I started making films about gay men that I wanted to avoid miserablism – there have plenty enough films made about us that end in death, unhappiness and general confusion but I broke my own rules with “Communication” because I wanted to tell a story about the power we have to screw up our own lives by not talking to each other honestly.
The reactions to the film when it hit the festival circuit were polarising, but some of the reviews were really encouraging and flattering, such as this one from Gay Celluloid:
“Beautifully shot, scored and backed by a series of picturesque vistas of New Zealand in all of its Whangaparaoan beauty, here we find Banks as ever priding himself on the art of storytelling, having opted to close his work with a series of flashbacks to scenes previously undisclosed, so as to answer the question that is on everyone’s mind.
“Only for all of the pros of this delightful piece, the inheritance aspect of the story signals right from the onset that tragedy is but a reel away, as a failure of communication, that of not saying what’s truly in your heart, results in a work ingrained with the emotions of love, longing and regret. A lesson in life, indeed.”
Many films made for gay men go for the easy dollar, which means twinks with abs having lots of sex in Los Angeles, New York or London. Nudity and shock value is expected and required, I’ve noticed, if you’re going to be widely programmed. Admittedly, this seems to be a truism of cinema in general, not just gay cinema, but when you’re working within a small niche that is considered “art house” by the mainstream it can be frustrating.
A couple of the reviews of “Black Briefs” have fingered “Communication” in a manner that suggests to me that the expectations some have of gay cinema are just as shallow as those who eagerly await the next Adam Sandler grossout.
Next Magazine’s review, accompanied by a shot of a bare arse and a man in his underwear, had this to say:
“The strangest tool in this shed is Communication, which follows an orthodox Kiwi and his relationship with his older mentor, a short so delicate it barely says anything at all.”
So So Gay Magazine disagreed about the film hardly saying anything, it just didn’t seem to get it:
“The final film is Communication, the story of an Orthodox Jewish student who inherits the state of his estranged tutor. This is the weakest story of the collection, with a plot that doesn’t flow very convincingly, leaving the viewer unclear about the exact nature of the pairs relationship.”
I assure you that I’m not one of those directors that takes indignantly to the internet every time bad reviews appear – there’s crappy reviews out there for my other films, and I’ve never written about them – but the two extracts I’ve posted above are, I believe, an unfortunate reflection of what some people are expecting to see when they sit down to watch a gay-themed film.
I’m sorry there aren’t enough penises in “Communication”, or for that matter, any of my films. I just happen to think that the mechanics of sex have been well-covered in other films – in fact, there’s an entire genre for that sort of thing should you wish to look it up (being from a Catholic background, I haven’t dabbled there, it’s sinful).
I’m more interested in how we relate to each other as men, and how we can improve those relationships. I won’t spoon-feed. But as in real life, thinking about that stuff is hard work, and maybe people just want to see knobs instead.
If so, they’ll continue to be disappointed with my output.