On this Indie Focus Thursday, filmmaker Adam Baran, one of the curatorial voices behind NakedSword Film Works (NSFW), explores the raw sex and emotion of “Doors Cut Down” with its acclaimed director, Antonio Hens.
Despite leading a closeted life until his mid-twenties, Spanish director Antonio Hens eventually emerged as a director whose films feature some of the most raw and hot displays of gay male sexuality outside of hardcore porn. Hens’ films are well known for steaming up audiences at LGBT film festivals around the world – including “The Last Match” (2013), “Clandestinos” (2008), and the short “Doors Cut Down”, which recently premiered on NSFW in a gorgeous, painstakingly restored HD version for the first time since its release in 2000.
“Doors Cut Down” is the humorous and sexy story of a 17-year-old boy whose unabashed love of cruising and sex in public toilets brings him both pleasure – and trouble. Though it feels autobiographical, Hens’ torrid tale was actually based on the life of his first boyfriend, who, despite being 11 years younger than him, had considerable more experience as a sexual adventurer. A huge hit on the festival circuit in 2000, the film was eventually acquired for the “Boys Briefs” gay shorts compilation, finding an even bigger and more appreciative audience in the days before online streaming.
Today Hens is working on a gay feature and producing a gay documentary. Clearly, he shows no signs of abandoning his sexually charged subject matter to try and reach the mainstream. “From a creative point of view, I’d rather tell stories about characters whose feelings I know well,” Hens told NSFW curator Adam Baran recently in an illuminating interview, “The films are sexually charged because making them turns me on… and telling stories about gays is a matter of pride, too.” Read on to learn about Hens’ influences, his calculated casting decisions, and what was involved in restoring the short to its gorgeous gay glory.
Adam Baran – The Sword: How did “Doors Cut Down” come to be? Was it your first gay short?
Antonio Hens: I made a Super 8 gay short ten years before “Doors Cut Down.” But that short is so raw that it’s locked away in my wardrobe. After a few years, I had directed several professional shorts and won many prizes with a short called “Goodbye Eve,” “I Love You (1999)”. One of the prizes was a 6.000€ award to shoot an another short. I was sick of making shorts and was trying to make my first feature film, so I tried to use the prize money for the feature. But the organization that gave me the prize said no, the money had to be spent on a short. I acquiesced and wrote the story in one day. I found the rest of the money and there we were. “Doors Cut Down” led to me becoming a feature film director.
Where did the inspiration for “Doors Cut Down” come from? Was it based on your own life?
Actually, I was always very timid. I stayed in the closet until my mid-twenties, living a double life as a repressed gay with a girlfriend. Life was like that in Spanish small towns even in the middle of the nineties. I finally left my girlfriend and had a boyfriend who was much more aware of gay life than me, although he was some eleven years younger. He told me he had taken his daily lessons about gay life and sex in restrooms. He even taught me things I did not know. I was so captivated by his story that I decided to portray it. So “Doors Cut Down” is his true story.
Was it challenging to find actors who would engage in such risque material? And how did you find the lead, actor?
Well, I knew heterosexual prototypes are usually hot to gay audiences. So I just looked up the alpha-looking teenage casts, and I made my list. I chose the most unprejudiced, shameless guy. He understood the character at first read, even though he was 17. He said he would do whatever I asked him. His father came with him to the audition and agreed.
In addition to “Doors Cut Down,” your feature “La Partida” is extremely sexually charged. Is it part of your mission to make films that focus on gay topics and gay sexuality?
Making gay movies may have been the way in which I came out of the closet. Actually, I was just following the suggestion of one producer friend of mine. When I was looking for my way as a filmmaker he said, well Antonio, try to do something that nobody else does, and you are very good at making gay films. This the reason why I mostly direct and produce gay movies and documentaries on the gay community. Obviously, he was right. I am out of the mainstream, but making a living making gay movies is a possibility and a privilege. From a creative point of view, I’d rather tell stories about characters whose feelings I know well, with which I empathize, than having to wear a mask of, let’s say, I’ll write a female character so I can tell this story in a heterosexual coded way. The films are sexually charged because making them turns me on. And telling stories about gays is a matter of pride, too.
Were there any films that you looked to as inspiration for “Doors Cut Down”?
The use of the voice over in the short “Mis Vacaciones”(“My “Holiday”) by Juan Antonio Bayona was inspiring to me.
Do you have a favorite sexy film – either porn or non-porn?
Almodovar’s Law of Desire” has always been a reference. Others include James Ivory’s “Maurice,” Derek Jarman’s “Sebastiane” and many of the films by the Spanish filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia – “Hidden Pleasures” (1975), “The Congressman” (1978), “Navajeros” (1980), “Overdose” (1982), too. Jean-Daniel Cadinot’s gay porn films also filled our dirty eyes long ago, but new techniques, Viagra and the Internet have changed it all.
Why did you decide to restore “Doors Cut Down” after over ten years? And what was involved in the restoration?
It is a good film – my mother says so – and it was worth knowing what kept the original 35mm negative. When “Doors Cut Down” was shot HD did not exist so, you had it in film prints or video. I had nothing better to upload than video for years. Frank Jaffe from Strand Releasing gave me the opportunity to restore it, and here we are. Technically, the restoration involved many steps. First of all, picking up the materials from the National Archives where they were kept at 0ºC in a moist and fireproof bunker. Then taking them to the studio to scan the original negative. As it was shot in format 1:2:35, this negative was kept in two rolls which alternate the shots. So after scanning, we needed to edit one shot after the other to put them in a sole timeline. Then, we color-corrected. After that, we added the 5.1 original sound (Digital Dolby). We finally digitally removed hairs, dots and dust. Now, the film can be screened with much better quality than it originally was in 35mm prints.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I am financing a new project that I wish I will be shooting by November 2016. In the meanwhile, I am producing our last documentary, on a group of Spanish poets who published a magazine called Cantico in the forties and fifties: the only example of homoerotic poetry in the hardest years of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.
Adam Baran is a filmmaker and film programmer based out of Brooklyn, NY. Adam is currently working on a queer documentary titled “Northwest Passage.” You can contact him at Adam@TheSword.com and follow him on Twitter at @ABaran999. Check out his previous columns in the Fisting For Compliments Archive.
What aspect of “Doors Cut Down” resonated with you?