Director Ryan Gielen on his urban love story - ’Turtle Hill, Brooklyn’
Filmmaker Ryan Gielen is releasing two films this year that couldn’t be more different from one another. One "Drinking Games" is a psychological frat house thriller, while the other, "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn", is an urban gay love story. It is one of the centerpiece films at this year’s Philly Qfest. Last week, the filmmaker talked about the movie, as he decamped in New York as a film instructor.
"I’m in New York, where I’m in for seven weeks of wonderful chaos at the 92st Y, where I teach a film camp," Gielen said. He describes the camp as "an innovative program for primarily Jewish kids from around the country. Film is one of five arts disciplines. In three weeks, students learn how to go from concept to screen, on their own. Each kid makes a short film and it expresses something personal for them."
Gielen knows what it takes to get it done: he is part of the generation of independent filmmakers who adjust to out-of-control production costs by relying on their creative ingenuity to get their films made. "Because production is actually a little more accessible every year. The cost of shooting digitally drops and the quality gets better," Gielen said.
A beautiful story
He got involved with "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn" after meeting actors Brian W. Seibert and Ricardo Valdez (who also play the lead characters Mateo and Will).
"They wrote this for themselves," Gielen explained, "then brought it to me. But there were no major rewrites after I got involved. What you see onscreen is pretty much what they wrote. I thought it was such a beautiful story."
In the film, Will and Mateo find themselves suddenly dealing with the parameters of their relationship, vis-à-vis their future desires individually and as a couple. "Without going into any details, the script explores a couple after they move in together. It is not autobiographical, except that Brian and Ricardo did move in together. And some of the friendships depicted in the film are based on real ones.
"But, you’ll have to ask them about where they cross-over, " Gielen joked. "They are really talented guys with a lot of acting experience, who understand realism in drama."
Early reviews think so, as a recent review in Variety attests: "A bunch of assorted friends -- male and female, gay and straight, American and Hispanic -- drop by a Brooklyn house to wish its owner a happy 30th birthday in Ryan Gielen’s engaging, well-scripted, dynamically shot no-budgeter ’Turtle Hill, Brooklyn.’ Like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming’s "The Anniversary Party," but less psychologically layered, the pic is structured around the joys and tensions of its central couple: birthday boy Will (writer-producer Brian W. Seibert) and his live-in Latino lover Mateo (writer-producer Ricardo Valdez). Audience award winner at NewFest could score within and beyond gay-targeted venues with further fest exposure."
A relationship crisis
Gielen said the central relationship between Will and Mateo extends beyond the gay spectrum and speaks to a lot of urban singles in serious relationships.
"It’s a personal story, not just for a gay couple but also for any artistic couple in New York moving in together. (The experience of) giving up the freedom to roam in the city is a really challenging experience. I love how they captured it. They are gay, out and a couple."
Told over the course of one day, the film follows what happens when Mateo and Will invite their friends, gay and straight, over to celebrate Will’s 30th birthday. This becomes the backdrop for their relationship crisis that comes to a head when a surprise guest arrives. The film has a multi-cultural, urban sensibility and free flowing dialogue style reminiscent of Robert Altman films. Gielen said getting the rhythm of a party vibe was of primary concern for him and the cinematographer Andrew Rivara.
"We thought hard about how he could accomplish what he needed to do. It needed to feel free-flowing and sloppy and fun. And it needed to feel like it was coming from the point of view of Will and Mateo. The day had to unfold in vignettes that kind-of weave together, with a dodgy time line. The challenge was that we only had eight days with a lot of outside shooting in the fall. With sometimes fifteen people onscreen at any given time, the actors had to work around what was tricky to coordinate."
For a single location film, Gielen escapes the sense of claustrophobia through the use of the actors’ home that gave him the use of its large-tiered garden. "Lucky for us, Brian and Ricardo’s home already had a rich, beautiful understated color palate, so we just wanted to enhance what was there. As the film goes from soft pastel range, early morning light, then vibrant colors, that grow darker, suggesting a specific single day in the lives of these character’s lives," Gielen noted.
For screenings of "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn" visit the QFest website.