What makes a Sundance audience cry? Try Thom Fitzgerald’s AIDS drama The Event Not a dry eye in the house.
The Event deals with the investigation of a string of mysterious deaths involving AIDS victims in the New York gay community, focusing on the latest, which is Matt’s. As the investigation progresses, we’re shown through flashbacks how Matt coped with the life threatening disease and how he came to his ultimate decision to commit suicide. Not wanting to die alone, he plans a going away party for his friends and few family members, including his mother, to attend on the evening of his death.
We caught up with writer/director Thom Fitzgerald and The Event star Sarah Polley to talk to them a bit about this film that questions whether the terminally ill should be allowed to take their own lives or not.
What inspired the story for the film?
Thom: The Event is about a man named Matt and his family and his circle of friends. Matt has AIDS. He’s had AIDS for a very long time and he’s gone back and forth from being sick to the point where he just doesn’t want to continue anymore. I think it’s safe to say that the film is inspired by many people like Matt who most everyone involved with film are familiar with. Our society is so focused on keeping people alive no matter what that I think almost everybody is facing this difficult situation now.
Sarah, you are a director in your own right. Having made the short film, “I Shot Love,” were you able to offer any tips?
Sarah: No, I think actually one of the main things I learned from directing film is that actors should really just shut up. So, because I worked with fantastic actors on my shorts that were so collaborative and easy to work with in a way that I don’t think I used to be, it really taught me sort of what your place is and also just to allow someone to manipulate you a bit more. Like give them choices. Let them make up their own mind in the editing room. That’s where the film is ultimately constructed whereas before I thought you constructed the performance yourself. It’s not true. This is the first film I acted in after I’d just been directing for a year and attending film school and I found I was having a lot more fun.
Having directed, does that give you new insight as an actress in terms of what to bring to a role?
Sarah: I think so. Wasn’t I easier to work with than before?
Thom: Yeah. She’s great…
Sarah: Was I horrible?
Thom: Well, I actually think that when I work with actors who, either are just incredibly experienced with film, or who know something about the rest of the process as opposed to their isolated role, that they do make my job a bit easier. Now, with Sarah, of course, I’ll have watched the rushes, all pissed off that I got something wrong, and then she’d say, “Oh, I knew you were doing that wrong. I didn’t say anything. It’s not my place.”
Sarah: I’m such a brat. I’m so horrible. I’m sorry.
The film just spans the gamut of emotions. How do you get actors to those places?
Sarah: The filming was so chaotic and terrifying that it was impossible not to be an emotional wreck for the whole thing, so I think that really helped us.
Thom: It’s true. I think that this was a fiercely independent film and our resources were so small that I genuinely feel like, especially in the New York portion of the shoot which involved Sarah and Olympia Dukakis, they didn’t necessarily feel safe, these actors. I think that they felt no one had a private place to go to. No one had a trailer to go to in order to collect his or her thoughts. They were just constantly surrounded by the chaos of making the film.
Sarah: It’s kind of great in a way.
Thom: Their desperation really comes across.
So do you think that being away from all those Hollywood trappings actually added to the film?
Thom: Well, I think in terms of me trying to build a family of characters, and that’s what they are in this film, that being put into this situation for several weeks, they really had no way to get away from each other. The entire support system consisted of a tiny bedroom with a twin bed, so that if they didn’t feel like a family when they started making the film, well, a few days into it, all those relationships were emerging in real life and I think that comes across.
What is your hope for the movie now?
Thom: Well, the movie has been picked up for release in Canada and the United States, so I’m hoping that it comes to a theater near you.
So you’ve got distribution which is what every filmmaker here is after.
Thom: Yeah. We actually came to Sundance with a distributor. We were a very precarious independent film but, rather amazingly, Think Film Company, which is based in Toronto and New York, bought our film based on the first three days of dailies and really helped us to be able to finish the film in a more comfortable way.