The definition of indie film is blurry these days. But Patrick Wang's debut feature, "In The Family," certainly fits the bill. The drama runs 169 minutes with mostly long single takes. It's about two gay dads; when one dies, the other wages a legal fight for custody of their child. Not an easy sell, especially without recognizable stars.
Writer-director-star Wang decided to open the film himself at a Manhattan theater last November after it debuted at the Hawaii and San Diego Asian Film Festivals after nearly 30 fest rejections. The film then got the attention of the New York Times
; they hailed it "one of the most accomplished and undersold directorial debuts this year...timeless and topical." Roger Ebert was "completely absorbed from beginning to end."
"In The Family" earned an Indie Spririt Award nomination for Best First Feature, and lost to star-packed "Margin Call." And "In the Family" also won the Best Feature and Emerging Filmmakers awards at San Diego, the Spokane Int'l Film Festival and the San Francisco Int'l Asian American Film Festival.
But what then? Vagrant films is distributing the film in Canada and Peccadillo Pictures in the UK and Ireland, but Wang is self- distributing stateside. "I think the struggle with U.S. distribution has been no big movie stars," Wang says, "no top five festival support, 'stylistically sui generis,' first-time director, and running time. You're never certain, but I suspect that is also the order of importance. The approach is more the obstacle than the subject matter."
Many gay festivals and distributors turned down the film, which is only twenty minutes longer than "The Avengers" -- surely the film's antithesis. Length is an unfortunate element here, especially when it's a non-issue once people actually watch it.
It's an indie tragedy that the film isn't getting the kind of attention it deserves -- and not just because gay marriage is a searing public and political issue. Wang is defiantly uncompromising in his approach. "It's amazing how many voices you will encounter trying to convince you to make a bad movie," says Wang. "They say take that wonderful and unique thing you have and turn it into garbage because the people love garbage and what's safer than garbage and we all live in garbage anyway."
So amidst these pressures, you must defend original work, he says: "You need someone to say, 'Enough already.' I got tired of waiting for someone, so I said, 'Enough already.'"
"In The Family"'s release schedule is here
. Next stop is Key West, FL on June 1. Our interview with Wang and an exclusive clip are below.
TOH!: You said you made the film "to defend the things I love"?
Patrick Wang: It is rare I leave a contemporary movie thinking I have seen something that resembles my life and that gives me some useful ideas about how to think about or address the conflict and struggles in it. When I think of my heroes -- essentially earnest and peaceful people who get knocked around in life like the rest of us, but who manage to make good decisions and live gracefully and generously -- I don't see people like this on screen. And yet these people do give me ideas about how to address the conflict and struggles in my life. They are a large inspiring force behind "In The Family." Aesthetically, I want to defend the place of literature and performance in film. I don't think there's any reason a film can't have a novelistic density of people, place, and ideas. Regarding performance, there's no shortage of tremendous actors, but I think the conventional tools for capturing a performance suck the life right out of it. There is a lot to discover about what makes a performance captivating, how to watch it, and the sequence and rhythm of details that reveal a person's character...