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    Adult World Intrudes Upon Boyhood Friendship in Little Men

    GaryKramerbyRyanBrandenbergLittle Men, opening August 12 at the Clay Theatre, is out filmmaker Ira Sachs’ sly, gentle comedy of manners about Brian (Greg Kinnear), an actor, and his wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) who move into his late father’s Brooklyn apartment with their sensitive teenage son, Jake (Theo Taplitz). On the ground floor of the residence is a dress shop run by Leonor (Paulina Garcia). Leonor’s charismatic son Tony (Michael Barbieri), a wannabe actor, soon becomes fast friends with Jake. However, when Brian and his sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) want to raise Leonor’s rent, the relationship between the boys, as well as the adults, changes.

    Sachs immerses viewers into the lives of these characters as they all try to get what they want. The strong bond between the boys is palpable and tender and provides the emotional heart of Sachs’ lovely film. The writer-director chatted with me recently for the San Francisco Bay Times about making Little Men.

    Gary M. Kramer: Little Men is a film about two young men, class, and sexuality. Can you discuss why these themes are of interest to you?

    Ira Sachs: The issues of class, race, and sexuality speak to me. I’m interested in those questions. Sexuality, race, and class define character as well as create drama. If you are attentive to the world with that particular viewpoint, those are the stories you find. The subject of the film is also about filmmaking in this time and as part of this system. I think that’s more relevant for gay people: How valuable are our stories?

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    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about the dynamic between Tony and Jake?

    Ira Sachs: I think Tony sees a friend, an artist, someone who has some of what he wants: a playmate, a mentee—someone he can teach. Jake has a life that looks good to Tony. And I think Tony is like Tony Manero: You judge him on the surface, but he’s a very good actor. He has a real sensitivity, and it comes from understanding people. Theo said that Tony gives Jake access to all these worlds. He’s an inherently curious boy.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about the contrast between the adults vs. the boys?

    Ira Sachs: There’s conflict between the adults, but the drama is when the adult world intrudes on the kids. Their openness is taken away from them by the element of money, difference, class, judgment—all these things get in the way of something that is quite pure between these two boys.

    Gary M. Kramer: What are your thoughts on parent/child relationships?

    Ira Sachs: I think each character in the film is trying to be who they want to be in the eyes of other; Tony, Brian, and Leonor. Each of them fails in their expectations for themselves. In the last act, they become closest to whom they are most essentially, and more comfortably. Brian is a little man who becomes a bigger man. How we feel against our parents is very key to gay men, who may feel they disappoint their parents. Being gay has altered their parents’ perspectives. Children inherently disappoint their parents, and parents disappoint their kids.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about your approach to the material?

    Ira Sachs: I’m the filmmaker, and this is a queer film to me. The eye of the filmmaker is a gay man and that is specific to me. Letting go comes with maturity. You trust instincts and systems more than you maybe trust ideas. People respond to the maturity around how the story is told. There’s a rigor, but it’s more relaxed.

    Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about codes of masculinity in Little Men?

    Ira Sachs: I guess those things were so important to me as a 12–13-year-old who went from an all-girls school to an all-boys school. It was traumatic for me, a gay kid who grew up in a family of women. How do I feel as a gay man in a heterosexual film industry? There’s an alienation that one feels whatever identity you have. I’m interested in liberating those things, and in this world I did that through theater. I was involved in children’s theatre in Memphis and I was free there. The kids were black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor. I felt more alive in that world—which is hard to replicate.

    Gary M. Kramer: This film is almost obliquely queer. You seem to alternate between making films with queer content and telling stories that are sensitive, but not sexual. Can you talk about that thread of your work?

    Ira Sachs: I think it’s complicated, what I respond to, what I feel, and what stories I’m interested in. I’m not attuned to the market forces. Individually I’ve spent half my life creating opportunities for LGBT artists to make work that is not for profit. Queer Art. Capitalism doesn’t value our stories. That means you have to find other reasons and possibilities.

    © 2016 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer