A+ESundance Film Festival

Sundance film explores sexual and creative freedom

In order to avoid an X-rating, directors for the 1980 movie, Cruising, cut more than 40 minutes of homo-erotic imagery from the final film. With this film urban legend in mind, filmmakers Travis Matthews and James Franco launched a project re-imagining the lost footage while starting a broader discussion about sex, boundaries and freedom. Interior. Leather Bar. is an official Sundance Film Festival entry which premiered on Saturday, Jan. 19.

Franco is no stranger to gay characters and is well known for his work in Milk, Howl and The Broken Tower. However, Franco wanted to push the envelope and delve deeper into queer cinema with a new project, said co-director Matthews. The project was done with a micro-budget and included only a few weeks for preproduction and less than two days for shooting, Matthews said.

“Basically, I had just finished my first feature, I Want Your Love, and it was doing some festival rounds around the same time that (Franco) wanted to make a queer film,” Matthews said. “We got together and talked about what to do within our parameters. We had a micro-budget, a few weeks to come up with a game plan and everything was put together really quickly.”

Matthews and Franco were drawn to the history of the Cruising and the story that director William Friedkin had to go to the Motion Picture Association of America four times before he could land an R-rating for his film.

“The first time I saw Cruising, I thought it was problematic in what it says about gay people. But if you take just the bar scenes and watch them on their own, it’s an interesting snapshot of late-70s gay New York culture,” Matthews said.

Interior. Leather Bar. Is not a sequel or re-make of the movie and it has several layers about production. Despite the minimal amount of scripting, the layers of filming and the short production time, it came together quickly and smoothly, Matthews said.

“We didn’t have time to second-guess ourselves. And (Franco) was open to suggestions, as long as there was a purpose behind what you wanted to do,” Matthews said.

The quasi-documentary style filming opens a chance for Franco to address his motivations and past in queer cinema, Matthew said. And while he is a focal point of the film, he does not dominate the scenes and opens the floor for Val Lauren, who is reimagining the character first played by Al Pacino in Cruising.

Matthews is a veteran of queer cinema and several of his past projects have pushed the boundaries in erotic arts. His film, I Want Your Love, featured an explicit sexual encounter between friends.

“I think something is happening in queer cinema. Filmmakers are interested in taking chances again and being provocative,” Matthews said. “I think the film is part of the progression. But I’m not sure that stylistically it represents the change. I think it stands apart in that way.”

Interior. Leather Bar. premiered at Sundance and Matthews said he and Franco were excited to come to the showings and meet audience members.

“I didn’t realize until editing that the film is also funny. I hope everyone can have a good time with it,” Matthews said.

For tickets and show times, go to sundance.org.

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