By Charles Wilmoth June 4, 2015
CIIS is very proud to congratulate ICP Alum Travis Mathews ('03) on his recent $75,000 San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant to support the production of his newest film, Oscillate Wildly. Travis joins a distinguished group of previous winners that include Ira Sachs and his film Love Is Strange, Ryan Coogler's debut feature, Fruitvale Station, and Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Oscillate Wildly looks at what happens when a first love challenges a hot-headed young gay man with mild cerebral palsy to confront the disability he's let consume and define him. For more about Travis and his films, please read the recent CIIS Today article below.
A filmmaker of refreshing honesty, Travis Mathews is a new voice giving queer cinema a much needed injection of emotional intimacy.
- John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch
In Their Room, I Want Your Love, Interior: Leather Bar, and the upcoming Oscillate Wildly-all films of CIIS alumnus Travis Mathews-have been screened in festivals and movie theaters worldwide.
Mathews moved to San Francisco to study in CIIS Integral Counseling Psychology (ICP) program in 1999, imagining he would work as a therapist to sustain himself while he pursued his dream of making films. But filmmaking has since taken over, and that's where Mathews now puts all of his time and energy. He still lives in the same flat in the Haight that he shares with two roommates, and until recently, he used his bedroom as his office.
A recipient of one of the Film Society's sizable Kenneth Rainin Foundation producer grants, Mathews got a reprieve from the bedroom office and now works out of the San Francisco Film Society's suite in North Beach, where he is hard at work on his upcoming film Oscillate Wildly.
It was the Web video series In Their Room that garnered critical notice and helped him gain a following, displaying his hallmark facility for capturing the intimate and quotidian facets of lived experience. In Their Room is a series of short videos of Mathews documenting the everyday rituals of gay men in their bedrooms begun in San Francisco in 2009, followed by Berlin in 2010 and London in 2012.
Part of what is remarkable about In Their Room is the way each episode's candid realism contrasts with the airbrushed and falsely glamorized images of gay men that one finds in most TV shows and movies-to say nothing of advertising directed at gay men as a target market. Rather, viewers of In Their Room grow in complexity and dimensionality by encountering themselves through snapshots of small and ordinary, but universal, movements through the days. Mathews connects his interest in and capacity for capturing intimate moments with his experience as an ICP student, which may have helped establish the template for the tonal quality of his films.
Mathews's first feature film, 2012's I Want Your Love, is a closely observed account of a group of queer bohemian men in San Francisco as they negotiate their relationships, jobs, and career dreams as artists making a counterculture.
Screened widely at LGBTQ film festivals, it garnered a strong critical reception. The Guardian UK grouped Mathews with filmmakers Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On and last year's Love Is Strange) and Andrew Haigh (the wonderful Weekend and the HBO series Looking), saying, "These filmmakers seek to describe the experience of being queer today through stories that resonate beyond that context." I Want Your Love is also notable for its explicit sex scenes, which develop naturally, organic to the story and imbued with their real meaning for the characters, not as titillating display for the viewer's objectifying gaze.
James Franco, the movie star and multi-arts gadabout, has made several experimental films, including The Broken Tower, which is about gay poet Hart Crane, and Sal, based on the last hours of Sal Mineo, one of Hollywood's first openly gay actors and a star of Rebel Without a Cause. (Mineo was murdered when returning home after a rehearsal to his apartment in West Hollywood in 1976.)
“He believes that his training as a therapist enables him to make actors feel safe and comfortable."
Franco's next experiment was to be a movie about the missing 40 minutes from William Friedkin's notorious film Cruising, which stars Al Pacino as a straight undercover cop in pursuit of a serial killer of men who frequent New York's gay S&M leather demimonde. Franco was impressed by Mathews's handling of explicit sex in I Want Your Love and asked Mathews to help him direct the new movie, which came to be titled Interior: Leather Bar.
Interior premiered at the Sundance and Berlin International Film Festivals and has screened at 75 festivals internationally. It was released theatrically by Strand Releasing in 2014. As directed by Mathews, Interior becomes a movie about making a movie.
While filming actors and nonactors in the re-creation of the explicit S&M acts purportedly cut from Cruising, Mathews also films Franco and his good friend Val Lauren, who plays the Pacino character. He documents how these two straight men wrestle with expanding their boundaries to come to terms with sexual acts so outside their frame of reference. While watching the movie, one begins to wonder if Pacino might have had the same struggles as Lauren, who is playing at being Pacino.
Fortunately, Interior has an emotional impact beyond a clever intellectual exercise, engaging the viewer in the very real struggle of personal growth and change.
Franco has become an important ally for Mathews, signing on as an producer and an actor in Mathews's upcoming feature, Oscillate Wildly, set to start shooting in Austin, Texas, this June. Oscillate Wildly (titled after the Smiths' instrumental song from the Louder Than Bombs album) developed out of a correspondence with a gay man who has cerebral palsy.
Mathews is also confident about his ability to handle the sensitive issues surrounding disability. He attributes this ease, in part, to his ICP education and training, which shows up in all his work as a focus on characters' interior worlds. He believes that his training as a therapist enables him to make actors feel safe and comfortable-whether it's a scene involving explicit sex or the rugged terrain of heartache. They know "it's OK and good to be real with me," he says.
Mathews's life as a serious, up-and-coming filmmaker has taken him quite a distance from the provincial countryside of Licking County, Ohio, where he grew up. He now flies to New York to audition actors for Oscillate Wildly; he regularly attends the Sundance Film Festival; and his films are screened at festivals in São Paulo, Sydney, Copenhagen, Madrid, Taipei, and Tel Aviv.
Mathews says his desire for his films is "to make the artifacts I would have wanted for my 16-year-old self."