Sundance: Episode Three

Parenthood and experiemental filmmaking in Boyhood and 52 Tuesdays.

by Amber Wilkinson

Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke at the premiere of Boyhood at Sundance Film Festival
Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke at the premiere of Boyhood at Sundance Film Festival Photo: Amber Wilkinson
Coming-of-age movies have long been a staple of indie cinema, but there seems to be a particular emphasis on parent and child relationships at this year's Sundance. They've been cropping up all over the schedule, from comedies to drama. I've already talked about Infinitely Polar Bear, so I'll start with the most remarkable film to deal with the subject here - Richard Linklater's Boyhood. A long-term experiment in filmmaking, he set out, back in 2003, to follow the journey from childhood to adulthood of one character (although his sister also plays a significant part). Played by the same boy (Ellar Coltrane) throughout and with a supporting cast (Ethan Hawkes, Patricia Arquette and Linklater's daughter Lorelei) also along for the ride, the result is fascinating, not least because it shows how Linklater has developed as a filmmaker over the intervening years. At the outset, he throws a considerable amount of narrative drivers at the film - divorce tensions, new relationships, trouble behind closed doors - the film then becomes much less motivated by the events than by the inner workings of the characters and is all the more moving for the switch.

After the premiere, Richard and Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane talked about the project with the audience.

Speaking about his initial motivations, Linklater said: "I wanted to do something about childhood and I sat down to write. But I couldn't pick one moment - obviously, the limitations of film, you have to pick your moment. And that wasn't good enough - I didn't really have enough to say about one moment. I got this eureka moment of why couldn't you just film a little bit and encompass all of it. So that was the idea, it just hit me - pow! It's so simple actually, in a storytelling way but the practicality of how you make a movie like that, that becomes the difficult part, so I'm just lucky."

Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane at the premiere of Boyhood at Sundance Film Festival 2014.
Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane at the premiere of Boyhood at Sundance Film Festival 2014. Photo: Amber Wilkinson
Asked about how the storytelling process worked for a project that was shot over such a long period of time, he said: "I'd say the structure of the whole film was worked out. I think by the second year I knew the last shot of the movie. But every year we would get together at various stages of the script and we would just work on it in a rewriting, workshoppy atmosphere and worked up scenes.

"We had a year to think about it and then it was a very intense three or four-day shoot generally. At the end of the day, we shot for 39 days total, had 143 scenes, it's pretty weird... everything about this film was weird."

Coltrane - who turns into a fine young actor through the course of the film - spoke about how it was growing up with the role. He said: "I would say around 12 or 13, it began to gradually dawn on me what was actually happening. At 7, 12 years is almost twice my life, so it's almost impossible to fathom how long actually that is. But there is a specific point that I remember that I started to grasp the scope of the project and change a lot at that point."

Joking, Linklater added: "Somewhere around year three, Lorelei came to me and asked me, 'Can my character, like, die.' It is difficult to hold a nine-year-old to a 12-year contract."

And what about that title?

Linklater said: "Boyhood - that name ended up on our callsheet and it just became the title. Good titles come early or not at all, so that's our title for better or worse."

The end result is a touching and in-depth meditation on childhood that justiifies every minute of its 164-minute runtime.

Employing a similar experimental technique, though in a more formal fashion and with a considerably truncated timescale is Australian film 52 Tuesdays, which was shot by Sophie Hyde and her crew over the course of a year and only on Tuesdays. The film charts the relationship between an adolescent girl and her lesbian mother who decides to undergo gender transition. I spoke to DoP Bryan Mason about the project when they were planning it (read that here) - but as with most films, the end result is considerably different.

The focus, perhaps surprisingly, falls more on the younger half of the relationship as Billie (newcomer Tilda Cobham-Hervey, of whom we are surely going to hear more), makes her own transition of sexual awakening at the same time as trying to come to terms with only seeing her mum (Del Herbert-Jane, a non-gender conforming individual who was originally the diversity expert on the project) once a week as she undergoes her gender transition treatment. Because the film was shot weekly - a choice marked out by intertitles - you can see Billie physically changing as the months wear on. Meanwhile, the psychological impact of the secrets mother and daughter keep from one another also begin to take their toll. The film gathers considerable momentum through the runtime, although the forced constraints of weekly shooting give it a slightly choppy feel in places. This is a sensitive portrayal of an emotional journey that shows how fluid sexuality can be. Viewers who feel like sharing a little bit of their own experience, can visit My52tuesdays to answer weekly questions about their life. We'll be chatting to Hyde about the film when it goes to the Berlin Film Festival in February and will bring you the interview in full then.

Tilda Cobham Hervey and Sam Althuzien in 52 Tuesdays
Tilda Cobham Hervey and Sam Althuzien in 52 Tuesdays Photo: Visit Films

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