This is the second part of August’s Artist Spotlight with Len Borruso. The first part is printed in our August issue.
Len Borruso is no stranger to the world of filmmaking, but that doesn’t mean he’s never surprised by anything he encounters. Since moving to Appleton, Borruso has had to change his style of collaboration from a rigid focus on scheduling and detail to a looser, free flowing style. According to Borruso, the improvisational feel has aided his films and creative process: “There are no new ideas except in the collision of different ideas,” he said. “You want [to work with] people who can push you to explore…nobody really works alone in film anymore. You find people that you gel with. Maybe you’re not strong in certain areas, so you find people that are strong in that area, people that complement you.” Borruso’s collaboration is evident in films made by Ekphrasis, a film coterie composed of Borruso and other filmmakers in the area. When Len finds himself in the director’s chair, he doesn’t lose sight of the collaborative, personal aspect of filmmaking. “It’s important to be an actor’s director and always be directing in the moment,” said Borruso.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem; we’re two years removed from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the makeup of most films is still predominantly white, straight, and cisgendered. When minorities are portrayed in film, they’re rarely presented as complete, relatable characters, as their identities are often reduced to a few gags when there’s a lull in the story. Moonlight made headlines last year for being the first LGBT movie to win an Academy Award (and also for being all-around fantastic, go see it if you haven’t already), avoiding the fate of past snubs like Carol and Brokeback Mountain. LGBT narratives are found in much of Borruso’s longer works, a result of his longtime collaboration with acclaimed director Quinten Lee. The films give full life to underrepresented issues in a way that normalizes LGBT life, rather than ostracizing it from “normal” living.
Big Gay Love, one of Borruso’s first works, features an insecure party planner struggling to overcome traditional masculine beauty expectations and find love. Secrets and Toys, written by Dalila Ali Rajah, is a short film that attempts to challenge how we view ourselves and explore the lives of LGBT people of color. Operation Marriage centers around the passage of Proposition 8 in California (making same-sex marriage illegal), as two children attempt to get their moms married before the proposition passes. “More than ever, these stories need to be told,” said Borruso. “They’re no longer really low production value and they deserve to be screened. They’re really no different from other movies.”
Although most cinematic press centers around opening weekends, Rotten Tomatoes, and large-scale festivals like Sundance or Cannes, there are many smaller festivals around the world that are shaping the landscape of film everywhere. Festivals like OutFest are becoming increasingly important for gay narratives in film and continue to grow more mainstream by the year. Anyone who attempted to see Moonlight when it first reached Appleton knows it was not an easy endeavor: the film aired around 7pm on a weeknight for a very limited showing. Frustrated by the limited showing, Borruso wrote a letter to Marcus Cinemas, imploring them to bring the film back to the Fox Cities. A few days later, Borruso received a letter from Marcus saying that the film would be brought back to theatres for more showings. Borruso was pleased that Marcus Cinemas listened to his concerns, but he recognizes that one movie doesn’t mean that under-representation in film is solved. “Whether it won the Academy or not, Moonlight is an important film to see. Moonlight is kind of an outlier and we still need more outlets to see LGBT films. That’s what the AFC (Appleton Film Center, one of Borruso’s budding projects for film outreach in the Fox Cities) would try to do.”
When asked how local cinemas could begin to create change without waiting for more diversity in Hollywood, Borruso had a few suggestions. “In local theatres, we need to have more films with positive LGBT characters shown here. They can look to established film festivals like OutFest and show what they’re showing. They could find somebody from the LGBT community who’s willing to curate films to increase the number of LGBT screenings. If you keep that in rotation, that’s how attitudes change, that’s how ideas change. If it’s a one-off, it’s easy to fall back to the status quo; you have to keep doing it. You can do it for any minority group, too. Cinema is such a beautiful world, and it’s great to see the international language of film.”
When discussing the potential options for local theatres for increasing their diversity, Borruso acknowledged that diversity can be introduced in subtle ways. “For any one minority group—LGBT for example—you don’t need to make it an “LGBT” film, but how about incorporating more LGBT people? It’s on the producers and the people making the films to include positive gay relationships in the films. Sometimes you just need more people from that group involved in the making of those films and just having it in mind to include people.”
Len’s films feature human narratives and real emotion, allowing viewers to immerse themselves and attempt to understand roles that aren’t their own. By focusing his camera on underrepresented groups in our society, he helps their voice be heard in a world where everyone is trying to shout over each other. According to Borruso, this exchange of ideas is essential to our society: “Strength in society comes from people feeling like they have a part in it, that they have something to say.”
There are a few different ways to check out Len’s work: go to the Appleton Public Library, where he’ll be the Artist-in-Residence through August; check out Wildwood Film Festival, which selected his short film Moondog for the 2016 festival; check out his film coterie, Ekphrasis, on Vimeo; or go to his website or IMDB page.