Interview with Patrick Wang, director of the film IN THE FAMILY
SDAFF programmer Eric Lallana chats with Patrick Wang, director, writer, co-producer, and lead actor of the riveting custody drama IN THE FAMILY.
How did the idea of the film come about?
A couple years ago, I met Evan Wolfson. He’s a civil rights attorney unlike any lawyer I’ve ever met. He was talking about the idea of marriage for same-sex couples and how the idea makes a lot of people uncomfortable. To him, that discomfort shouldn’t just be chalked up to the reaction of small-minded people. It is a legitimate feeling that needs to be addressed, because those same people who are uncomfortable with the issue have something else in them that has served this country well over the years: an honest desire to be fair-minded. Appeal to that desire to be fair. Tell the story of how things as they are can hurt families and strain people trying to live a life with dignity, and in the end that desire to be fair can overcome any initial discomfort. That is one way change happens. That generous and optimistic spirit was the spark for writing the film.
What inspired you to make this film about family and extended family?
I have a wonderful family in Texas. And when I was in high school, I went to Argentina as an exchange student. My host family there is also wonderful, and they taught me the magic that is the extended family you choose. After I had written the script, my dad in Argentina got very sick, then my dad in Texas got very sick. It was a reminder that you never know how much time you have left in this life, and so it was a kick in the ass to make the movie. My dad in Texas passed away before he got to see the movie, but if you go to a screening, you will get to see him. His fingerprints are all over it.
According to the film credits I believe the film locations are upstate New York. Please talk about your decision to set the movie in Tennessee?
Here’s a sentence for you: my Argentine sister went to Barcelona where she met a Greek named Sokratis, and they got married and moved to Martin, Tennessee. I’ve spent time in other parts of Tennessee, but I had never been to Martin, and so I found myself wondering about it. And before long it was the setting for the screenplay. It was fun to set the movie in a real place that I had never visited. From time to time I would look up the weather, look at pictures of houses and trees, read the town census. Just for a couple points of reference, never too much or too literal. The place is a good size, some 40,000 people in the county. And there’s a branch of the University of Tennessee there. This is not a film about being trapped in geography, and so it felt like nice, neutral ground. I also think these modest-sized cities and Southern cities don’t often get a fair shake in movies. Their people and their ideas can be as surprising and diverse as any place.
Your film covers the topic of child custody. Why did you feel it was important to address this topic?
There is something extraordinarily beautiful in the relationship between the father and son in this movie. And that beautiful thing is seriously threatened, and it makes me furious when the world takes aim at the beautiful things. So that makes me want to say something. These threats come in the form of questions about custody, so yes it’s a significant part of the movie. And as a topic, it’s significant for the hundreds of thousands of children being raised by same-sex parents in this country. But I think movies die when the topical crowds out the details. So I put my efforts into following the shifting dynamics of this particular family and finding the interesting path of escalation and de-escalation among well-meaning people. All this gives life to the question of custody.