Art and Experience: At this year’s Sundance, 23-year-old Miles Joris-Peyrafitte became one of the festival’s youngest-ever filmmakers to have a film in competition with “As You Are,” his first feature, which he directed, co-wrote, co-scored and acted in. It won a Special Jury Award.
Signed up by WME by early March, Joris-Peyrafitte hit San Sebastian earlier this week for the movie’s European premiere. “As You Are” riffs on the Nirvana song not only in its title but its vision of the loneliness, angst and confusion of youth as it portrays the friendship between three high school students, two boys and a girl. Its mobile camera work, which toys with different film genres, plus use of a faux procedural structure, also typifies the style of many new and highly cine-literate filmmakers.
In the run-up to San Sebastian, Joris-Peyrafitte spoke about the film’s openness to interpretation, trusting one’s instincts and his changed perception of the film business.
The first scene, I think, says a lot about the whole movie. Jack skateboards out of school coolly, goes to a local skateboard park without any friends…then catches a bus to go home, which is a long trek. Bnd by the time he gets home, it’s night and his mother is asleep waiting for him.
You’re definitely not off track! With the opening of the film, we really wanted to set the tone of Jack’s life pre-Mark. We wanted to show the world he’s in and the loneliness he feels within it. Given the severity of what we see immediately before, I knew that whatever we saw next would be affected.
Since we know that the story is being told in retrospect, it was important that we also capture that kind of warmth you’re talking about. I think in retrospect you can’t help but see a certain comfort in his solitude.
When you’re making a film which is a mix of subjective memories, where what we see may not be what quite happened, where what exactly happened may not be clear, you risk being misunderstood. How would you judge the reactions so far? Have you been understood?
It’s interesting because I never really feared being misunderstood with the film. From the beginning of the writing process (even of the short film I made first), I knew that for the film to work, not only did we have to lean into the possibility of people seeing it in different ways, but, in fact, with a film that’s so much about interpretation and memory, we would be doing ourselves a disservice to not give the audience ample space to interpret any way they want.
Seeing the way people react to it has certainly been a highlight of my life. Since this was my first feature, I had never gone through that part of the film-making process — i.e., people actually seeing it. Which is interesting because I think that impulse of sharing is at the heart of what makes me want to make films. I’ve talked to so many people about it, and had so many vastly different reads on it, which is amazing, especially because the one common thread seems to be that everyone seems certain about their way of reading it, which is so cool. It makes me feel really good that anyone would watch the film and feel compelled enough to develop theories and ideas surrounding it.
Again, some of the most tender moments are love scenes between Jack and Mark. But this isn’t really an LGBT movie. I feel that just as the characters are exploring a more fluid sexuality, your film is fluid in its use of genre: a procedural without a sense of an investigation closure, a film about two boys’ love for each other, a coming-of-age film where two of the three characters don’t have the emotional support to really come of age.
Great! That was certainly an intention. My sort of guiding idea for most of the choices in the film was that I wanted to make a movie about teenagers that didn’t talk down or belittle, something that dealt with the severity of their issues the way a film about adults would. The film does try and move through different genres — or, maybe more specifically, it tries to avoid most. It’s not a coming-of-age film, or a procedural, or a specifically LGBT film, or anything else. It’s a movie about kids going through a lot of things that belong to a lot of different genres.
In terms of the film-making, that idea of not belonging to any one thing specifically became really freeing because we could build our world on what the emotional truths of the characters were, instead of on a genre. This, as you alluded to, is an attempt to mimic or represent the fluidity that characters feel and are trying to justify.
The film has its European premiere at San Sebastian. What would you like the audience to take away from “As You Are”?
I’m really excited (and nervous) about San Sebastian because for some, potentially misguided, reason, I’ve always kind of seen “As You Are” as a European film. But maybe that’s just pretentious. Ha. Either way, regarding what I hope they take away, I think my answer is always the same: literally anything. I feel like my job is to present a bunch of ideas and stuff that is meaningful to me, and the audience’s job is to see if they find anything in common. If they do, regardless of what that is, I feel like I did my job. That said, I also just hope they like it. That’d be nice.
You’re making your second film. What would you like to carry over from the first? And what do you want to break with?
I want to carry over the feeling of doing something really fun with a bunch of friends. I think that’s what made me fall in love with the process when I was six years old and my co-writer Madison and I would make films, and I think it’s what will keep me in love with it. I hope that I never get used to how insane of a job I have. Or at least I never take it for granted. When we were shooting “As You Are,” I’d have multiple moments a day where I’d look around and be terrified and elated, not understanding how this was happening to me, how I was so lucky. I want to carry that feeling with me because it keeps everything in perspective and makes me really grateful, which in turn, I think, makes me better.
In terms of things to get rid of, there’s a lot. I think the most apparent is insecurity. For all the gratefulness I felt, I also felt really scared that, given my age and lack of experience, I wasn’t going to be able to deliver. That feeling is like kryptonite to a director, because it makes you question your instincts. And my instincts are literally all I have out there.
Did you have any industry expectations at all for the film, and have they been satisfied?
I had no expectations when I was making the film. I never thought it would go where it’s gone. So, by that token, I can’t believe that the “industry” even knows it exists.
Everyone I’ve worked with has been really amazing and really excited about the project. It’s definitely not an easy sell for most, but the people who are, and have been, championing it really believe in it and are working their asses off. I had a lot of ideas about the “film industry” before I’d gotten a glimpse [of] it, most of which were pretty unflattering. My tune has changed for the most part. Not everyone is a money-sucking vampire-worshiper. Which is great! That said, things take a very long time, I’ve discovered, which can be frustrating. But luckily, I have a great team which indulges my rants and nods and agrees when I tell them I’m gonna start putting a juicing clause in all my contracts to promote punctuality.