Interview: Sean Lìonadh, director of Too Rough

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GSFF speaks to poet, writer, musician and filmmaker Sean Lìonadh about his new film Too Rough. With unsettling, handheld cinematography, the short film depicts the dilemma of an adolescent boy and explores the inner conflict between his love and relationship, and his dangerous family home. Sean concentrates on the inextricable correlation between the individual and the family, through a queer lens.

In Too Rough, we can see a dilemma for a young boy with his family and his identity. What was the inspiration for this film?

I once had to sneak a boyfriend out of the house in the morning. He only just made it out, because at the moment we ran downstairs, my step-dad was up a ladder. It’s hilarious to look back on now, but it felt like a kind of warfare at the time. I really loved the idea of setting a film in that kind of emotional space and exploring that intense division that can live between two kinds of love: sexual and familial.

As a poet, writer, musician and filmmaker, how do you think your multiple identities influenced your exploration of the film? 

I think I approach all of these mediums thinking of the idea of “swelling”. I like everything I make to expand and contract, rising in tension and feeling throughout, like waves of attack. You could easily compare the structure of screenplays with a rising sound wave – the peaks and troughs heighten and deepen. I think this is the way to tenderise the viewer, to crack them open before you throw the grenades in.

Too Rough deals with many types of love, such as Nick’s love for his brother, his father’s love for Nick, and the love between two boys. What do you think about these loves interacting with each other in this film?

I think there are many different examples of male to male love, which I really enjoyed casting alongside each other in one story. I wanted Nick to endure a kind of whiplash of intimacies. One minute his father is lying drunk on top of him, and the next his boyfriend is holding him. This is just the weird kind of Freudian shit I love to explore. I think we all know by now that, as gay men, our fathers unwelcomely haunt all of our sexual relationships in some way. Or maybe that’s just me. Yikes.

The frame of this film use the 4:3, what is the specific intention of this editing?

Primarily for claustrophobia. I wanted Nick to feel as confined as possible between the two walls of his boyfriend and his family. I also adore the film Ida (2013), which shares the 4:3 ratio and I’m always trying to lean into its cinematography. 

*SPOILER ALERT for Too Rough*

At the end of this film, you use footage of the main characters staring at the camera directly. Why do you use this footage and what do you want to emphasize?

For the whole film, Nick is being watched and, in a sense, under siege. Everyone has expectations of him and power over him, and because of this he is very avoidant. But in the end, he accesses an incredible courage that he’s found through opening himself to love. He becomes powerful – his family and his boyfriend are dependent on him. So finally he becomes the one doing the watching. He stops avoiding, and begins confronting.

Interview by Jingyi Liu

Too Rough screens in Scottish Competition 2: Branches.