Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Keep the Lights On

Director Travis Mathews on his erotic first feature film

Mathews found the film's diverse cast in New York and San Francisco.

Travis Mathews says that although gay cinema has evolved beyond AIDS and coming-out stories, he still finds much of it doesn’t speak to his experience.

“I think we’re at a time when gay cinema has matured to a point where it can be more representational of everyday people’s lives,” says the director of I Want Your Love, but “there are still far too few films out there that say a tremendous amount about my life that feel honest, intimate and relevant.”

Mathews established his own raw style with In Their Room, a documentary short film series (which screened at Inside Out in 2010) about gay men, personal space, sex and intimacy.

The first 20-minute episode, commissioned by Butt Magazine in 2009, featured eight men alone in their San Francisco bedrooms. When his work came to the attention of Jack Shamama, a producer at the gay adult video company NakedSword, a unique relationship was formed. Pairing with Mathews, NakedSword funded a short film based on a scene from the first draft of a feature film Mathews had just finished writing, called I Want Your Love.

“Jack gets inundated with complaints on a regular basis about the fact that porn is detached from feelings, intimacy and real people,” Mathews says. “So many people are turning to free internet stuff that’s homemade, and I think from a business perspective they were looking for something that would fit under the umbrella of things that were still erotic and sensual but not porn. Something that they could align with that would open up new revenue streams or a new audience to their brand.”

The short featured two young scruffy friends who hook up after a night of earnest conversation and wine. Thanks to its refreshing mix of realistic chemistry and raw sex the film quickly found an audience, racking up more than two million online hits and screenings at various festivals, including Inside Out in 2011.

Following in the footsteps of directors John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) and Andrew Haigh (Weekend), whom Mathews counts as friends and supportive peers, Mathews’ work is part of a shift in the way gay male sexuality is represented in film.

The short’s success led to a feature version, which follows aspiring performance artist Jesse (played by adorable tattooed newcomer Jesse Metzger) as he counts down his final days in San Francisco before moving back to Ohio.

“There are similarities on paper, but that’s not me. But what is similar is that I am from Ohio,” says Mathews of his relationship to Jesse. “I think like most gay people who move from small towns to gay urban centres, there’s always some fear in your adult life that you’re not going to get your shit together and you’re either going to be too poor or not make it work and have to go home and live with your parents.”

Featuring a cast of scruffy guys of all shapes, sizes and races who play Jesse’s friends and lovers, I Want Your Love is a loose and easy modern queer narrative flavoured by the very real personalities behind each character.

Mathews found most of his cast in New York and San Francisco. Many were already familiar with his work. “I either write for people based on who they are or write a part and cast it with a real personality that matches it. It’s more important to feel like the dialogue is naturally coming out of people’s mouths and not just them saying something I wrote,” he says.

“At the end of the day, I’m old enough to realize that I’m not special, in that if I have an itch for something I want to see in movies, then there are probably a lot of other people that feel that way too,” Mathews says. “Filming something super titillating that someone could jerk off to was hardly ever something that crossed my mind. I was more concerned with trying to think about sex differently, to think about narrative situations with sex differently, and I hope people will recognize that.”