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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 41
An interview with Winning Dad director Arthur Allen
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An interview with Winning Dad director Arthur Allen

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

Arthur Allen brings his debut film, Winning Dad, home to the Pacific Northwest and to his own Capitol Hill neighborhood doorstep for the 20th Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The film has screened in India and Canada and will be screening later this month in Italy and in Germany. Allen writes, directs and stars in this film. Allen and his cast and crew, his 'crewtopia,' have produced a compelling dramedy that takes you from the Pacific Northwest mountains to the depths of your heart.

Paul Torres: Where did you come up with the idea for your film, Winning Dad?

Arthur Allen: It was originally a piece I lovingly called Father-in-Law. It was about two fathers who met each other over the engagements of their sons. It was too big of an idea to try and film a wedding, so I condensed two characters into one and that became the boyfriend, Rusty, in Winning Dad. The idea struck me when I was painting. I remember I had just joined the Merchant Marine and I think I was back from my first dispatch and I had rented a little room and I was painting.... I was on a tall ladder... when this idea just sort of struck me. I remember scribbling the idea on a napkin. It was another three years... the idea matured, went through many changes, and ended up becoming what it finally is.

Paul Torres: Is anything in the movie inspired by your life?

Arthur Allen: There's not a single autobiographical element in there, except maybe the sister character [Jamie played by Megan Jackson] who is sort of based on me and my two sisters. I didn't have my first boyfriend until after I wrote it, that's how purely fictional it is. I was inventing what his relationship might look like not having had one of my own. I guess I could say the same of the opinions/about the mind frame of the dad, which were influenced by some of the guys I met in my time in the Merchant Marine. Surprisingly, actually most of the guys took to me really quick. They sort of liked having me around, but there were some every so often that you would encounter that would have ambivalent feelings toward the Gay issue. Some of those opinions make it into the film.

Paul Torres: Winning Dad is set in the Pacific Northwest. Did you grow up here?

Arthur Allen: I am a native Washingtonian, which seems to be an endangered species these days. I'm from Mukilteo, which is featured in the film. A little known fact is that the lead actor, Chuck Sigars [who plays the dad] has been a columnist for the Mukilteo and Edmunds Beacon newspapers for, I think, ten, fifteen years.

Paul Torres: Who or what has influenced your cinematic sense?

Arthur Allen: Everybody in high school knew me as the Hitchcock guy. In high school, this is back in the days of VHS and DVD had just come out. The public library had huge stashes of old black and white films, foreign films, and old classics. I was just watching old classics and I took a liking to Alfred Hitchcock. It was my goal, really to see all 72 of them. I was that cinephile nerd watching the old black and white, silent Hitchcock films all the way through Frenzy and Family Plot. So my first phase was Hitchcock; it was a very high school thing. Then in college, I actually wrote my senior thesis paper on an obscure Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky. Neither of whom you're going to see in Winning Dad [chuckles]. Those are sort of my two big phases, in terms of my self-study of film. I also love David Lean. This film itself is very heavily influenced most probably by John Cassavetes and Paul Thomas Anderson. Cassavetes because quite simply it's hard to do anything that doesn't reference him... for a budget as low as mine. The final scene is very Cassavetes and was identified as such in Paris. It's almost textbook, you know; long lenses, a lot of stress and tension on the set in one take. The finale is done in one take. There are no alternate versions of that scene.

Paul Torres: Seattle has produced notable filmmakers, lately - Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister's Sister) and Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them), for instance. What is it about Seattle that inspires you to make your films?

Arthur Allen: That's a tricky question, obviously, because it assumes I had a choice to make it somewhere else [chuckles]. That said, Megan Griffiths, I think, put it very well when she talked about 'crewtopia.' Crewtopia, the community here looks out for each other. That was very much my experience with Winning Dad.

Paul Torres: You used crowdfunding to finance Winning Dad. Can you describe how that process affected the filming?

Arthur Allen: I could pay something to the people who are giving up work time to work on the film. I did need money to help out in that way. The beauty of the crowdfunding is the complete independence. I had nobody dictating to me what needed to be in the film, what needed to make it marketable, nothing like that; it was complete artistic control. At least for my first project, it was beautiful to make all of my own mistakes and to be free to be daring.

Paul Torres: What is your next project?

Arthur Allen: Well, I need to refill the coffers after this one. I've been doing freelance video work, which is a dream come true. I'm working on my next script, researching - it's too early to divulge too much. It will probably be shot in Bellingham and Seattle. It will have distilled everything I learned on Winning Dad and taking advantage of the connections and the resources I made. In the meantime, I want to work on short films. Again, it's going back to... I want to hang out with crewtopia more.

Paul Torres: What message would you like Winning Dad to stand for among the other films in the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival?

Arthur Allen: I can say that everybody's reaction to it has been unique to themselves, which has been the most satisfying thing for me. I think a different moment of the film touches everybody in their own very distinct way. Regionally, too, actually. It's interesting to notice that there are regionally different reactions to the film. So, the people in Montreal focused in on a different scene than audiences in Boston honed in on. Different places have different reactions, different scenes that really strike them, that really touch a nerve.

And that goes for people, too. Every single person has a completely different scene that touches their nerve. And I love that because it tells me so much about people. Most of the time when people are telling me about my film, they're actually exposing something about themselves. And that's extremely satisfying as an artist. The idea at the heart of the film is embracing complexity, emotional complexity, sexual complexity, your complexity. I think that's an important message that the LGBT community has brought to America.

Arthur Allen's Winning Dad makes its Seattle debut at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian Theatre on Tuesday, October 13 at 7:00 p.m. It will be available for video on demand beginning December 1. Check out his website at arthurcallen.com for more information.

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