Openly gay filmmaker Goran Stolevski is a triple threat: He handled directing, writing and editing chores for his new project, Of an Age, which Focus Features is now distributing. The film is already taking home trophies and was the winner of the Best Film Award at CinefestOZ.
There are traces of Stolevski's true-to-life story within the plot, such as his relationship challenges and experiences as an immigrant in Australia during the late '90s.
Elias Anton stars as Kol, a young Serbian dancer who lives in Melbourne, during the summer of 1999. His dance partner Ebony, played by Hattie Hook, is a hot mess and he enlists her brother Adam to drive him to rescue her.
Actor Thom Green is charming as Adam, a complicated individual with a heart of gold. Adam and Kol take audiences on a joyride that eventually transports them to the year 2010, where we see what the future holds for these likable characters.
Stolevski, who is originally from Macedonia, made his feature film debut with You Won't Be Alone, set in the 19th century. He zoomed in for an exclusive interview the week before Of an Age's upcoming United States theatrical debut.
Windy City Times: First off, have you been to Chicago before?
Goran Stolevski: Yes I have in 2010. It was a long time ago and I am dying to go back!
WCT: Well, you should visit again.
GS: Absolutely. I have always wanted to go to the Chicago International Film Festival, so fingers crossed, I will be there in October.
WCT: Where does the title Of an Age come from?
GS: I was writing the story set in 1999 and was bewildered that it was such a long time ago. It feels like it was actually 20 minutes ago instead. I found I was writing a period piece and time really shaped the film.
It was all about how technology and gadgets have changed, such as having paper maps at that time. It was the mindset before digital technology became so pervasive. It turned out to be about how people process things such as love, sex and connection at a particular age.
Of an Age was a particular time that is no longer. That is a slightly pretentious way to phrase it, and is about a boy who is slightly pretentious when he talks about art.
He starts the film at one age and finishes it at another age entirely later on. It felt like the title should cover all those things.
WCT: You used the singer Bic Runga's song "Sway" in the film. I told her one time at a listening party in Chicago that her song was cute and she didn't like that of course, so I learned a lesson. Does the song have significant meaning to you?
GS: I wouldn't call it cute, but more of a melancholy song. Bic Runga is from New Zealand, not Australia, but they are related. My problem after I migrated to Australia was that I didn't want to be there. That was not Australia's fault and had to do with my age, speaking of age.
I came to realize that I just wasn't exposed to everything as far as the culture of Australia and New Zealand by extension. From 1997 to 2004 I barely watched anything Australian or appreciated it. "Sway" somehow got through because I was listening to the radio at that time. It was a good song and normally I would have actively resisted it, but it is something I associate with that time period.
I also didn't have much music from that region that I found as beautiful. The story is about a boy that doesn't want to be there.
The song repeats in a few places in the film. It means one thing when it is played the first time and then means something else when it is played the second time.
It was horrific that the character experiences slurs and feels belittled while the song is playing in the background. I found it consoling to me to hear it paired with the violence of the words.
WCT: How did you accomplish aging the actors between the years of 1999 and 2010?
GS: We gave them three days off plus a weekend, so that is five days to grow facial hair! [laughs] They were given haircuts and different clothes. In terms of the external that was about all we could do.
What people respond to is the internal and psychological transformation of both of them. Thom was a bit more subtle because of his age. Between 23 and 34 people don't change as much because they are fully formed by age 23. At age 34, he evolved in a way that was believable and close to my age.
With Elias, who plays Kol, it was more of a challenge because in real life he was 23 at the time. I didn't think it was physically possible for him to portray a 17-year-old and then a 28-year-old beyond just looking the part. Playing someone that is younger than your age can be hard to understand and then having life experiences beyond those years later, such as living in another country, I thought would be impossible to convey, but we decided to see what would happen.
I talked to Elias in detail about this and what his character is like on the inside. For example, when you walk into a room at age 25, you will take in more of it than when you are a teenager. It is a different thing. You will be calmer and more comfortable, as opposed to the age of 17 when you are easily overwhelmed. In this case, it was going from being a kid to a confident adult. We talked about this well before the shoot started.
We shot all of 1999 first, then we got to 2010 and there was no abstract or intellectual conversation about it. The character was just growing as a person and the experiences were there day to day with a very profoundly moving shoot.
We started filming and five minutes in, I realized the bits that worked were not what I planned. There was something that he absorbed from my personality where he could play much older than himself. It was organic and he was believable. Everyone on set noticed it.
There were times I would get teary watching him, because I had such a parental relationship with this cast even though they were all adults and actors.
We saw these three people grow up in front of your eyes. They would talk about random things like the weather, but somehow they carried themselves differently. My boys had grown up, and I had a moment of pride. It was beautiful to have known them during this period in their lives.
WCT: Was it important to you that they both be gay in real life with casting decisions?
GS: What was important to me with casting was that they were believably gay onscreen. It was a very complicated process. I didn't push that they are out in real life, because that is a privilege to be quite honest.
With the background I have had it has been a very different trajectory. I was out and militantly queer, but I wasn't the only gay in the village. The reality, especially with other cultures, is that being out can be quite dangerous politically and can affect opportunity. People with different economic backgrounds can rarely be in the arts.
The acting process in the film was to be first gay, then great actors. Younger actors who don't have life experiences yet can't really fake it. I wasn't really going to push for them to be out, because clearly they didn't want to be out and I wasn't going to punish them by not casting them. Sometimes circumstances don't allow people to be out, and it can be quite invasive.
Many of the cast and crew identified as straight, but I know some were queer. One of the actors pulled out of the younger brother role early on because he found out it was a gay character. This was in Melbourne in the year 2022!
The film I made before, this one and the one I am making now, all have had a lot of queer people in them.
Of an Age dances into U.S. movie theaters on February 17, 2023.