Set in New York City, a queer-centered movie called Cicada is now hitting virtual film festivals and explores complicated relationships with a backdrop of childhood trauma. Ben and Sam meet at a bookstore and a journey begins in romance and self discovery. Much like the sound of the insect, Cicada could be a film that haunts viewers for a long time to come.
Matt Fifer starred in the new indie film as Ben. He also co-wrote, co-directed, produced and edited the project. He has directed in the past for several short movies such as Bagdad, Florida and Pop as well as a TV series called Jay & Pluto.
Kieran Mulcare was the co-director and has acted in Jessica Jones, Gotham and Broad City.
Sheldon D. Brown participated in writing a section of the script and played Sam in the film. He is currently stationed in Chicago and working on a new project with the Court Theatre. He has an upcoming film called The Canyonlands where he plays a character named Dave.
Jeremy Truong was the producer for Cicada and plans on shooting two new queer films in the future, one with a horror theme that will team him up with Fifer and Mulcare once again.
Windy City Times: Talk about the creation of Cicada. Why was it set in New York?
Matt Fifer: I am from Long Island, New York, originally. It was a practical thing, since most of us were based in New York. The piece is loosely based on my life in New York.
WCT: Sheldon, how did your additional writing happen for Cicada?
Sheldon D. Brown: Matt and I go back to April 2015. I used to go to school on the East Coast in Boston. I would often be in New York for gigs where we met. We became close working friends.
He reached out to me in February of 2018 about this film and how he wanted me to be a part of it. I just happened to be in New York doing a show at the time. We got together at a bar and discussed it.
One late night in Chicago, I was shot in a drive-by shooting. While I was recovering, I talked to Matt about incorporating that story into the film. It added a whole other layer of richness and complexity of having two men dealing with significant trauma in their lives. It is about how they navigate that and journey to love themselves and one another.
We filmed two months after I left the hospital and 21 days later we wrapped up. There was later editing and new takes, but the process was very quick. It was insanity!
WCT: The film is based on actual events. How real is it? I'm assuming you changed the names of the characters…
MF: Actually a lot of the names aren't changed. I meant to, but it never happened. My mom's name is Debbie and my sister is named Amber. My doctor's name is Dr. Dragone.
It is a few years of my life told in one summer. This particular year Jerry Sandusky was on trial. I never had a trial for the sexual abuse I went through. I fell into a pit of going to doctors and finding an internal reason for this affecting me. I felt like I was dying. I was convinced I had MS or a brain tumor. I was going to my general practitioner, Dr. Dragone, at the time too much. Most of my symptoms subsided, but the day after we shot this film I was in the hospital because of dysphasia, which Ben has in the film. There are a lot of similarities between Ben and I.
WCT: What a personal piece of work for you, Matt. Has your family seen Cicada yet?
MF: My brother has seen it. My mother wants to see it, but I was afraid she would fall asleep. She falls asleep to every movie, except for Shrek!
WCT: Kieran, were you directing when Matt was acting on camera?
Kieran Mulcare: It was a shared vision. I tried to be in service of the story as best as I could based on what I knew of Matt and the script. He blessed us with a lot of rehearsal and pre-production. This was the first time I had directed anything and had only acted up until this point. I had been interested in directing, but I thought co-directing would be a good idea to start with. Anything to do with performance I was in charge of. We worked with veterans to people that don't even consider themselves as actors. It was a wild ride!
WCT: Jeremy, can you talk about producing Cicada and promoting the movie during a pandemic?
Jeremy Truong: One summer we just all played to our strengths and wanted to see what would happen. We shot in Matt's apartment and it was an all hands on deck endeavor. It was a 12-person crew most days. We did long takes with strong intimate moments. We also had to move very quickly and get it done. That led to the fun and improvisation.
We finished the film right before the pandemic and were ready to go to festivals. Our premiere in London for March was cancelled, as well as everything for the following four months. We were lucky that the queer film festivals, that we loved, still happened virtually in August. We have more festivals in October. We may have reached a larger audience than we hoped for. We did a drive-in at Outfest and did an encore screening. None of us are in LA, so being able to attend the Q&A and connect with people online was awesome.
WCT: What's the trick to make a good sex scene?
SDB: Sex scenes in queer films make some people antsy or uncomfortable. There was a great deal of care on how we pulled it off. It involved intense discussions about what we were comfortable with as characters and as ourselves.
I wish we had had an intimacy choreographer, though. I feel those people are so important. When you are in a story talking about sexual trauma and having sex with only a few takes, it is intense. Just talking about it created a lot of trust and authenticity. It's great that people are responding by seeing so much chemistry and I think we look good!
WCT: Is the character of Ben in Cicada sexually fluid?
MF: The character is very fluid. I don't put a label on him, but he definitely sleeps with men, women and nonbinary people.
WCT: Sheldon what do you feel your character Sam represents for the gay and Black communities?
SDB: He is not a monolith when it comes to Black people, but the relationship he has with Ben and himself is something many people have to deal with, such as reconciling experiences with the world around them and how to negotiate that when people don't share the same experiences. It is an ongoing journey for people of color, even on a daily basis.
On top of that, as a Black man in this country, we are always living in a state of uncertainty of life and liberty. As a gay man, there is more added to this with how people view and accept you as gay. That is the journey that Sam goes through and he doesn't know how to put it all together.
We don't always have the answers to work through trauma or race and what that brings up, but we have to do that work in some way to find some clarity in acceptance with ourselves and others. That is really something beautiful that we get to see. We don't often see interracial relationships, let alone queer relationships, shown authentically. It is something so normal and present in every aspect of this country. That is something that I love that the character has brought to the story.
WCT: What would you like audiences to take away from Cicada?
MF: That it is never too late. Before I made this, I felt like I was floating and drifting. I was headed back into a dark place. I came out late. It took 17 years to tell my mom, but it is never too late.
JT: There is no defined path to figure out how to deal with something, especially coming out. There is such a journey and backstory to everybody's experiences. This film shows how there may not be an answer, but it may possibly come to someone in various ways. With Cicada, a relationship helps someone deal with trauma. Just keep your head up and be ready for what comes your way!
KM: This is my favorite kind of art that doesn't have the answer outright. Making this story and putting it in front of people has taken a really good stab at a healing force. I do believe it's love and I hope people leave with that.
SDB: Love yourself wholeheartedly, even the scary and the dark parts. Love the people you surround yourself with. Love can heal it all!
For those who missed Cicada at Reeling Film Festival, try upcoming screenings with BFI London at BFI.org,uk on Oct. 12 or NewFest.org on Oct. 24. Visit CicadaFilm.com for more information.