Recently we caught up with young filmmaker Nick Ward who’s made Tropfest history as one of the youngest ever finalists, for his film ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. His thought-provoking film is an abstract visual journey through the shared experience of teenage mental health.
Thanks for chatting to us today Nick! I guess let’s start with where did the idea for ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ come from?
We originally wanted to make a movie that was a narrative about someone’s experience with depression, and until we watched this sort of European style art piece, where each and every single shot was a representative of the world today, we realised how we could create a film where each shot is an illustration of depression. Then it came to the idea of the silence surrounding male mental illness, because we realised that a lot of the images we were planning to shoot, a lot of them were sort of, underwater, or people behind glass, we wanted to show a lot of the isolation that I guess a lot of males feel.
Still from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
Congratulations on being one of the youngest ever entrants to Tropfest, did you create it thinking you’d make it in?
Yes and no… we wanted to get it ready in time for the submission, but, I think we were trying to set off just to make a movie, we don’t go into it with a certain festival in mind, because I think you get easily distracted with that. We were just trying to focus on completing the film.
How would you describe ‘Boys Don’t Cry’?
Well, we always knew the film didn’t really have a strong A – B plot, we always knew it was going to be kind of non-linear, and so how I usually describe it if someone is asking about it, is I say it’s kind of like a series of portraits, with a narration laid over the top, and I guess the message of the film is that males tend not to speak about their mental health and that we want to change the environment surrounding it.
It’s such an important message. What do you think needs to change to get more guys reaching out for help?
I think men have always wanted to be seen as these ‘big, tough, hunter, gatherer sort of types’, while actually everyone is born with a certain amount of sensitivity, and I think a lot of people have trouble embracing that. I think that sort of communication needs to improve, I don’t think anyone really talks anymore about their emotions, or what’s keeping them down.
What would you say to other young people out there looking to make films, dealing with topics like mental health?
I think the main thing is sensitivity and sincerity when it comes to making the film. I feel, we see in our peer group a lot of people trying to make films about mental health and it’s very sort of romanticised or it’s really gory, and it’s like… it’s obviously not from a sincere place, and I think authenticity is really important, otherwise, people can tell if you’re lying, or being fake.
We think the authenticity and sincerity in ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is incredibly strong. In another interview you touched on how it’s affected a lot of your friends and school community…
It’s devastatingly real, like, we see so many people struggling, but in silence. I’ve talked to certain friends, and stuff like that, and a lot of them, they, even though I’m aware that they are struggling with it, and some of my best friends, I think a lot of people don’t want to burden other people, and it’s a real shame. I don’t know, I think it’s… it’s really sad, I think that a lot of the time people aren’t willing to make themselves vulnerable, and show that part of themselves.
Do you think the answer is for people not to be scared of that vulnerability and to use that vulnerability?
Yeah, I think it’s sort of all about not hiding behind anything. It’s about coming clean about stuff and just like, being real. I don’t know… I think it’s actually really painful and really sad to see someone who’s suffering with, sort of like a mask on and closed over.
And I guess a lot of young guys do hide it because they’re told from a young age things like; ‘man up’ and ‘boys don’t cry’, which is exactly the sort of stereotype your film is fighting. Why do you think it’s so important we try to re-define that old notion of masculinity?
It would be near impossible to redefine masculinity, but I think we definitely need to try to raise awareness of the corner that we’ve backed ourselves into.
What’s one message you’d give to a young guy suffering in silence right now?
Communication. Talking to people is where it begins and ends. Talking to a professional, or even just a close friend or trusted family member. Therapy was by far the number one thing I’ve ever done for myself and while it might not be for everybody, it is a way of having someone to confide in, while also receiving advice and consolation.
I really hope the film makes an impression on people our age. If the film helps at least one person, then we feel like we’ve done our job.
Absolutely – how exciting! Have you got any ideas for your next film?
We’ve got a few films lined up, and I think because we’ve made a film about bullying, and we have one about depression, we want to make a sort of anthology of films matching certain problems. Next I think I’d like to do a film about either trans issues, or something about the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you have any filmmakers that you particularly admire?
Xavier Dolan From French Canada is probably, like, my idol, he made Canne film festival when he was 19, he was sort of like this auter Film maker, he’s made like 5 films and I don’t even think he’s 30. I love his work.
I think for this film in particular, Terrence Malick was the biggest influence, in terms of making a film that we edited based on emotion rather than chronology.
And what was one of the biggest learnings you took away from the process of making ‘Boys Don’t Cry’?
I think, probably the way that we present mental illness in art. I think it was learning from my art teacher, she did her Ph.D. in the presentation of mental health throughout art, and she was saying that a lot of art, a lot of artwork presents a lot of people suffering as very kind of weak, and we should actually be creating artwork that empowers those people, rather than show pity or anything like that.
Nick’s film ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ will be premiering at Tropfest this Saturday, Feb 17 at Parramatta Park.
You can follow Nick on Instagram: @nickwarddd
If you are experiencing a rough time, need someone to talk to, or are in a crisis, we would recommend giving our friends at www.eheadspace.org.au a message, calling the Kids Help Line on *1800 55 1800* or Lifeline on *13 11 14*.
There are also a range of services you can access on our Get Help page