sex cities and the

De­part­ing filmmaker gets sala­cious, but with a pur­pose

Austin American-Statesman - - MOVIES & LIFE - CHRIS GAR­CIA

In Austin’s in­de­pen­dent, DIY film­mak­ing scene, Kyle Henry has stood out as the “freaky un­cle of the fam­ily” — his words, yet im­pres­sively ac­cu­rate. That fam­ily in­cludes flour­ish­ing writer-di­rec­tors PJ Raval, Bob By­ing­ton, Bryan Poyser, the Zell­ner broth­ers and Bob Ray.

Then there’s Un­cle Henry, who, alas, is leav­ing Austin’s fam­ily in Au­gust to teach in Chicago. In fine Kyle fashion, his lat­est ef­fort traces a ten­der sex­ual en­counter be­tween a trans­ves­tite and a quad­ri­plegic. “Four­play: San Fran­cisco” is the first seg­ment in a quar­tet of short films that ex­plore vari­a­tions in hu­man sex­u­al­ity with un­flinch­ing and com­pas­sion­ate dis­cre­tion.

Each short, which will even­tu­ally make up a fea­ture-length an­thol­ogy, ad­dresses a dis­parate sex­ual theme in a spe­cific city — San Fran­cisco, Austin, Tampa, Fla., and New Haven, Conn. All the films are com­pleted ex­cept the New Haven episode, which deals with a les­bian and her ad­ven­tures in bes­tial­ity.

“Four­play: San Fran­cisco,” co-writ­ten by Henry’s long­time ro­man­tic and cre­ative part­ner Car­los Tre­viño, re­cently screened at the gay and les­bian film fes­ti­val Out­fest in, aptly enough, San Fran­cisco. Re­sponse was roundly pos­i­tive. The film sold out 600-seat and 250-seat venues.

“It was the best we could have pos­si­bly hoped for,” Henry, 40, says. “The au­di­ence gig­gled and tit­tered in the same places Car­los and I do.”

Though the movie has se­ri­ous

in­ten­tions about hu­man con­nec­tions, ac­cep­tance and heal­ing in un­likely cir­cum­stances, it is pep­pered with sub­tle hu­mor, in­clud­ing some ex­plicit toe suck­ing.

“Hu­mans are re­ally funny when they’re put un­der pres­sure,” Henry says.

The movie was picked up by Indiepix­films.com, where it can be down­loaded or streamed. It will even­tu­ally be avail­able at iTunes, Ama­zon and other Web out­lets, be­fore the re­lease of a DVD fea­tur­ing all four shorts. The films are meant to be viewed “on your com­puter screen late at night,” Henry says with a laugh.

Henry’s prior films — the doc­u­men­taries “Uni­ver­sity Inc.” and “Amer­i­can Cow­boy,” and the drama “Room,” which played the Sun­dance and Cannes film fes­ti­vals, and fetched an In­de­pen­dent Spirit Award nom­i­na­tion for Austin ac­tress Cindy Wil­liams — were wind-ups for “Four­play,” the Uni­ver­sity of Texas alumni’s most risque out­ing.

“There’s a dearth of adult work deal­ing with the full range of sex­ual ex­pres­sion. I grew up in the ’70s, and I thought there would con­tinue to be movies show­ing adults in all their (messed) up glory,” Henry says.

“We had a pure de­sire to show life as we see it. The sex scenes aren’t just mere di­gres­sions or tit­il­la­tions. They’re in­te­grated into the sto­ries.”

Each nar­ra­tive presents its own di­rec­tion and tone. One is a slap­stick farce set in a crowded mall re­stroom (“Tampa”). One is a melo­drama about a het­ero­sex­ual cou­ple con­tem­plat­ing hav­ing a baby (“Austin”). An­other is about a closet les­bian who baby-sits a dog (“New Haven”). Henry calls “San Fran­cisco” a heart­felt dram­edy.

Ex­cept for ex­te­rior shots, the movies were filmed in Austin. The “New Haven” episode might be shot in Chicago, Henry’s new home. Henry will teach film­mak­ing at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity in a ten­ure track post. They could be there “for­ever,” Henry says.

His de­par­ture is a blow to the Austin film com­mu­nity. “Kyle’s brought a lot of glory to Austin by hav­ing his work rec­og­nized around the world. He will be sorely missed in these parts,” says Re­becca Camp­bell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Austin Film So­ci­ety.

Like his film “Room,” “Four­play” was ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced by R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe and his cre­ative part­ner Jim McKay un­der their C-100 Film Corp., an out­fit that gives grants to promis­ing artists. Still, the film’s bud­get is tight.

“If you’re go­ing to make work that’s chal­leng­ing now, you bet­ter make it on an ex­tremely low bud­get to sur­vive,” be­cause re­turns are low, Henry says. “Eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity is not my first con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Camp­bell de­scribes Henry as a “true in­de­pen­dent.”

Henry’s next project will at­tempt to “rein­vent the biopic” us­ing a three-part for­mat fo­cus­ing on famed, once-marginal­ized writ­ers: Emily Dick­in­son, Walt Whitman and Edgar Al­lan Poe. They were out­siders who “spoke truth as they saw it in ways that so­ci­ety did not want to see or deal with in their life­times,” Henry says.

Henry re­lates to the artists with a pas­sion that has made him one of the area’s most in­ter­est­ing film­mak­ers.

“Peo­ple al­ways won­der what I’ll be up to next,” he says. “I’m in the re­bel­lious Amer­i­can artist tra­di­tion, and that gives me a lot of juice and en­ergy to keep work­ing on ma­te­rial that has mean­ing. It’s that sense of if you truly have some­thing to say to your cul­ture it might not be heard, but you have to say it any­way.”

Jar­rad Hen­der­son

Kyle Henry, who’s leav­ing Austin to take a teach­ing po­si­tion in Chicago, has fin­ished three of his ‘Four­play’ short films. The four films deal with hu­man sex­u­al­ity and are set in Austin, San Fran­cisco, Tampa, Fla., and New Haven, Conn.

PJ Raval

Paul Soileau stars in ‘Four­play: San Fran­cisco,’ a film that di­rec­tor Kyle Henry calls a heart­felt dram­edy.

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