Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: Directors Johnston and MacDonald Share Their Tru Love

We're so accustomed to younger women dating older men that we don't even flinch anymore, but when it's the other way around, we're so taken aback that we even come up with a nickname for women who date younger men: cougars.

Even more out of the ordinary is a same-sex May/December coupling like the one depicted in Kate Johnston's directorial debut, Tru Love. Johnston's first feature film was co-written, co-directed, and co-produced with Shauna MacDonald (you may remember her from the Saw movies), who also stars as the title character, Tru.

Tru Love tells the story of Alice, a recent widow who develops a special relationship with her daughter Suzanne's friend. Despite Tru's aversion to commitment, she becomes involved with Alice, much to Suzanne's dismay.

We spoke with MacDonald and Johnston about the film, finding love in the most unexpected of places, and tango music.

See also: With Tom At The Farm, Xavier Dolan Grows Up

Cultist: Tell us what the film is about.

Kate Johnston: To put it simply, it is about love. It is about the intersection of three women's lives -- mother, daughter, and friend -- all isolated from themselves and each other, all needing to break free from [their] constraints and to learn to let go of fear in order to free and love themselves before they can [love] another. They are catalysts for change with each other. 

What inspired you to take this project on?

KJ: I am a writer and an emerging filmmaker and create my own projects through my small production company TomGirl Films. It started out as a short film I wrote, which Shauna read. I met her and wanted her to play the lead, Tru. And after reading it - she loved it - she suggested the story and characters were too complex and rich to be wasted in a short film. She encouraged me to write it as a feature film, so I did, in less than a month.That first strong draft became the bones for the next draft, which Shauna then came on board for as a co-writer and later co-director.

Shauna MacDonald: Kate and I met, quite by accident, at a time when I was looking for a new challenge. Her short film idea was wonderful, but I felt the richness of the characters needed to be explored. Tru Love is a story about strong women and especially, an older woman. I love that. We seem to discard our elders in film and I think we should celebrate them. Harold and Maude has always been a film I admired because it took on a very challenging topic, of an older woman and a very young man falling in love - a combination also not very popular. It seems to be acceptable if it's an older man and a younger woman. I liked that the relationship between Tru and Alice was challenging to an audience; an older straight-identified woman and a lesbian. I had never seen that story before and so it became my passion to get it told.

There aren't many films that portray a May/December romance between two women. Why do you think that is?

KJ: I have no idea. There is A Perfect Ending by Nicole Conn, which was released during the pre-production and shooting phase of Tru Love, but that is a very different film. Most films feature older men with younger women, but very few the reverse, and certainly even less between women of different generations. It seemed fitting for Tru Love. Neither represented a threat to the other - they could be safe with each other - as the idea of them being together seemed unlikely. Little did they know!

SM: I think it's because the majority of filmmakers are men! I would postulate that men would rather watch an older man get a young babe. They don't care about old babes. And that's too bad, because old babes are still babes! The truth is, Alice and Tru could be any gender, but the development of a romance between them is more unexpected. The film for me was about a friendship that turns into love because both characters aren't "expecting" romance from the other and so are being completely open and honest with each other, being their true selves, and then they realize there could be more. I've had many women comment after watching the film, "I could totally see this happening to me! And I'm not gay!" 

What was your favorite moment(s) during filming?

KJ: When Alice says to Suzanne, "I hope you find someone to love with all of your heart; and if your heart breaks, I hope it breaks wide open." It is so heartfelt. And we never see Alice again. Also, Tru and Alice on the pier running and later the tango on the other pier; the unabashed joy and spinning and the tango music makes me smile.

SM: My day off! That was the day I got to hang out all day on set with Kate behind the camera.

What do you feel is the message of the film?

KJ: That love is possible. That we have to start with ourselves. It is an inner job; that to live in fear of it can cripple you. The line that Alice says, again, my favorite, "I hope you find someone to love with all your heart, and if your heart breaks, I hope it breaks wide open." That sums it up for me. It is the heart of the film itself. The message.

SM: It's never too late. Live, live, love. Be honest, don't be afraid to say the hard stuff, and watch yourself transform.

Were any of the actors LGBT? If so, who?

KJ: Yes, the actor that played Gray (Alexander Chapman) as well as Duff MacDonald (Scott - he delivered the letter to Tru near the end of the film). None of the women are LGBT -- sorry!

SM: Kate has outed the straight ones already...

What kind of response has the film received so far?

KJ: The response has been very positive so far, I have to say. Our reviews have been very good as well - touch wood! Our world premiere was Raindance in London in October 2013 where we were first seen and reviewed and were subsequently included in Huffington Post UK "Top 10 films list for 2103" - one below Gravity. That was amazing. We just got back from London again for the BFI: Flare LGBT Film festival. Again, terrific festival. The buzz has been ongoing and the film is now on the International LGBT Film Circuit. We couldn't be more thrilled.

SM: Honestly, the response has been so affirming and has really made the work worth it. Kate and I have been working on this project for three and a half years and we have sacrificed our personal lives, sanity and sleep to get it where it is. Sometimes you get lost in that mountain of work and wonder, "What the hell am I doing, pushing this boulder up a hill in this heat...and in sandals with no sunblock?" When we hear feedback after screenings and see how much people appreciate our film, it makes all the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprivation worth it.

Will you be coming to town for the Festival? Ever been?

KJ: No. I would have loved to have been there. Next film!

SM: Sadly, I won't be able to make it to Miami for the festival. I'm shooting a film in Sudbury, Ontario. I have been to Miami several times and love it.

Anything particularly interesting happen during the shoot? 

KJ: I lived in the cottage on the island where we shot Tru's location. That was my real furniture and art. Shauna met the love of her life during our audition process when he came to audition for a small role in Tru Love. He is a terrific actor and won the role but we cut the scene unfortunately. However, he won the girl!

SM: Just to be clear about Kate's comment on me, I did not have a date with him until after we finished shooting; there was no casting couch. Plus, I was too busy. Funny thing though, he thought I was a lesbian at first. And I thought he'd be too young for me. So there you go, it was sort of a Tru Love film in real life playing out. 

MGLFF presents the Southeast Premiere of Tru Love on Friday, May 9, at 7 p.m. at the Colony Theatre. Tickets cost $12. Visit mglff.com.

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