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Here's How Filmmaker Xavier Dolan Plans To Fix Film's Diversity Problem

"I don’t think that you’d say 'Have you seen this black movie?' And hopefully in 10 years we won’t be using those tags and those labels."

At 26 years old, Xavier Dolan has already made five films -- his third of which won the Queer Palm at Cannes and his fifth of which shared the Jury Prize with French New Wave legend Jean-Luc Godard -- and is now gearing up to direct Oscar winner Marion Cotillard in his next film "It's Only the End of the World," and "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harington in his seventh film. (Dolan confirmed to us that yes, the man formerly known as Jon Snow is still on board to be his next star.)

The Huffington Post sat down film the writer-director-actor to discuss his fourth feature film, "Tom at the Farm," which finally arrives on U.S. screens this week two years after its debut at the 2013 Venice Film Festival. The thriller follows Dolan's Tom after the death of his lover, Guillaume. When Tom arrives at Guillaume's countryside home for the funeral, he learns that the mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), knows nothing of her late son's sexuality. However, Guillaume's brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), does and uses violence and aggression to keep his mother ignorant, which slowly brews a tense, psychosexual relationship between himself and Tom.

Beyond being the first genre film in Dolan's filmography, "Tom at the Farm" also marks the filmmaker's return in front of the camera. Dolan discussed this shift in genre with HuffPost, his regrets about "Laurence Anyways," why he really doesn't want you to call "Tom" a "queer movie" and how he hopes to change the way minorities are represented in film beyond labels. 

"Tom" is so different from your other work. Why did you decide to break away from your signature style to make a genre film?

There had been three other movies before and they were all pretty much related in terms of style and tone. But this one felt like it needed to be -- I wanted to try something new. It’s also very stimulating to know that you have to be abiding by certain rules, that you have to be understanding the codes. That is a very inspiring aim, to think you are making a genre film thriller, that you need to be respecting some rules. [...] It was a first for me, and it was the beginning of a new way of making movies. 

Because it was so dedicated to respecting that genre? 

Because the genre forced questions and reflections and thinking and reasoning. It was the first time that I was really intellectualizing the approach. [...] I was thinking about the final result for the first time. The previous movie [“Laurence Anyways"] was a big budget, for that sort of movie. It was a huge step for me and I made many, many, many mistakes. 

What types of mistakes in "Laurence"?

There are so many. It’s not necessarily mistakes that you feel, maybe they’ve been disguised. It’s mistakes in terms of writing and some choices that seem to be solely commanded by style and not by what could have been perhaps more emotionally stirring. Everytime I bring that up, people are like, “What mistakes precisely?” I cannot give you an extensive list, but I can feel them, they’re everywhere, minor or major details. I think the point in making movies is to get better. And as in anything you do in life, whether you’re an artist or an accountant, I think you always strive for betterment or improvement. 

"Laurence Anyways"
"Laurence Anyways"

You’ve already garnered so much acclaim at such a young age. Besides getting better, what's your mission as a filmmaker at this moment? What do you want to accomplish?

I guess I want to tell stories that are emotionally compelling, that will move people, whether it is in simple ways or in a more complex fashion. You want people to remember your movies and your stories. You want those movies to initiate debates and thinking and loving.

I think what I’ve been striving to achieve is to outline, or underline, the notion of how society deals with different people and diversity. I think I’ve been trying to feature the marginality in a way where we’re talking about radically different people. How different people deal with society and how society deals with different people. What is the place we leave for diversity, even artistically? What is the scenery that we offer to diversity, if not an underground, subcultural, independent scenery? Is there really a place for diversity? There is a place for diversity, but there isn’t enough place. I think I’ve been fighting for that. Also in saying those movies are not queer, those movies are just movies.

I mean they can be queer if you want, as much as others can be Jewish or black. But that is not a very interesting label, one that we wouldn’t necessarily bare, right? I don’t think that you’d say, “Have you seen this black movie?” And hopefully in 10 years, we won’t be using those tags and those labels.

Do you hope your films are breaking those labels?

I certainly do. I mean, this is a thriller and it’s accessible to everyone. This conversation, this matter, those exact words, have been welcomed with, I'd say, sometimes a lot of violence by the gay community because people feel that I’m ashamed or that I’m being coy or that I’m not engaged -- I am. I am socially engaged to that cause and I’m embracing it, but to me it seems that the future isn’t in the past. When I look back, I see people naming things and ghettoizing. I think that in the future -- so now -- we should abolish those. [...] All I’m trying to say is I think a way to fight homophobia and intolerance is probably not -- not in that case, that is -- is not to stress things like we do, like we tend to do.

Are you speaking about film specifically?

In film. On ghettoizing. In saying it’s queer film. And queer culture is immense and obviously respectable and I acknowledge it. I just think this movie as a matter of fact does not belong, is not the property of a community. You know, I read an article about “Tom” and it was like, “Watch Xavier Dolan in his gay thriller.”

From HuffPost?

No. I don’t remember, actually.* I just saw the headline and was like, “Hm.”

Last time I spoke to you about “Mommy,” you said you read every film review and how the initial negative criticism of “Tom” affected you. Are you still very conscious of negative reactions to your films?

People have said negative things that have shaped who I am, literally, as an artist and a human being. I have been reading everything and it’s hurt me a lot. But whether it’s hurt me or my feelings are two different things. Because your feelings [being] hurt doesn’t mean what you’ve read isn’t educational, and I have grown through reading critics. There is a vast proportion of what you read that is hateful, demeaning, reductive, pretentious, heinous that you must learn to dismiss. But there is the rest, the balance of those reviews are inspiring and challenging in unfathomable ways. It’s made me think about how people see what I see.

And that informs what you will do next?

Always. Not what I will do next, how I will do next. What value does your approach in art have if it doesn’t mirror the quality of people’s perception of what you do? [...] I know some people never read any reviews and don’t care about people think. I do. I do because I don’t exist without that. [...] It forces you to reflect on what you could do differently to live your life and work and create with integrity, being true to yourself, but while being understood and appreciated. If you’re not getting better, what’s the purpose?

This interview has been edited and condensed.

"Tom at the Farm" is now playing.

*For the record, that headline was not by The Huffington Post.

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