Halifax Presents speaks with local filmmakers to learn more about their film shorts, playing at this year’s Atlantic International Film Festival.
There’s a very relatable human story underneath the laughs. – Kevin Hartford
In this latest Q&A, director, screenwriter and producer Kevin Hartford talks about his film Slay, which screens as part of the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala on September 17 and online from September 18-24.
The 2023 Atlantic International Film Festival runs September 17-24. Visit atlanticfilmfestival.ca for a complete listing of films and tickets.
This interview has been edited.
Tell us about Slay. What can audiences expect?
I hope they expect a good time, as the short is designed primarily to make them laugh. It’s a comedy about a gay guy whose BFF is moving away, so he tries, as quickly as possible, to wrangle up a replacement BFF, and things don’t go as smoothly as he planned.
How did you find the story/What was your inspiration for the film?
It started with a list of actors I wanted to work with, and then I started thinking about how I could cram these seven people into a ten-minute short.
When I lived in Calgary and Vancouver, I was always meeting these gay men who’d have a small army of gorgeous women surrounding them, and I was always wondering why, as a gay man myself, I wasn’t also surrounded by a bunch of women who thought I was the funniest man on Earth.
When I moved to Halifax, I eventually did have a large circle of female friends who, and I might be making a huge presumption here, thought I was a hilarious guy. But one of them moved to Toronto during the early days of the pandemic. I was super bummed about it, and then I realized a search for a new gal pal would be a good excuse to work with these seven actors.
Why this particular film now?
I somehow neglected to mention or establish anywhere in the short that the protagonist is a gay man. A gay actor plays him, and he’s written and directed by a gay man and, to me at least, it’s pretty obvious from watching it that this is a gay guy’s story.
As I was submitting it to gay-themed film festivals, a friend of mine said, “Do you at any point ever actually say that Glen, the protagonist, is gay?” and I realized, with some horror, that I did not.
So I think the answer to “Why now?” is that, hopefully, this is a sign that we’ve advanced enough as a society that even I, as a gay filmmaker, very intentionally making a gay short, unwittingly considered the character’s orientation so irrelevant to just telling a good story that I neglected even to bring it up onscreen.
What was your biggest challenge in making the film?
Scheduling. I think we were supposed to film it in November of 2022, then December of 2022, and then it got moved to February of 2023 because certain actors were busy with other things. That’s always the way.
What will surprise audiences about your film?
Hopefully, they will be surprised by the exceptional talent of our East Coast actors. I think David, Morgan, Koumbie, Gil, Rena, Rebecca, and Ursula knocked it out of the park and made good acting seem effortless when it’s anything but. I think they represent what Nova Scotia has to offer extremely well.
What do you hope audiences walk away talking or thinking about after seeing the film?
Film festivals, and I think filmmaking in general, tend to favour serious drama over comedy and the ability to evoke feelings over the ability to entertain. I think you can do both, and I believe Slay does both. There’s a very relatable human story underneath the laughs.
Realistically, I hope audiences walk away talking or thinking about how I’m an absolute genius who should constantly be given more opportunities to make films. Still, if they aren’t doing that, then at the very least, I hope they appreciate the levity amongst the more serious fare on offer.
What’s next for Kevin Hartford?
I’m currently in post-production on my second feature, To the Moon, so that’s my big priority right now, and it’s keeping me fairly busy. After that, who knows? Hopefully, it’s another feature. I’d settle for a highly lucrative television deal as a consolation prize if not.