Making Torch Song – Director Stephen Lance discusses his powerful new short

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Jordan Dulieu in Torch Song.

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“With Torch Song I wanted to create a lament on the transitional state of masculinities – the liminal space between the old toxic masculinity and the rejection of the feminine within new masculinity.”

Directed by
Stephen Lance
Starring Jordan Dulieu, Steve Le Marquand and Pippa Grandison
A teenager with XXY syndrome hoping to spend the weekend with his father, is surprised to discover him and many other men part way through an intense and surreal burning ritual.

Article by Stephen Lance

Making films is such a mercurial and exciting process for me. My ambition is always to create a kind of spell I hope resonates with an audience.

With Torch Song I wanted to create a lament on the transitional state of masculinities – the liminal space between the old toxic masculinity and the rejection of the feminine within new masculinity.

I agonised over the title, and finally settled on Torch Song because it suggests the rejection of the feminine and the rejection of love. And because it obviously has queer lineage.

There’s so much for me to talk about in the making of this short, like Benjamin Cotgrove’s beautiful cinematography or Ack Kinmonth and Thom Kellar’s unnerving score and sound design, but I’m going to focus on the casting process because for me it speaks to the essence of my creative process and what I love about the story.

Steve Le Marquand in Torch Song.

I had been working with the Klinefelter Society in Queensland. Klinefelter (XXY) is a genetic condition in men who have an extra female chromosone. I was working with one boy (his preferred pronoun) in particular, and we had been workshopping ways to bring his experience to the screen.

I named the lead character after him, and had intended that he actually play the part on screen (just to be clear – Aidyn is the real kid and Aiden is the fictional character). I was determined to cast Aidyn to play himself in the film. But the rehearsals weren’t working out.

The dissonance between fact and fiction was emotionally and physically too much for him. As directors we have to face the pragmatism of the form, and as much as I tried to make it work, Aidyn was too young and inexperienced to face the rigours and demands of being in the film. I also had to face the reality that the film was becoming more emotionally and physically violent than I had originally conceived.

I had an ethical dilemma. Do I continue to make the film and find another boy to play the character of Aiden, or does the story remain untold? As filmmakers we constantly confront the truth about our stories – do they need to be told? This is going to sound weird, but I always let the story tell me. I ask, do you want to come into the world? And then I let fate go to work.

The answer came in consultation with Aidyn and his mother. We all agreed the film wanted to be made, and they agreed to act as consultants to any young actor who would come onboard.

Jordan Dulieu in Torch Song.

As a queer identifying director, I think the way we bring authenticity to representation on screen, particularly with gender and sexuality, is so important and finding new ways to reinvent the casting process to adapt to this revolution is a fact we need to face with sensitivity.

As Luca Guadagnino says, ‘the beauty of acting is the possibility of the creation and embodiment of new selves through the art of acting.’ I began an Australia wide search for the right young actor who could bring truth to the story and embody the feminine and masculine duality of the character.

The end result was a physical, emotional and physchological collaboration between three different talented people, Aidyn Wadsworth, Jordan Dulieu and Max Heers. Jordan is a preternaturally brilliant young actor whose vulnerability and courage brought the character to life. I can’t imagine another young man willing to rip open his heart as much as Jordan and lay themselves bare.

But Jordan wasn’t alone, he was part of a composite of masculinites that included Aidyn and Max whose beautiful transitioning body helped realise the physical authenticity of the character. For me, the complex nature of the casting process had a deeper resonance. Like the effigy burnt in the backyard, the composition of masculinities that made up Aiden’s corporeality represents the heart of the film.

I wanted to make a resonant story about the fluid, complex, incendiary puzzle of modern masculinity.

I also need to thank the incredibly talented Steve Le Marquand and Pippa Grandison for their generosity, trust and beautiful portrayals of the mother, father characters. Steve for his wild, complicated and damaged father, and Pippa for the sensitive counterpoint to the horror that unfolds at the backyard ritual. I want to also thank the brilliant Christophers Sommers and Yasmin Langlois and all the carefully curated Burning Men who challenged and terrified me.

Torch Song will screen at Adelaide Film Festival from Wednesday, 14 October. Details here



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