Sundance Features

January 16, 2007

Etienne Kallos, Doorman

"They gave me a thousand dollars, they gave me a video camera. I had two other people on my crew; the shooter was great, but had never shot anything before."

Jamil Mena and Stephen Sheffer in Etienne Kallos's Doorman

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

For the record, what is Doorman about?

It's about a Latino doorman of a New York apartment building; he's one of these sort of macho, deeply in-the-closet kind of guys, and he's seduced by this privileged kind of WASP-y college kid who then dumps him, and he emotionally goes off the deep end. And really, for me, I was just exploring internalized homophobia, which is something I've been interested in looking at over the last year in a bunch of different work.

Why a doorman?

I just thought a doorman would be interesting because he's sort of a gate keeper for these apartment buildings, and he's kind of a silent witness to the life he doesn't take part in. He sees people making out and doing all these crazy things late at night, but he's just that silent witness who lives in and out of their building. And, for the most part, invisible. And that's kind of what I did with this film: the building became a psychological metaphor. We never leave the building, but the building has a front part, it has a fa├žade, an elevator that people use, and then there's the back part -- there's the hidden freight elevator that goes down to the basement, which is sort of like this kind of brutal area. I just saw it as a kind of metaphor for his state of mind and then explored within that.

You have been quite prolific over the last few years, and this is a theme that threads through those films. How did you develop this story with that theme in mind?

When I hit around 29, I suppose, I kind of realized I had lot of unresolved, internalized homophobia. I just didn't realize that I had it before. It was kind of an important issue to me because of that -- it wasn't even because of something I observed before. And when I did see it, I realized it's actually put its control over a lot of my life. I think that happens to a lot of gay people: you're so defiantly out-and-proud since you're a teen that you don't realize you have some of this homophobia. It's controlling your relationships and how you feel -- your emotions. Especially because you haven't acknowledged it. And then you hit a wall around 29 or 30, hopefully, and then you see it for the first time -- this clarity. Or at least that's what happened to me.

Anyway, I went to NYU and I started grad school, and I was given the opportunity to do a lot of short films, and it just started coming out in the work. I did a documentary short about it, except it was with lesbians. That went to Berlin, where I did talks about it. And it's gone from there to Doorman, which is just a class exercise, actually. They gave me a thousand dollars, they gave me a video camera. I had two other people on my crew; the shooter was great, but had never shot anything before. So we just went and did it.

Some class exercise. You wound up going to Cannes with it.

Yeah, but it was pure luck. You never know how these things are going to come together.

Well, Cannes and Sundance is no fluke. Have you been to Sundance before?

No. I was at Slamdance in 2006 (with the short No Exit), but not Sundance.

Did you get a chance to check out any of the screenings or shorts programs at Sundance? Or at least get a sense of the atmosphere for filmmakers?

All I know is that it was pretty crazy. I didn't actually go, though. I was just there for three days; I had flown straight through from South Africa, which is where I'm from. So I was jet lagged to hell and gone, and grumpy; I didn't do much of anything. I know we'll have the opportunity to do a Q&A, but I don't know if I'll actually get a chance to talk about the thematic stuff. At Slamdance, I did. And in Berlin, they were great. They put you up there by yourself and you talk for 40 minutes. But I know that the screenings will be full and the shorts are taken pretty seriously.

Are you nervous?

Well, I'm always nervous about standing up there. If people ask questions and you start talking then it's OK, but actually the most nervous part is just standing up there looking like an idiot. I mean, at Cannes I was terrified. They made us all stand there on the red carpet in your tux and they read your name over the speaker, and of course the paparazzi don't give a crap about short films, right? So they're not exactly taking any photos of you, but you're forced to stand in front of them for 15 minutes with thousands of people. That was pretty embarrassing.

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Comments (2)

I loved it! I wish it was longer but then it would not be a short film. The Latino guy is very hot. Where you trying to get at, how there is homophobia between tops and bottoms in the gay male community? I saw it as the doorman was finally ready for the other guy to love him because he was ready to except and, love himself for being gay.

Great film didn't quite get the meaning till the second time but it was still good! Im still in highschool but I have big dreams of becoming a director ur work nd thoughts give me inspiration! And 2 the other commenter u picked up on the top & bottom thing 2! That juss made it even better bringing sumthin like that!

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