Like Star Wars, but with giant penises: This Canadian film is awakening an uncut force at Sundance
As the poster for Trevor Anderson's 'Docking' puts it: 'In space, no one can hear you cream'
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
"I've always been single," filmmaker Trevor Anderson narrates at the opening of "Docking," his new short film. "Why is that? What am I so afraid of?"
Those three sentences, uttered as the film's title card appears over a Star Wars-esque shot of deep space, make up the entirety of the film's dialogue. After that, we wait, staring into literal space and wondering exactly where this is going. And then, the first one appears: a massive, stunningly lifelike penis soaring into space.
"I have found myself interested in pushing the boundaries of non-fiction personal essay filmmaking," Anderson tells CBC Arts. "I made a musical about my uncle and a Western about my father, and this is my science fiction horror about my fear of dating. And I wanted to see how far I could push it. How much I can reduce the element of personal essay and increase the element of cinematic fantasia? So with this film, we've got it down to three short sentences at the beginning and then a giant production value extravaganza."
Giant production value extravaganza, indeed. "Docking" ultimately brings a second space penis into the mix, and the two find their way to each other amidst the stars, an apparent — and certainly extravagant — metaphor for Anderson's relationship issues.
The film is sure to leave more than a few audience members in unexpected awe when it screens over the next 10 days at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it's having its world premiere (alongside a trio of other Canadian shorts, "Throat Singing in Kangirsuk," "Chowboys" and "FAST HORSE" — the latter of which you can watch on CBC Gem now). It impressively marks Edmonton native Anderson's third trip to the renowned festival, following "The High Level Bridge" (2010) and "The Little Deputy" (2015). But never has he headed to Utah with something this...big.
The film looks like it cost more than 50 average Canadian short films combined, which Anderson has his hometown to thank for. "There's a production designer from Edmonton — where I'm from — who's now a big deal in Hollywood," he says. "So I was able to play the Edmonton card and get his help. His name is Todd Cherniawsky and he's worked on a lot of James Cameron movies and Tim Burton movies like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. And then recently he worked on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and was the production designer on Star Trek. And so I said to him, 'Hey, I'm doing this crazy thing. Will you help me?' And he said yes. And then he connected us to this guy named Christien Tinsley, who's a Academy Award-winning makeup artist and effects guy who does all the flesh on Westworld and American Horror Story and works with Coen Brothers on all their westerns."
Basically, Tinsley used his award-winning experience to build two five-foot penises for the film that are totally photorealistic. "When you put your eyes one inch from them, they look real," Anderson says. "Except five feet tall. They're huge. They're perfect."
In assisting Tinsley, Anderson discovered that there is actually a limit to how many hours he can spend looking at penises on the internet.
"They're composites," he says of Tinsley's creations. "So I wounded up making folders. And by the end I was like casting for personality. Like, 'Oh, that was more like dick number one; that one's more like dick number two.' So I gave him all these photos and then I went into the studio and they had all the photos I'd give them printed out really big and put up all over their walls. We ended up calling them Richard the first and Richard the second — so one guy was building Richard the first over here and he was surrounded by pictures of blow-ups of those pictures I'd send him, and then Christen was building Richard the second and he was surrounded by both of those pictures."
Once the sculptures were complete, the actual shoot took just three days. But the prep to get there was four years.
"It's taken four years to make this four-minute film with me about foreskin," Anderson says. "Four years, four minutes, foreskin."
The long timeframe was in part because Anderson knew he had to do it right — as in, make it look expensive — or it just wouldn't work.
"Otherwise it's just some cheap basement thing about two dicks in space. Yeah, OK, whatever, fine. But I knew that somehow for this to feel right in the audience's gut, it had to feel really expensive. I had to make it feel like somehow like really important, you know? Like, oh, they've treated it like it's Star Wars. But it's two dicks in space."
That being said, they're two dicks in space with a lot of meaning behind them for Anderson — though he'd like audiences to find their own way to exactly what that meaning might be.
"I've posed this rhetorical question. 'I've always been single. Why is that? What am I so afraid of?' And then I answer it in this oblique way with this image that I think people will hopefully be able to decide what they think the image is offering as a possible answer to my question."
In the likely case you're not at Sundance this year, you'll be able to answer that question as "Docking" surely makes its way to dozens of film festivals over the next few months. (Though notably in the meantime, you can catch Anderson's work on CBC Arts series Canada's a Drag — he directed two episodes of the new season, which debuts on February 13th.)
Docking. Directed by Trevor Anderson. January 25-February 2. Sundance FIlm Festival. www.sundance.org