Involuntary Activist - the personal becomes political

A film by Mikael Bundsen.

Involuntary Activist - the personal becomes political

Involuntary Activist gives us the story of Aled – he’s faced with a dilemma when his sister tells him his husband isn’t on the guest list to her wedding in Turkey. Torn between alienating the sister he loves or doing something that goes against his own core values, Aled struggles to keep everyone happy.

The film is written and directed by Mikael Bundsen – the winner of the Iris Prize in 2017.

I caught up with Mikael Bundsen for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

What was your inspiration for this story?

My previous short – Mother Knows Best – dealt with a similar theme. While I was out screening it at different film festivals, I got to hear stories about queer people who had been pushed back into the closet by their family members during weddings. In my eyes, this presented a really difficult dilemma – should you accept to be closeted in this way, or should you stand up for yourself? Should you refuse to go to the wedding?

It’s one thing to stand for something in theory, but a whole different matter to stand for it in practice – especially when it entails the idea of not going to a sibling’s wedding.

This summer marks 50 years since Stonewall. I’m an openly gay man, and I’m lucky enough to be born into a context and a generation where I can live my life openly. Because of that, I find it extremely important to remind myself and other gay men within my generation that we’re only able to live this life and have these rights because of everyone who fought before us. In many parts of the world, this is still an ongoing struggle. For some within the LGBTQ family, the struggle is just beginning. To choose to be silent is to always risk that someone else will have to pay for your silence.

Are you drawing on any personal experiences for these characters?

No, but I definitely feel like I can relate to all the characters. The main character is, without doubt, the one I identify with most. When I was writing the film, I was afraid that my identification with him would make me view the other characters in an unjust way. So, I actually brought a script consultant on board to help me get a sterner perspective. I wanted to make sure that I gave each character a fair trial – that you could understand them, even though you might not necessarily agree with them.

What was the production process?

I wrote ten drafts over the course of a six-month period. I was doing many different things at the same time, so I wasn’t just writing. I tried to use every opportunity I could find to tell the story to different people, just to get their reaction to it and to ask them what they would do if they were thrown in a situation like this – that gave me a lot of ideas.

We shot the film in five days, so it was an incredibly intense and tough shoot for everyone involved. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a very hard-working crew.

What was the casting process?

I worked with the brilliant casting director and actor Mathew David Hill, and we saw lots of different people for the leading role. When Rick Yale walked in, I just knew. I’m not sure I’ve ever told him, but I knew within five or six minutes. He completely got the dilemma of the film, and understood the pain of this character. With him, I felt that I could get something that would be so much stronger than just an actor delivering good line readings.

I’m a bit of a sadist though, so even though I knew within five minutes, I actually got Rick to keep doing scenes and trying things out for over an hour. I wanted to see as much of possible of his temperament, and to get a sense of his acting style.

What does the film show us about some of the challenges being navigated by gay men in countries such as the UK?

In one of the scenes in the film, the main character tells his mother that he’s not sure about going to the wedding, and she replies – “Please don’t make a statement out of this.” For me, that is such a key scene because I think it says something about how your actions can always be seen as something political, when it’s really just a matter of refusing to do things you’re not comfortable with.

A lot of progress has been made – not just in the UK, but also in Sweden where I’m from – but as long as there’s ignorance, we will always need voices who can fight for a deeper understanding, and who are willing to speak for those who can’t.

What do you hope that people feel when watching the film?

I make films because I want to create a place where ideas and people can meet, where discussions can happen – and with that, hopefully a deeper understanding.

My goal with this film was to make a film that couldn’t have been done ten years ago, and that hopefully won’t be able to be done in ten years’ time. A film that attempts to say something about this weird paradoxical time we live in, where so much progress has been made but where all this progress could be taken from us in any instant if we don’t stand our ground.

I’m not yet sure how close I got to the bar I set for myself, but I’m proud for daring to aim this high.

Involuntary Activist will be broadcast on the BBC on 21 March 2019, and will be available on BBC iPlayer.