Aspen Shortsfest: Title aside, ‘Man and Boy’ a study of three characters |

Aspen Shortsfest: Title aside, ‘Man and Boy’ a study of three characters

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen FilmEddie Marsan, left, and Calum McNabb star in the British short drama "Man and Boy," being screened Thursday at Aspen Shortsfest.

ASPEN – Watching “Man and Boy” is not a spoon-feeding experience.For one thing, there is the subject matter, which includes sexual cruelty, shame, father-son anger and the machismo of working-class London. There is the structure of the story, which is chopped up into quick cuts, travels back and forth in time and location, and suggests more than it actually shows – though the suggestions are so potent and forcefully delivered that the viewer is tricked into believing he has seen more than he, in fact, has. It is left open whether the primary plot point actually happened, or is a lie.And then there is the shifting perspective. Of the four characters who appear, three of them – a brutish father, his provocative, manipulative son, and a reclusive, somewhat creepy neighbor – could be said to be the main character, so thoroughly are they examined and revealed. Asked who was the protagonist, Marcus McSweeney, who co-directed “Man and Boy” with David Leon, offered the opinion that the film was a “three-hander,” with three people getting roughly equal attention.”Each of the main three are equally important,” McSweeney said. “It’s a triangle, and we go on a journey with all three of them. Your allegiance is with different people at different times, and you don’t know who is right and who is wrong. You’re left asking, Who’s the goodie and who’s the baddie all along.”Impressively, McSweeney and Leon, along with writer Rashid Razaq, squeeze all this ambiguity and multiple angles into just 20 minutes. “Man and Boy” shows at Aspen Shortsfest in Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. screening program.McSweeney and his team are aiming for something beyond the quick joke that often marks short films. “We’ve always had the idea that a short should be impactful, that actually tells a story and has its own narrative, rather than being a gag or a twist. Or a trailer for a feature,” McSweeney said from Denver International Airport, en route from London, where he was born and still lives, to Aspen. “We think you can really say something in that time. That’s why our shorts are on the longer side, to build that narrative.”It is a measure of the filmmakers’ intentions that they have managed to round up relatively well-known actors to help them tell their stories. “Father,” a 2009 short by the same trio, featured Sam Spruell, who appeared in “The Hurt Locker,” and Matt King, from the popular British TV series, “Peep Show.” Playing the neighbor in “Man and Boy” is Eddie Marsan, who earned multiple awards for his memorable role in the 2008 comedy, “Happy-Go-Lucky.” (Part of the reason they were able to get Marsan was that the actor lives in the same East London neighborhood where McSweeney lives, and where “Man and Boy” is set.)McSweeney said that the level of actors he has worked with have not only given the films added exposure and a boost in quality, but have also given him a trial-by-fire as a director. That was especially true of Geoff Bell, who plays the father, Frank, in “Man and Boy.” The intensity of the performance is a reflection of the actor.”An enigma, to say the least,” McSweeney said of Bell. “He’s forceful. Working with him is pleasurable, but challenging. He’s got strong views about how he wants to do things. It was a big learning curve, working with an unpredictable actor like that. It made my mouth dry, it was so raw and intense. The police actually arrived, they thought it was so authentic.”Such lessons are already coming in handy. McSweeney, Leon and Razaq are in the early stages of pitching their first feature film. Shortly after leaving Aspen, the trio has meetings with the prominent British company Film Four, as they try to get a development deal for their coming-of-age story about two friends trying to escape their surroundings in the northern England of the 1980s.

“Man and Boy” shows at Aspen Shortsfest in Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. screening program at the Wheeler Opera House. Shortsfest runs through Sunday in Aspen, with additional screening programs on Friday and Saturday in Carbondale. For a full program, go to

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