Three years on

Let me introduce you to Kim Ho.

We are very happy to reproduce this interview with Kim, recently conducted for leading Australian news-site Mamamia, by journalist Maggie Kelly

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Let me introduce you to Kim Ho.

Kim was just 17 when he wrote, and starred in, his short film The Language of Love.

In the ten-minute monologue, Kim plays Charlie, a young and confused student at Sydney Grammar School, searching for answers in the middle of a French exam. Charlie, you see, is in love with his best friend Sam. But the range of feelings he’s experiencing – fear, shame, pure joy – seem too terrifying to act upon.

The short film is a tender insight into what is actually going through a teen’s mind when they realise they might be in love. Or gay. Or both.

The film has garnered massive interest around the world, and has been shared by Stephen Fry, Dannii Minogue and Ellen DeGeneres.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Kim to talk about the film, and what’s next for the budding filmmaker.

What made you want to create this video? Was there a specific incident, or person, or moment?

I submitted an early draft to a monologue competition run by the Australian Theatre for Young People. 

The only thematic guideline was it had to be about love in some way. I was hugely inspired by a short film by GetUp! in support of marriage equality. Its message – love is love is love – is just so simple, raw and honest. I burst into tears when I saw it. 

I wanted to write a piece that evoked similar emotions, but within my demographic: about a boy grappling with his sexuality rather than adults campaigning for marriage equality.

The speculation around your own sexuality since the film’s release must have been hard! Are you comfortable talking about your own sexuality, or would you rather to choose to focus on the LGBTI plight as a whole?

I was very fortunate that the release of the film changed nothing with my friends and family. 

But I was taken off-guard when the first question Michael Cathcart asked me on the Books and Arts Daily radio programme was whether the film was autobiographical. He was among many who made suggestions about my sexuality that year. 

I initially found this slightly insulting, in the sense that it assumes the film is ‘merely’ my own story instead of a carefully constructed artwork. 

I’ve since realised there’s a power in withholding information about my sexuality. I’ve stayed deliberately quiet about it because the point of the film is that it doesn’t matter.

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What was your experience like at school? And how do you think portraying a young, private school boy struggling to accept his feelings will help other boys like Charlie?

My high school, Sydney Grammar School, is secular, and does not enforce any religious morals. 

During my time there, I felt very fortunate in this regard. Some of my friends were openly gay, and no one ever bullied me because of the film. Our headmaster allowed it to be filmed on campus and openly supported it. 

However, I remember there being no information given to students about sexuality. Grammar has also not signed up to the Safe Schools program. Those who were exploring their sexuality rarely came out to their immediate circle of friends, and many came out immediately after graduating.

Is this because of the teachers, or the students?

Its pastoral care system is randomised, so students could end up in the care of teachers they don’t truly trust. I get the sense that being LGBTI+ is tolerated within the confines of appeasing its conservative patrons – as an extracurricular activity.

I suspect Grammar is among the most progressive private schools in this respect, and that’s appalling.

When I see that a young gay student could be expelled from some schools for daring to be themselves, it hurts me. Children are much smarter than we generally give them credit for, but they’re not invincible. It breaks my heart to see bullying not only tolerated, but carried out, by the very people who swear to keep children from harm.

If you had the opportunity to meet a young gay man such as Charlie, what would you say to him?

Once you leave school and enter the real world it gets so much easier and so much harder. Easier, because you can find your people, those who respect you and love you for who you are, rather than those who will bully you or merely tolerate you. Harder, because when the homophobes who bullied you in school grow up, often their voices grow louder, angrier. They say heinous things. They commit heinous acts. But with each act of fear and hate, you’ll grow stronger.

You can live your life according to the rules of these people. Or you can live your life on your own terms.

So for the sake of everyone, ASK SAM OUT!

We hear a lot about the Safe Schools program, but as someone younger, smarter, and more in-touch that those making the decisions, what kind of measures do you think could be put in place in high schools to encourage and support LGBTI students?

Unfortunately I doubt religious leaders who are virulently against homosexuality will be moved by slogans or flags when any attempts to promote compassion are howled down as brainwashing. I genuinely believe the key is provoking people, young and old, to walk in other people’s shoes. 

And that’s done really effectively through art. Films like Gayby Baby and The Language of Love and Holding the Man aren’t brainwashing. They’re exercises in compassion. They’re offers of acceptance. They’re challenges to increase your empathetic imagination. A friend told me her grandparents radically altered their views on homosexuality after watching my film. These films have the capacity to create change, as a resource shared openly online, at LGBT+ festivals.

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Why is it so important to do so?

Giving people a sense of the beautiful diversity of sexualities, relationships and family structures out there will help everyone. It will educate children who identify as heterosexual. It will give strength and reassurance to those who don’t.

If we keep celebrating diversity, we will eventually eclipse homophobes, make their irrelevance complete. Already their voices are thin and quavering and carry less and less power by the day. They are lashing out because they know this. They are insecure, anxious people who have gravely and selfishly misinterpreted the messages Jesus espoused – love, compassion, empathy, generosity, caring for those less advantaged than yourself – ironically, many of which feature in The Language of Love.

You can find more information about the film and Kim Ho at ‘The Language Of Love Film’ website.

1 million views!

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Thrilled to announce that THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE has just passed over one million views across YouTube, vimeo and China’s Youku and WASU networks.

It’s been two years since we launched online and it’s been an amazing experience watching how the film has reached out to so many people, and hearing the responses viewers have had to the film. Last week alone, the film was seen by almost 7000 people and you can read just some of the many comments people have posted on the film across sites, here.

We are also really pleased that, by commissioning subtitled versions of the films in Chinese, Spanish and French, the film has been able to reach that many more people across the world (we know that 200,000 people have seen the film in China, while a further 130,000 have watched the film in Spanish-speaking countries).You can see all four versions of the film, here.

Thanks, again, for your support of the film, and Kim, who is now studying dramatic writing at university as a result of the success of the film, sends his special thanks.

I got a badge, too. For library. It's gold and shiny....
I got a badge, too. For library. It’s gold and shiny….

Melbourne!

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We are off to the Melbourne Queer Film Festival this week and our director, Laura Scrivano, has been chatting with Festival Director, Lisa Daniel. Check out the interview below and book your tickets for the chance to see THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE on the big screen, here. (It’s a huge weekend for us – as well as Melbourne,  we are also appearing at London’s FLARE Gay Festival and Roze Filmdagen, Amsterdam).

You can also read an interview with Kim in The Melbourne Leader, here, while he also has just been interviewed by Richard Watts on Melbourne’s Triple RRR FM  SmartArts program, here. (Kim’s interview begins at 1 hr 35 mins)

An unexpected journey – looking back on a year of love.

Kim Ho is the writer and star of The Language of Love. Here, he reflects on the journey he has been on over the past year.

As its title suggests, The Language of Love is a monologue about the hazards and joys of communication. It’s a coming out story, sure, but it’s also about the courage to speak. As a young writer and performer, I am particularly aware that self-expression requires you to be brave and articulate. The monologue is essentially my attempt to understand how we can fly in the face of logic and find the strength to speak our minds.

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It’s perhaps ironic, then, that it all started life in Maths class. While my friends grappled with calculus, I was scribbling furiously at the back of the class. The goal: to submit something for an online writing competition from the Australian Theatre for Young People in Sydney. The brief: write, film and upload a three-minute monologue about love. The catch: I knew very little about monologues, and even less about love. But, driven by a potent mix of naivety and curiosity, my little piece, Transcendence, was taking shape. The original inspiration was a short advertisement for GetUp Australia called It’s Time; the message of equal love struck me as a very important and urgent moral issue. Just hours before the deadline, I hastily filmed and edited it together – a misshapen but optimistic take on a boy admitting he has feelings for his best friend.

To my great surprise, the judges enjoyed my writing and Dan Prichard, Fresh Ink Manager and producer of The Voices Project, approached me with the idea of a mentorship with playwright Tommy Murphy. All I had to do, they said, was develop it into a longer work for filming.

Simple as that, right?

Nope: I battled hard, at first. My initial instinct was to try and use my monologue as an indictment of religious-based homophobia, but I couldn’t find the human message inside that premise. The breakthrough came when reading Tommy’s work. There was warmth in his writing that was immediately apparent and I devoured three plays in quick succession, crying and chortling my way through. Tommy treats his characters with a remarkable compassion and respect. Taking me on numerous strolls around Surrey Hills, he urged me to think of dramatic writing as an exercise in empathy. Theatre exists to entertain, I learned; it’s not a vehicle to lecture the audience on your own point of view. Start with a character, and let your story grow from there.

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And so Charlie began to take shape, with his own dreams, faults, quirks and, crucially, secrets. I wanted to make his story relatable to a diverse audience, so it’s less concerned with coming out than conquering fear – of exams, of expressing your feelings for someone, of losing your most trusted ally, of not knowing who you really are, and of facing the ridicule of a society that doesn’t yet accept you. The monologue’s assertion that all love is equal rested on Charlie’s ‘relatability,’ so I wanted my audience to get to know him a bit before they discover his sexuality. He’s a person, not an issue, and I treated him as such.

In tandem with writing, I was doing a substantial amount of research. I watched some teenagers’ coming out videos on YouTube and stood in awe of their bravery. One boy in particular showed an emotional maturity beyond his age: “Some people will be hating me… please don’t post it. Why are you watching this video if you hate it?” To my dismay, I learnt that this boy had been forced to take down his channel due to the amount of vitriol directed at him.

He was only twelve years old.

More and more, I knew that the film had the potential to do a lot of good, but I felt a responsibility to write something that remained respectful to the GLBTI community. Most importantly, I wanted to write something that would resonate with people regardless of their sexuality.

Tommy helped me through six drafts before handing me over to our director, Laura Scrivano. We agreed that performing my own writing would be a challenge, but might make the piece seem that bit more authentic. Laura is a performance-based director, and her process helped breathe life into the text. We found new rhythm and nuance I hadn’t been conscious of as a writer, fresh ways of looking at familiar phrases.

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Towards the end of January, performer, director and crew converged to shoot the film, now called The Language of Love, with a greater focus on French a metaphor for self-expression. Tommy, Laura, Dan and I agreed unanimously on setting the film in an examination hall, agreeing that we could emphasise solitude by placing Charlie amidst a sea of empty desks. Tragically, when he needs help the most, he’s alone… except for the viewers. I persuaded some friends to voluntarily sit an exam with me in a big old hall at Sydney Grammar, and after eleven hours on set we wrapped, exhausted but content.

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The film was cut together over the next two months, and released in early April, 2013. We were lucky enough to have Sydney’s MP Alex Greenwich attend the première at the Australian, Film, Television and Radio School: a small but enthusiastic gathering of cast, crew and friends. But as the view count across YouTube agrew, we realised that the film was exceeding our wildest expectations.

Stephen Fry was first. Tweeting the film resulted in so much traffic he crashed Fresh Ink’s website. ArtsHub and The Sydney Morning Herald increased that exposure. Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Danii Minogue joined in the support on Twitter. I got to speak on national radio in Australia and America. The film was mentioned in the Herald (again), leading US gay publication The Advocate, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Upworthy. It screened at the Tasmania Queer Film Festival (before The Rocky Horror Picture Show!) and the Shanghai Pride Festival, and was shortlisted for Cardiff’s Iris Prize. We’d almost finished off hyperventilating when Ellen DeGeneres tweeted the film, giving us 90,000 views in a day. I cannot begin to explain how proud (and completely surprised) the whole team feels when we look back at this journey.

Most important for us, though, was the extent to which The Language of Love connected with people all around the world, particularly GLBTI youth. The amount of positive feedback floored us – viewers of all ages and sexual orientations commented that the film’s message of love, friendship and hope deeply moved them (see comments from our YouTube channel, here). In our own small way, we seem to have challenged heteronormativity and homophobia and started conversations about traditional perceptions of love. I hope that our little film – made on a tiny budget with a few, passionate people – will continue to share ideas of tolerance, acceptance and courage in the face of adversity.

In fact, above all else, this process has taught me the importance of courage and having a go. Despite the monologue’s ambiguous ending, Charlie ‘wins’ because he confronts his fears. In a similar way, if I’d been too paralysed by my own inexperience to write Transcendence, I would have missed out on some monumentally groovy opportunities.

Being a young artist affords a special type of impunity. Exploit it for all it’s worth! Write, act, film.

Make mistakes and learn.

More than anything, the artistic community rewards courage.

So be brave. Take the plunge.

Introducing THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE

In THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE, 17 year old Charlie struggles to find the words to be true to himself…and his best friend.

Written and performed by Kim Ho and directed by Laura Scrivano, THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE is a wry, sensitive and moving account of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and facing a life-changing decision. The film was written by Kim under the mentorship of leading Australian playwright Tommy Murphy, THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE was directed by Laura Scrivano as part of THE VOICES PROJECT from the Australian Theatre for Young People (atyp).  

Released in April 2013, THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE has been widely acclaimed, with leading US gay publication The Advocate describing it as a film ‘ to melt your heart’. Stephen Fry tweeted the film with just one word: ‘AMAZING!’, while Ellen DeGeneres has also backed the film, saying ‘This is amazing.’

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Starring:

Kim Ho as Charlie

Directed by Laura Scrivano
Developed from the original monologue, TRANSCENDENCE, by Kim Ho

Producer: Dan Prichard
Cinematographer: Ross Giardina
Editor: Anil Griffin
Production Designer: Bethany Ryan
Sound Designer: Declan Diacono
Sound Recordist: Daniel Lustri
Composer: Andrew Scott
Mentor: Tommy Murphy

Watch interviews with Kim, Laura and Tommy, below.

Listen to an interview with Kim, Laura, Tommy and producer Dan Prichard, below.

Listen to an interview with Kim on PRI’s The World, below.

Watch Kim’s short piece TRANSCENDENCE, the inspiration for the film, below.