Eric Mahoney (Interview)

Words by Jon Peltz.

Madly is a startling new anthology film that uses a diverse set of cultures and standards to tell six poetic stories about love-gone-overboard.

One segment, directed by Anurag Kashyap, involves an Indian woman, played by Radhika Apte, in a traditional marriage who covets a younger teenager in the neighborhood. (Apte’s Madly performance won her Best Actress in an International Narrative Feature at the Tribeca 2016 Awards.) Another, directed by Sebastian Silva, features a black teenager who goes on an odyssey through New York City’s shelter system after coming out as gay to his conservative parents. Sion Sono, a Japanese filmmaker, depicts a family who builds stronger bonds at a Japanese sex club. The film is also notable for having the debut narrative film of Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan. Actors Mia Wasikowska and Gael García Bernal also contributed pieces.

One of the masterminds behind Madly is producer Eric Mahoney. He, alongside executive producer Nusrat Durrani, is responsible for bringing together these diverse filmmaker and their disparate visions. In time for its Tribeca Film Festival debut, I talked to him about bringing together stories covering different types of love and depicting love on film.

JONATHAN PELTZ: How did this idea get off the ground?
ERIC MAHONEY: I was approached two years ago by the executive producer of the project, Nusrat Durrani, who wanted to make a global anthology. We met and discussed how to tie everything together thematically. We wanted to tackle this sort of universal project that went above just some shitty love stories. We wanted to work with interesting directors. We wanted to have more unorthodox love stories where it isn’t just from a hetero-centric look at the world again and again. We wanted stories about family and about how love is more complicated. Love gone awry and lost love…we just wanted to look at love from different angles. We made sure to look at all of the directors’ treatments to make sure that we weren’t being redundant. As [the films] came in, we started working on the interstitial and the music and all that. Frankly, it’s a dream job for me to produce something like this.

Was each director instructed to come up with their own vision or were there guidelines?
Each director wrote their own piece. I believe two of them used a co-writer. We handed everyone a creative brief of what we wanted the [overall] project to be. We identified a lot of different categories of love stories to sort of give them an idea. As people were signing on, we started talking about subjects to tackle. We had surprisingly little amount of overlap and everyone sort of came out with their own unique ideas.

Why did you want to explore the unconventional side of love?
It’s messy, and oftentimes it doesn’t work out. The unconventional type of experiences in some people’s lives can be more influential than the love of their lives. We didn’t necessarily want to explore the darker aspects, but rather talk about how those experiences can affect people’s lives in profound ways. Some of those ways are sadness, but after they work through it, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The Sebastian [Silva] story comes to mind (Dance Dance Dance), where it’s sort of a sad story until the last second where he might have found his boyfriend. He might start living a life that’s more fulfilling for him. There’s a struggle, but hope.

However, a few of the pieces do have sort of troubling endings for the characters. In Clean Shaven, the main character is going to have a really hard time ahead as a woman in India. In the Mia Wasikowska piece, this love for another child brings out some dark inclinations in the character.
Yeah, there is definitely some trouble ahead [for those characters]. But it’s also showing them being true to themselves, and one aspect of love is the love of self. In Clean Shaven, the young woman has a love for who she is as a person, seeing that she is in this traditional bound situation. She won’t allow herself to be imprisoned.

The film takes place in a variety of locations around the world, and each interstitial carefully establishes a sense of place. How important is location in affecting how people relate to each other or fall in love?
It can play a huge role. In this case, the interstitial was more to serve as a palate cleanser. Cultural context can play a bigger role in some than others such as in Clean Shaven and the Japan piece, Love of Love. Japan can be this very strict, by-the-book society, but then there’s this sort of wild underground thing going on that people gravitate towards. I think where you live in the world affects the kind of love you’re potentially allowed to have. It predicts the freedom you have or the way you can express your love in the way you want to. Each of these countries have varying degrees of that.

How did you link up with Natasha Khan–singer of Bat for Lashes–as she had yet to direct a film?
We were so thankful to get her. The woman who represented Natasha had represented some people I had worked with earlier. I got her script late in the game. She told me that Bat for Lashes had written this short, and asked if we were still working on Madly. She sent out this script which we found to be really impressive and beautiful. I had seen some video stuff she had worked on, and knew she was super creative, and we took a chance on it because I loved the script. We also didn’t yet have an ending film that left the audience with some sort of resolution. There’s resolution, peace, and love to it. There’s a familial love and a romantic love. She’s actually working on a feature length version of this film, so this might be the first piece of a bigger project on that character and topic.

Was it intentional to have a lot of the pieces end in a sort of open-ended fashion?
It wasn’t intentional on my behalf. I have an opinion of how they all end and what happens next. But the directors had a lot of freedom, and that was part of the appeal of the project. They had final cut on the pieces and were able to leave them where they wanted to leave them. There was no intention behind it.

What aspects of love drew you to produce this project?
We had a bunch of different themes we were kicking around. I was excited to explore the messier side of things and the unorthodox kind of ways that people seem to love each other. I haven’t seen a lot of these kinds of things on the screen. We wanted to tell unusual tales within that topic.

If love can lead to such terrible results, why do people still pursue it?
Love can also lead to the ultimate beauty: The pathway to growth and to understanding yourself further as a human being. When people speak of enlightenment, I think that comes with a huge price. There’s a lot of heartache and hard work that goes into it. With an emotion that powerful, that bonds us, of course there’s going to be all kinds of other processes that go along with it. It’s a very human desire to want to connect and feel deep emotions.

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