by Jess LaVopa
When Michael Nicolo, Purchase alumnus and writer and director of the short film, "Desiderium," graduated from Purchase, he was searching for the “road map,” that post-graduation direction, he was promised. He was quick to realize there was no such thing.
Graduating in 2017 with a major in screenwriting and playwriting and a minor in Italian, Nicolo was full of passion and looking for somewhere to put it. After dealing with the loss of one of his professors during his senior year, Charles Tuthill, an acting professor, he pondered the idea of invalidated loss. While also in the midst of finding his own identity and discovering himself, Nicolo began to link the two with each other.
The sensation of suppressing his queerness was a familiar feeling to burying a professor he didn’t feel he had the right to mourn. Nicolo states, “Both demanded a secret loss and a quiet catharsis.”
"Desiderium," a short queer film, has been in the works since Nicolo was a student at Purchase. It’s about a young college student, played by Matthew Louie, who is dealing with the recent death of his professor. While he is mourning he is also unraveling the acknowledgment that he had more feelings for his professor then he realized.
Nicolo wants to capture the fear, anxiety and excitement that comes with discovering who you are. Being a queer man himself, Nicolo wants the story to resonate with people, to remind them they are not alone.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: What was your inspiration for the film?
A: My senior year at Purchase, I took an acting class with professor Charles Tuthill. He actually passed away during our semester. The story is fiction, there are plenty of things that were made up from story ideas that I had. But, the inspiration came from that feeling of admiring someone or looking up to someone and then having their influence in your life cut short at a time when it was most crucial. I think the dynamic between teacher and student is something that is underrated. I think we can all acknowledge a teacher we had in grade school, middle school or college that had an influence in their life. With the things they taught us or things they made us see about ourselves. I think having that dynamic cut short is something to comment on.
Q: I heard your producer and director of photography wanted to shoot this like a horror movie.
A: Yeah, so in pre-production and when picking apart the story… we acknowledged that this is a bigger story. It’s the story of a young queer person and when they first realize or come in contact with the idea that something about them is different. I think that big pivotal moment in any young queer person's life is a significant time and that’s what we are capturing. That’s the moment. That one switch moment that we are really trying to pay homage to and really identify and enlarge. With my experience as a gay man and Vuk’s [producer and director of photography] experience as a queer trans man, we’ve both talked about how it’s scary. It can be considered a nightmare. The feelings of excitement, fear and anxiety are all things across the board that are experienced. So I think this movie has become so exciting for us because we are really going to dive into letting what you see on screen be what our main character is experiencing in his real life nightmare. Feeling isolated, losing someone he loved, but also finding a new part of himself that he didn’t have prior.
Q: Is there a message your looking to send to the LGBTQ community?
A: I definitely know that if I were to see this movie when I was younger, when I was figuring myself out, it would be that beacon of acknowledging that I’m not alone. That this isn’t an isolating feeling as much as we think it is. It’s a door opening into a new part of your life that can be fantastic. If you're seeing this and you can relate to this, know you’re not alone, and you don’t have to go through it alone.
Q: Any directors that you look up to or films that inspired you?
A: I really like Xavier Dolan. He’s a French filmmaker and he made this movie called “Tom at the Farm.” It’s very chaotic and violent and slightly romantic, but it’s a little psychotic. It’s a mental rollercoaster which is how you can explain anyone’s internal experience with anything emotional. That’s something that I just adore, the idea of putting on screen something that we can all relate to but no one actually acknowledges.
Q: Being a Purchase alumnus, is there any advice you would give to promising film students or people who want to do what you’re doing?
A: I think in college we are so sure of ourselves and what we want to do that as soon as you graduate, you’re like, “Now what? Where is the road map I was promised?” There is none. It sounds pessimistic but it’s genuinely a good thing. Coming out of college, I think, if you are open to what can come your way, you take every opportunity you can, and walking through doors you might have not considered beforehand, those are the choices that are going to change your life. My main advice is to go for it. If there’s something you want to do, something you’re passionate about and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, don’t wait on it. Hustle and get a part time job to get the money together. It’s never going to be easy, but it’s worth every second.