While staying by the sea, a young man becomes aware of a third person in his floundering relationship.

A rumination on trauma, shame, and the great fear of letting someone simply love you. Thomas Wilson-White’s ‘St. Augustine’ gets incredibly intimate between two young who try to connect emotionally and physically. Things are not so simple as we slowly burn into the character’s complexity. The angle strives far away from the LGTBQ+ narratives we are used to seeing, as we embark on a silent ride of self-assessment and discovery. Thomas shares some of his insights on the film with us below:

Can you tell me a little bit about St. Augustine, how did this film come about?

St Augustine was originally devised as a tool for finding the tone, style and themes of a feature film I wanted to make. Making a feature is a marathon and I wanted to meet the characters sooner. Craft the visual style and tone sooner… So I wrote the short and we decided to pop down to the South Coast of Australia and make it. I’m happy to say I am currently writing the feature film and although it has evolved many times since the short film was made, it has benefited greatly from the process of creation.

The film follows a young man during a weekend away with his partner, as he struggles with an inner turmoil that is eventually physically manifested. It was born from a very personal experience I had. And a dream I had of a man self-immolating by the sea. Just cheery, upbeat stuff like that.

How did you go about casting Aleks and Elijah?

I had worked with Aleks before and was always impressed with his emotional depth and a blinding courage in his performances. He is a sublime actor and I wrote the film with him in mind, knowing the arc of his character would require someone willing to go to a darker place with me. Likewise, I had seen Elijah shine in a theatre show and was eager to find something to make with him. I was thrilled they both jumped at the project and know we will see big things from them both in the future.

As a writer/director are you open to changes or suggestions when you start shooting or do you like to stick to what has been written?

During all stages of production my only job is to look for ways to deepen the storytelling, to find the truth in each scene and each moment. It requires a sort’ve of ego, and simultaneously no ego at all. Directing, for me, is about doing a tonne of prep and then being ready to throw it all away the second the truth is found. It’s a balance. So unless I’ve written the funniest line in history (or it’s essential to plot), everything can change!

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

Everything I make is personal, and this film explores a particularly dark experience in my life. Essentially, I saw myself one night, for the first time, as a queer person, as a man; and saw the patterns of self-destruction I was stuck in, the pain I carried, the future I would have if I didn’t heal. It was scary, and marked a major turning point. Could I end these cycles of self-hatred? Could I heal from trauma? Could I become the man I so desperately wanted to be?

Shooting the film, it was like a fog of these emotions surrounded us the entire time; we all felt it. The climax of the film, with Aleks on the beach, was the most challenging thing I’ve ever filmed. I had the bright idea to play the doppelganger, so I shaved my head and wore an identical costume, and was acting opposite Aleks as he relived the experience of seeing your own destruction. It was cathartic and alive with emotion and very intense. I believe every artwork requires it’s creator to reveal themself, but I learned a valuable lesson on this one. The lesson is to have therapy before you make a film about your trauma.

We all hear about closed-sets on budget films for intimate scenes, how did you handle these scenes for your film?

It was just the actors, myself and the cinematographer on set. We choregraphed the sex scene like a dance number; everything was talked through and mapped out, and by the time we were filming it felt like any other scene. A major part of the story is the protagonists inability to be intimate with his partner, and the shower scene is integral to telling that story and the arcs of both characters. We all knew that, so it never felt gratuitous or explicit so to speak.

Strangely, the shower scene was less confronting to shoot than the dancing scene in the living room. That scene is so tender, and intimate, and I remember feeling like everyone on set could see directly into my soul. I was, and remain, a big romantic who just wants to slow dance to old jazz with a handsome man. Please pray for me.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?

Dig deep to find what makes your heart skip a beat and write about that. You will probably feel exposed and vulnerable, like a child, and that’s exactly right. Lean into that. And start today. Like, right now.

What are your favorite short films?

I often teach filmmaking at the Australian, Film, Television and Radio School and am constantly blown away by the work of my students; the boldness, the ingenuity, the joy they have making them… It inspires me so much and reminds me why I started in the first place.

Otherwise, my favourite shorts are made by artists on the margins, telling stories I would never have been exposed to otherwise. The more authentic, the better.

Which films you can say directly inspired this film?

Bergman’s Persona, Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue and The Double Life of Veronique, Guadagnino’s I Am Love were all the references; either visually, tonally or thematically. I wanted every frame to further illuminate the characters psyche’s and leave a subtle trail of clues for the audience, and I looked to the aforementioned masters for guidance and reassurance.