BTL #5-8: Four Films by Stephen Cone// No. 70, Oxford Road

Every Thursday, February 2019 at 6:45pm – Get Tickets

Bigger Than Life and Research in Arts and Humanities at Manchester Met are excited to announce the first UK retrospective of the films of American independent film director Stephen Cone, at No. 70, Oxford Road this February. Recently named the best queer filmmaker ignored by the film world by Indiewire, the retrospective encompasses four features and accompanying short films, all of which will be receiving their Manchester premiere, including 2013’s Black Box (Thursday 14th February) which will screen as a UK premiere. We are also delighted to be able to say that Stephen Cone will be joining us live from Chicago for streamed Q&As following screenings of The Wise Kids (Thursday 7th February) and Princess Cyd (Thursday 28th February).

“Stephen Cone is a humanist; he can’t help but perceive that every person, even those we might write off as ‘types,’ has complexity,” Sheila O’Malley,

Praised by critics for their nuance and humanism, Cone’s films traverse subjects of community and sexuality, friendship and spirituality. The filmmaker was raised in South Carolina by churchgoing parents —  his father was a Southern Baptist minister – but has since settled in Chicago, where he now teaches at Northwestern University. Cone’s work reflects this biography; but while the films presented in this retrospective are split evenly between portrayals of tightly knit religious and creative communities, viewers can expect to find uncertainty, parties, sex and burgeoning queer romance across the board.

Drawing on Chicago’s rich pool of acting talent, Cone’s films concentrate on teenagers and young people, capturing their fledgling steps into adulthood, before spinning off to depict the mirrored trials and tribulations faced by the grown-ups in their lives. Throughout the work, there’s a focus on gay, lesbian and bisexual characters, and while Cone is perfectly positioned to chart the conflict with the church, he approaches the subject of sex and sexuality with a empathetic, sincere matter-of-factness which avoids cliché.

“In both his features and short films, Cone has dexterously explored, and sometimes exploded the borders between comedy and drama, community and the self, faith and sexuality, sincerity and performance.” Eric Hynes, Museum of the Moving Image, New York

Bigger Than Life and RAH! Manchester Met will present four of Cone’s films in chronological order, to allow Manchester audiences the opportunity to follow the director’s evolution and ask questions directly along the way. In addition to Skype Q&A’s, we are also grateful to Stephen for allowing us to screen some of his short films alongside the features. For details of the individual screenings, read on.

The Wise Kids (+SKYPE Q&A)

Thursday 7th February – 6:45pm

dir. Stephen Cone / Year: 2017 / Runtime: 87 minutes / Certificate: Advisory 16+ / Format: Digital / Price: Free / Tickets

Set over the course of their final year at high school, three teenage members of a South Carolina Baptist church wrestle with questions of body and spirit as they prepare to leave for college. As Brea (Molly Kunz) struggles to maintain her faith in God, Tim (Tyler Ross) begins to explore his homosexuality, meanwhile their close friend Laura (Allison Torem) tries to reconcile her own beliefs with the new paths chosen by her companions.

Black Box (UK Premiere)

Thursday 14th February – 6:45pm

dir. Stephen Cone / Year: 2013 / Runtime: 84 minutes / Certificate: Advisory 16+ / Format: Digital / Price: Free / Tickets

Set in the loose confines of a Chicago black box theatre, graduate student Holly (Josephine Decker) writes and directs an adaptation of one of her favourite childhood novels in this feature film from Stephen Cone. Black Box follows the production from conception, through rehearsals and all the way to opening night, as Holly wrangles her unruly undergraduate cast and reckons with an unexpected visit from the novel’s author (Austin Pendleton).

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

Thursday 21st February – 6:45pm

dir. Stephen Cone / Year: 2015 / Runtime: 87 minutes / Certificate: Advisory 16+ / Format: Digital / Price: Free / Tickets

When pastor’s son, Henry Gamble (Cole Doman) invites secular friends and members of his close-knit Evangelical community to celebrate his 17th birthday by the family pool. From there, director Stephen Cone concocts an explosive mix of repressed urges and exposed flesh, utilising the suburban poolside location to bring his characters’ apprehensions and anxieties to boiling point.

Princess Cyd (+SKYPE Q&A)

Thursday 28 February – 6:45pm

dir. Stephen Cone / Year: 2017 / Runtime: 87 minutes / Certificate: Advisory 16+ / Format: Digital / Price: Free / Tickets

There’s not so much high drama as a collision of dispositions in Stephen Cone’s most recent film. A queer coming-of-age film set over the course of one hot Chicago summer, the laidback Princess Cyd follows teenager Cydney’s (Jessie Pinnick) extended visit with her novelist aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence). Cone’s talent for mood and character shines through again in this summer hangout.

This project is supported by a grant from Superbia. Superbia Grants provide financial support for LGBT events as part of Manchester Pride’s commitment to the quality and diversity of cultural events takingplace throughout the year in Greater Manchester.