In the hazy days of post-Charleston Fashion Week, as the tents came down and the shoes came off, three unassuming tweets popped up in local social media. Filmmakers Adam Boozer, Jade Sullivan, and Sully Sullivan (no relation), who were commissioned by CFW to produce two-minute long “fashion film shorts” to play at the event, took the 140-character opportunity to pass on the link to another film, one called Denial, which did not play at the local event as was intended. According to the filmmakers’ tweets, this specific film was rejected due to content.
Denial has a lot of similarities to the three shorts eventually screened during CFW; it features impossibly attractive, impeccably dressed people, occasionally at familiar landmarks — like Black Tap Coffee, Bin 152, and a Five Guys Burgers. But unlike the three other films, which each include flirtatious, heterosexual couples, Denial follows two men who may or may not become romantically involved.
Set to a Beirut song, the film opens with a white horse, awash in a lavender filter. It then follows the two male leads through a day’s worth of accidental encounters, as they drink coffee at the same shop and smoke on porches just yards away from each other. But you never get a sense if the two men know each other, how they perceive one another, or if it’s even all just a dream, especially once one of them falls asleep and begins to have visions of himself with the other man and the horse running in his head.
During the entire short film, the men do not kiss or embrace. They do not touch in any sort of romantic way. In fact, the only time they come into even slight physical contact is through a fortuitous passing on King Street. The only other part of Denial that is even mildly suggestive is when a bodiless bare arm pulls back a sheet covering one of the men.
This utter lack of physical affection is very different from the other films shown during Fashion Week. In Duplicity, Brooks Reitz, a fairly recognizable Charleston F&B figure also known for his Jack Rudy tonic, is stripped by an anticipating babe in lingerie before collapsing with her into a pool. But given Denial‘s homosexual implications, many may wonder if that theme could have prompted event organizers to reject the film.
Naomi Russell, production director for CFW, told the City Paper via e-mail that of the five shorts submitted by Boozer, Sullivan, and Sullivan, three were eventually selected for premiere during the event. In one case, CFW asked for a small edit that was refused; Russel did not specify which film she was referring to in that case, and she did not return subsequent attempts at clarification. “First of all, as you can imagine for an event that has grown to the national scope of Charleston Fashion Week, we get many auditions/proposals to be a part of CFW, whether it be for models, designers, entertainment, video, etc.,” she wrote. “Ultimately the decisions whether something or someone gets in are a group effort, and selections are made for a variety of reasons.”
Currently, the specific reasons why Charleston Fashion Week organizers rejected Denial are unknown. Once again, a request for clarification went unanswered.
Rainbows and Unicorns
Denial was initially inspired by an inside joke about its two male leads. “They had this idea of kind of this story about, ‘Well, what would it be like if Kenneth and Justin have sex,’ and they said it was like rainbows and unicorns or something,” Kenneth Hyatt, one of the inspirations for and actors in Denial, explains. He’s been involved with his partner and male co-star for seven years, and besides having a long friendship with Sully Sullivan, they’ve worked with the local photographer during the last two CFWs on prop styling and in other capacities for the fashion shorts.
(It is important to note that while Hyatt was an active participant in the making of Denial, his opinions do not reflect those of its actual filmmakers: Boozer, Sullivan, and Sullivan. The three declined to comment on the record for this story.)
In contrast to the lonely, heavy-hearted character he plays in the film, Hyatt simply beams in person. This real-life trait is proof, as Hyatt assured us, that the characters in Denial are just characters, and the plot of Denial is much less concrete than the stars’ actual successful love story. Still, in reality, the couple met just as they do in the film: By accidentally bumping into each other on the street.
Despite finding inspiration in a cutesy yet crude joke, the completed Denial is incredibly tame, and exquisitely gorgeous. It took days of prep and story-boarding, a full day for shooting with the horse on Johns Island, plus another day downtown for the rest of the scenes. “It’s crazy just how much for two minutes,” Hyatt says. “You give it your all while you’re doing it and it just turns out to be everything that you hoped it to be … There’s so many creative minds behind it, and that’s so much of all of it. It wouldn’t ever come to be if we didn’t have all of the things that were going wrong to make it perfectly right.” From having to learn how to drive stick in an expensive antique car to finding last-minute friends to fill in for failed extras, “It just continuously happened like that throughout the course of it all. On any type of shoot, you have a full day where you’re just running, running, running, and you’re solving these problems, but it’s really enjoyable because you accomplish something consistently throughout the day, whether it’s scene one to scene two, getting the right car, or whatever.”
Just days before Fashion Week, Hyatt got a call from Boozer. He was told that Denial was rejected. “I kind of didn’t really react to it. I initially was more concerned that a film would potentially harm (Boozer’s) career or something, his reputation, because I didn’t think that it would be pushing buttons,” he says. “It wasn’t intended to push buttons. But it’s interesting how from nowhere, it just seemed liked that was the case.”
Hyatt isn’t interested in turning this into a gay issue. And he praises CFW for its work at promoting local designers and artists. “We’re individuals,” he says. “If the issue that’s at hand is what the problem is, I think that undermines everyone who’s been working on the film as the creative artists and individuals that we are, because we constantly are working to express ourselves and it’s everyone’s right to see it how they choose and not have someone who’s sitting on the big chair somewhere saying we deny this for everyone. That is definitely very stifling to the growth and the creativity that is really potential for Charleston Fashion Week.”