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Gay footballers under pressure

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Writer and director Marcel Gisler’s latest film is Mario.

On the football pitch Mario and Leon are teammates, off the pitch they are becoming much more.

I caught up with Marcel Gisler for a behind-the-scenes look at the film.

What was the inspiration for this story?

The reality. Because homosexuality still seems to be a taboo in professional football — this restrictive environment gave us the possibility to tell a dramatic and moving love story.

Why is football such a unique sport when it comes to closeted players?

Because the football business is ruled by big money interests.

I assume that there’s a big insecurity about the financial impact if a well-known expensive Premier League player came out. Would he be able to maintain his market value for upcoming transfers? How would sponsors, fans, and teammates react?

Nobody knows, and probably that’s why the question of sexual diversity is not on top of the priority list in the world of professional football.

Are you a football fan?

To be honest, I’m not so much into football — the story is based on an idea of my co-author. My challenge was to do really intense research to depict the games and the football world realistically in the film.

What was the production process?

About four years to write the screenplay and find financing, and seven weeks of filming.

What was the casting process?

Max Hubacher — who plays Mario Lüthi — was cast pretty early on in the process, as he’s performed in two Swiss films as a teenager, and I thought he’d be the perfect type for the role of Mario. Also, he played football for several years in his youth, which was a prerequisite for the role. Aaron Altaras — who plays Leon Saldo — was cast at a later point, with Max as acting partner to see if the chemistry worked between the two of them.

What were some of the challenges in filming?

One of the main challenges was to depict the football scenes in a realistic manner. Our football team in the film was a mix of actors and amateur players as extras. We hired a football coach to work out the choreography of the football game moves, which we had to repeat again and again until they finally scored a goal. For the last scenes in the Millerntor stadium of FC St. Pauli, we worked together with VFX specialists.

How long do you think it will be before we look at a film like this as a period piece, because professional football has progressed and welcomes gay players?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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What sort of feedback have you had on the film so far?

Very positive. The film received two Swiss Film Awards from the Swiss Film Academy for Best Actor and Best Performance in a Supporting Role.

What do you hope that people feel when watching the film?

That they’re touched by the love story and become aware about the predicament of a gay professional football player.

Mario is distributed by Peccadillo Pictures

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Artists

“In a fictional universe I would wield magic”

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Artwork by Stefano Junior (image supplied)
Artwork by Stefano Junior (image supplied)

I caught up with artist Stefano Junior to talk art, illustration, and super-powers.

When did you start to explore your passion for illustration and art?

I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. According to my parents, I drew a very convincing female figure from my imagination at about three or four years old. From then on, when I wasn’t at school, watching cartoons, or voraciously reading comic books, I’d be drawing. My parents eventually enrolled me in a fine arts weekend program at a local college — I studied there for several years while going through grammar and middle school.

What is it about superheroes that appeals to you?

In hindsight, apart from the obvious colourful allure of superhero adventures, it was the transformative nature that is the basis of most superhero narratives. As a child, in suburban 80s America, with my penchant for the arts, girls toys, and a foreign name, I was bullied extensively — superheroes provided a means to escape, I could imagine that I might one day extricate myself from that oppression.

Books like Chris Claremont’s X-Men, which were ripe with soap-opera-like drama, reassured me that my ‘latent’ powers weren’t things to be ashamed of. Roger Stern’s run on Superman affirmed my beliefs that though people could be cruel and misguided, it didn’t mean that I should have to sacrifice my ethics and sense of what’s right. George Pérez’s Wonder Woman — that she was an immigrant appealed to me as a first-generation Italian, and she never lost her compassion for even her greatest foes.

Growing up with older sisters and a strong Italian matriarch may have influenced me gravitating to female heroes. But there was also the allure of the outrageous 80s feminine glamour of heroes like She-Ra, or the many fantastic mutant women of the X-universe who all played such pivotal roles in the series while donning fantastic costumes created by amazing artists like Paul Smith, Arthur Adams, and Marc Silvestri.

I love your drawings of Sorceror Stefano — is that an alter ego?

I’ve been developing an illustrated version of myself over the years. I’m currently studying cartooning at the School of Visual Arts — comic legend Phil Jimenez was one of my instructors my sophomore year. Our mid-term assignment was to create a fictionalised life drawing of ourselves in a turnaround. So I photographed myself, and further developed the design of my Sorcerer self. As an artist, the process of creation feels like sorcery, so were I to exist in a fictional universe, I would definitely wield magic. I’d also like to be physically invulnerable.

Who are some of your art heroes or inspirations?

My inspirations are pretty vast. From the art world it includes Bernini, Gabriel Rosetti, and Waterhouse. From comics it includes Esteban Maroto, Garcia Lopez, Marc Silvestri, Brian Bolland, George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Adam Hughes, Colleen Doran, Art Adams, and especially Alan Davis — both for the aesthetic beauty and elegance of his art, and as a draughtsman and storyteller.

If you could do a life drawing of a male super-hero, who would you choose?

Henry Cavill as Superman.

Your moustache game is pretty strong — what does your moustache say about you?

At its most base, it’s a homage to the machismo of the 1980s — particularly my hero, Tom Selleck as Magnum PI. He’s the epitome of masculine idealisation.

I grow it and shave it constantly — it’s spawned its own cartoon of my creation. You can follow the exploits of me and my moustache — Mr. Mustardo — on Instagram. It’s absolutely vain, but it allows for me to be humorous in a single panel cartoon form that deviates from the more representative work and superhero storytelling that I’ve primarily been focused on.

What are some of your goals and ambitions for the months ahead?

I hope to further develop an original comic that I started in the Fall, that centres around a complex heroine and a magical discovery. Plus there’s some newer humorous cartoons that Id like to serialise online somehow — one that follows the exploits of a majordomo in an early 20th century hotel, another that follows a boy through multiple mediums and circumstances that end badly.

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