Catching Up With 'Open' Director Jake Yuzna
By Evan Lambert
Jake Yuzna isn’t asking much. Sure, his proposal might sound like a tall order—open up your mind, break through the boundaries of biology, unlock the limitless possibilities of humanity—but you really shouldn’t have any problem with all that. Or, at least, that’s what Yuzna would like you to believe. Just watch the first-time director’s film Open, just released on DVD, and you’ll understand.
“For me, the film is all about possibilities, and opening up, and not getting too dogmatic about any one attitude towards life,” said Yuzna, a 26-year-old Minneapolis native. “With today’s leaps in technology and medicine, you can actually break through the boundaries of biology and become a different person. By becoming a different person, you can learn to love [someone] in a different way. As long as you’re open to this, the possibilities are limitless.”
In this case, Yuzna is referring to gender reassignment surgery and hormonal therapy—after all, Open features an intersexed person named Cynthia and a trans man named Syd as two of its main characters—but his central message is quite clear. Yuzna envisions a world in which people can disregard traditional notions of gender and sexuality and love one another indiscriminately.
Voters at the Berlin International Film Festival certainly appreciated Yuzna’s world-view: in 2010, Open became the first American film to ever win the Teddy Jury prize, an award given to films with LGBT themes.
One aspect of the film voters applauded was its cinematography: Yuzna, who has a background in the visual arts, worked closely with both his director of photography and his production designer to create distinctive color palettes for every section of his film. However, the film also amassed buzz for its casting choices: Yuzna turned to actual trans and intersex people when finding his movie’s stars.
“I was very adamant about finding people from these actual communities,” he said. “I wanted to portray them honestly.”
The film also features a pandrogynous couple (two people who have had surgery to merge their features and look more alike) named Gen and Jay. According to Yuzna, they’re based on the real-life radicals Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, who pioneered the idea of achieving pandrogyny through surgery. Moreover, their surgical union plays heavily into Yuzna’s ideas about crossing boundaries and opening up the mind.
“Pandrogyny... is more than just people merging together,” he said. “It’s about people opening up themselves to all possibilities. They’re breaking down the ideas of what gender can be, so they can become almost anything.”
Open features Gen and the intersexed Cynthia embarking upon a road trip, but it also follows trans man Syd as he slowly falls for a young punk named Nick. In order to bring together these road-trip and romance themes, Yuzna turned to film history and American culture for inspiration.
“There’s always been a history of queer road trip films,” he said. “Also, the road trip is seen as very romantic in American culture, so the themes of Open came together easily.”
Yuzna, who names Gregg Araki as one of his filmmaking influences, plans to continue making feature films as a career. His next project, tentatively titled Werewolves in the Mall of America, will follow a first-generation Somali girl who creates a cultural club in Minneapolis.
“It’s going to be about the nature of creativity...why we’re creative, where creativity comes from, and what we can accomplish with it,” he said.
Film-making runs in Yuzna’s blood (his uncle, Brian Yuzna, is a director of horror films), so he probably won’t stop working anytime soon. But in the meantime, go ahead and check out Open. It’s poetic, it’s modern, and it’s certainly interesting. Maybe it will even open up your mind a bit, in which case Yuzna will certainly have succeeded.