“Tom in America” starts off with a content couple who have been married for 50 years. But through the discovery of a Tom of Finland doll, a long-buried secret ends up rocking their marriage to the core.
The husband is a closeted gay man. After being married for half a century and growing old together, the short film follows the couple as they decide how to move forward with their new reality.
“The secret to a good film is to have a compelling story,” Alves said.
Since moving to America from Brazil nearly 20 years ago, Alves has focused his career on films with an elderly cast. In fact, none of his films feature protagonists under the age of 70.
He places emphasis on films for the elderly because he has noticed a prejudice against them in mainstream media due to a lack of understanding their “unique needs and struggles."
“Elderly characters have so many elements that attract me,” Alves said. “Someone told me the other day that I was obsessed with older people, but it’s so interesting to me that films in the 40s and 50s had so many elderly characters, but we rarely see them anymore.
“Even some of the characters in film or on TV today are just younger people dressed up as older people,” he added. “There is a lack of representation in films and I want to make it more balanced."
Alves set out to tell this particular story of an older man coming out because he noticed that movies and television largely depict the coming out of younger individuals. Rather, “Tom in America" dives into the responsibilities of life that an older man has to deal with now that he is out of the closet.
“When a younger person comes out, there are less consequences because they are usually single,” Alves said. “When someone who has been living as a straight man comes out, we can congratulate him but no one ever talks about the wife. How about the wife? What happened to her?
"Although progressive laws and understanding are little by little dragging the LGBT community out of the shadow, the reality is whether it's societal pressures, shame, or fear of physical harm, there are still generations of gays and lesbians that never experienced the full range of emotional and sexual love,” he added.
One of the significant challenges of the 15-minute short film was developing the characters to a point where the audience could understand who they are and their situation.
His Forest Hills-based production company, Queens Pictures, was able to cast two Academy Award nominees to lead the film. Burt Young has starred in the “Rocky” franchise as well as “Once Upon A Time in America” with Robert De Niro. Sally Kirkland starred in “JFK” with Kevin Costner, “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carrey and “Blazing Saddles” with Gene Wilder. Together, they brought the film to life.
“We are changing the way people see short films,” Alves said.
Parts of the short were filmed in Long Beach and at Alves’ apartment and office in Forest Hills.
Alves and his crew have screened the film in over 130 film festivals worldwide since its premiere in 2014. The reception for the film has been overwhelmingly positive.
Recently, “Tom in America” won the Best Short Film award at the Albuquerque Film Festival, and Alves also took home the Best Director award at the Nevada International Film Festival in 2015.
At the Queens World Film Festival this year, Kirkland is nominated for Best Actress in a Short and Young is nominated for Best Actor in a Short. The film is also nominated for Best Short Narrative.
Alves found that the overall story of marriage is relatable to people of all backgrounds, whether they are Russian, Chinese, European, African or South American.
In fact, because of the feedback and popularity of the film, Alves hopes to start reshooting the story as a feature film in 2018. Like most of his films, the money needed to turn the short into a feature film will come from applying for grants and using fundraising tools such as Kickstarter or Facebook.
Prior to the feature film version of “Tom in America,” Alves will be directing his first ever feature film “The Garden Left Behind” this September.
After the Queens World Film Festival, screenings for “Tom in America” will be continuously updated on the film’s website, TominAmerica.com. There will be a screening at least once a month in the New York City area.
Alves hopes to screen the film around the community, in places such as libraries and community centers, so as many people as possible have a chance to see the film.