AWOL — which has been honored by the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival, qFLIX Philadelphia, and the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival — got its start as a short film at Sundance in 2011. At a Q&A after the feature-length film’s world premiere at the Tribeca this spring, Deb Shoval noted that AWOL, which is an indulgent yet brief 80 minutes, took an arduous four years to make.
Of course filmmakers experience a sense of time uniquely theirs; it is impacted by money (crowdsourcing was integral to AWOL’s completion), bodies (Kirke was temporarily unavailable while filming Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America), and the right words (the gifted Karolina Waclawiak co-wrote the final script). However, this made me pause to consider Jack Halberstam’s notion of queer time: ‘Queer time for me is the dark nightclub, the perverse turn away from the narrative coherence of adolescence–early adulthood–marriage–reproduction–child rearing–retirement–death.’ In scenes where Joey and Rayna are sneaking away on a camping trip like they’re in the throes of a youth they both missed out on, or are coiled around one another in a room opposite Rayna’s slumbering children, Shoval’s flick certainly fits Halberstam’s definition.
Yet it feels important to consider one more construct: Rural time. The six years of silence before the cicadas return. How a 15-minute drive through a sparse town often feels like it’s peeling years away from your life. The way having nothing to do means that there’s nowhere to be. Rural time seems to be AWOL’s blessing and curse: the movie, which was shot in Shoval’s bucolic hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is so committed to the speed of the beautiful place where it’s set that it’s initially slow-going. If one’s not patient with it, she might make the fatal error of mistaking it for one of Wolfe Video’s saccharine direct-to-DVD releases. It’s okay if you can’t figure out if you’re watching a Great American Love Story or yet another Tale of Tormented Lesbian Love within the first 30 minutes (full disclosure: AWOL is neither).