Damon Cardasis sets the foundation for acceptance and change in his first feature film ‘Saturday Church.’ He answers 5 Key Questions!
Damon Cardasis explores the untapped territory of Saturday Church, a program for displaced LGBTQ youth in New York City. Inspired by his own experiences volunteering at St. Luke in the Fields in the West Village, Damon captures the story of Ulysses (Luka Kain), a teenage boy who is coping with his father’s death and struggling to fill the shoes as man of the house — especially because it’s not man’s shoes he wants to be in. Ulysses continues to get caught trying on women’s clothing by his mother and his conservative aunt, until he is kicked out of the home and disconnected from the rest of his family. Thanks to a crew of similar kids seeking refuge, Ulysses finds himself embraced for who he truly is for the first time in his life. Damon beautifully tells this important, coming-of-age, coming-out story through musical numbers, choreographed dances and heart-wrenching script. Here, he answers 5 Key Questions about his inspiration for Saturday Church.
HollywoodLife: What’s your most profound memory while working at a Saturday Church, at St. Lukes in NYC? How did it inspire you to make this film?
Damon Cardasis: It was a combination of hearing these kids’ stories — many of them were LGBTQ. So, hearing the horrors that they’d gone through, being thrown out of their houses, living on the streets, doing anything to survive, and, in some cases, they were abused physically, emotionally, sexually, and some of the most horrific things you’ve ever heard. But at the same time, they were amazingly inspiring, too. There was humor and compassion and love and strength and creativity. I thought it was just so fascinating that these kids that have every reason to give up were also so full of life and creativity. I saw that at the ball and I saw that when they were building a gymnasium that was adjacent to the cafeteria in the church. So, I’d literally go from hearing these horrific stories of their lives to seeing them dance and perform in this feeling of freedom, and empowerment and somebody’s escapism.
HollywoodLife: Why did you choose to add a musical element to this film? How do you think it helped further the story you were trying to tell?
Damon: I think there’s something universal about music and things that can be conveyed in a melody or a lyric or song that sometimes that sort of surpasses many other things, and I think it’s a great way to sort of connect people. When you hear a song, you’ll instantly be pulled into a mood whether it’s you want to dance or you’re feeling sad or whatever. I think it has a very powerful trigger and I think that when you’re dealing with subject material that some people may not be aware of or other people may not be able to relate to, it’s a great unifier. You might not know what it’s like to be a transperson of color, but you know what it’s like to feel lonely or you know what it’s like to fall in love or you know what it’s like to be sad or be empowered. I’d always thought of the magical realism and the fantasy being an element of escapism in various ways. But it was going from that cafeteria to the gymnasium and seeing them dance and perform, that the musical element became more ingrained in my mind in the story. And then it was just figuring out how to do it because it was my first time as writer and director.
HollywoodLife: Your mom is a priest, but also has marched for equality, gay rights, and is a crusader for love and peace. How did she react to your film?
Damon: She absolutely loved it. We actually shot more than half of the movie at my mother’s church in the Bronx. She’s been a huge support for making this film happen and supporting it and her church, St. Peters in Westchester Square is actually working on opening up a Saturday church now for LGBTQ youth. Having a mother who’s a priest with me, being a gay man — I never struggled with Christianity. I know that’s not the way it is for many people and that for many, Christianity can be used to sort of abuse, so that’s what originally drew me to this film.
HollywoodLife: How do you advise people to show love and acceptance even in today’s difficult political climate?
Damon: I think that people need to just start taking the labels off of one another — whether it’s race, religion, gender identity, sexuality or sexual orientation. The second you take the labels off of someone and just relate to them as a human being, you have so much in common. People need to start living with their heart and not whatever has been programmed into their minds. So I think it just takes people removing the labels and reaching out and starting conversations and you’ll see that there’s really no difference at all and it’s really enriching.
HollywoodLife: You chose to cast members of St. Luke’s Saturday Church in Saturday Church. Why did you choose to do that? How was the response?
Damon: For me, there was no other way to do it. If you’re trying to accurately portray a community, then it makes sense to cast from within the community and there’s so much talent there, why wouldn’t you? So first and foremost, I didn’t want just my version of this role. There was a collaboration with the community and so that’s how I always thought of it from casting to bringing consultants for the ball scenes to having actual dancers that are icons within the real-life ball scene perform music. All of that was super important to me. The response has been overwhelming. I’ve seen one of the kids in the cast reunited with their mother over the movie because her mother finally said that she was proud of her for the first time and accepted her as trans. So it’s been amazing and I think it’s important to see the trans community and trans people of color represented. There’s many factions of the LGBTQ family and so it’s important that people are aware of this community and the struggles.
HollywoodLifers, you MUST see Saturday Church — an important commentary on a LGBTQ youth that portrays the struggle they endure, and the passion have that helps them overcome.