For Father’s Day, CALM caught up with Josh Appignanesi, the creator of The New Man, a touching and funny film about modern fatherhood.
The New Man sees a married couple (writer Devorah Baum & filmmaker Josh Appignanesi, The Infidel) turn the camera on themselves as they undergo the frequently hilarious ordeal of becoming parents in our era of IVF, late reproduction, and the crisis of masculinity. But when life-threatening complications hit, they’re tested to the brink. What emerges is an intimate, moving portrait of a generation going through a revolution that no-one’s talking about.
Watch a Q&A with Devorah, Josh and David Baddiel and check our interview with Josh below.
The film invites its audience to consider how parenthood interplays with a man’s identity, masculinity, and mental health. Why does this still seem so rare?
I think we’re in a moment where that conversation is starting. But there’s still a lot at stake for guys to admit to even minimal uncertainty in any aspect of their lives that really matters – let alone admit to radical confusion when suddenly faced with a major life change – like having a kid. And I think because women are the ones who go through the obvious physical change, the man’s role is supposed to be “the rock”, in other words something very reliable and emotionally inert and unchanging. When in fact your life is changing just as much and your role is changing just as much. So that ideal we’ve internalised places a quite unfortunate pressure on us as men. I went through a particularly stressful journey into becoming a father, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not entirely straightforward for anyone – and why would it be? You’ve suddenly got a new life that answers completely to your every move
Because women go through the obvious physical change, the man’s role is supposed to be “the rock” – something very reliable and emotionally inert and unchanging. In fact your life and role is changing just as much.
It’s a highly personal film, what are the pitfalls of that?
We were really afraid and stressed about getting hate from it, getting judgment of various kinds, but it was something that had snowballed and had become incredibly important as a sort of charting and way of dealing with some of the really hard stuff we went through.
I’m not an in-front-of-the-camera kind of person normally and Devorah, my wife, who directed the film with me, even less so, she’s very private. In fact people have generally been lovely. Turning the camera on yourself is a strange thing to do – it was a fun experiment at first, almost like a home movie, but then when things got rough , looking back now, I realise it was a lifeline. When things got hard medically with the pregnancy and the loss, I basically went into a total vortex mentally, I shut down quite a lot, I drank and smoked a lot, I wasn’t really emotionally present or available, I wasn’t dealing and was actually quite horrible. But I did have this camera, and that gave me a sort of task, and a way of framing this unreality and having a little distance from it, and ultimately making something out of it, however bleak it got.
I basically went into a total vortex mentally, I shut down quite a lot, I drank and smoked a lot, I wasn’t really emotionally present or available. But I did have this camera – a way of framing this unreality and having a little distance from it
In thinking about being dads and being kids, what do you think we could better share between generations?
There’s a bit in the film where I interview my dad about becoming a dad, and where he went wrong as a parent, stuff like that. I expected him to be very uncomfortable and tricky, but in the end we had the closest thing to an adult conversation about things we’d never have talked about otherwise, but which I’d probably stored a certain amount of resentment as well as curiosity about. So yeah, that was pretty therapeutic and welcome. It’s good to be able to share that stuff. Very good. But very hard to do it without some sort of excuse or mediating thing, like making a record – making an archive for your kid and grandkids, perhaps. So I’d advise taking any excuse like that to maybe record something because with that context, people can open up in a non-confrontational way and that is great.
Happy Fathers Day for Sunday. How will you be spending the day this year?
Being celebrated by my family as the perfect father, a profound and wonderful human being to be given expensive thoughtful gifts and lavished with love non-stop.
Follow Josh @JoshAppFilm and @TheNewManMovie
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