THE MOST IMPORTANT TWO DAYS OF YOUR LIFE:
DENNIS CAHLO, DANIELLE GULDIN-
By Anya Khalamayzer
The most impactful things often happen when we least expect them, whether they arrive as a pleasant surprise or an unfortunate event. This makes life feel like an experiment in blindness. We cannot see a second into the future and thus can make decisions based only on past experiences, intuition, and the power of our hands to help, harm or hold those around us.
Sometimes, changes and discoveries find us when we leave room for expansion. Or, they occur when we feel we don’t have anywhere left to turn.
The Weekend, Dennis Cahlo’s award-winning debut directorial project, is about the expansive power of an unplanned weekend — when we are left alone with ourselves and anything can happen. At the start of the 20-minute film, a heartbroken young man sits on a park bench and meets a beautiful drifter who, unbeknownst to him, has a dark secret. She offers him French fries. He offers her the use of his bathroom. From that moment, over the course of two days, without even knowing one another’s names, Christian and Chloe form a bond that shakes them both loose from the patterns and habits of their lives.
In a difficult way, the short film is also an instance of art imitating life. For Cahlo, one weekend was enough to change two lives with one unforeseen event. The script of The Weekend is based on, and dedicated to, two days he spent with his friend, Ashlee Lauren-Jones, who was murdered earlier this year.
In an ode to Jones on his Facebook page, Cahlo wrote, “Wherever you are, know that one of the moments in your brief life was so inspiring that it was immortalized in film.”
The moments captured in The Weekend show that people can exhibit warmth, craving for stability, and love for life, no matter what we are going through — addiction, loss or uncertainty — and that our presence can save a life, even if we think we have nothing to give.
“I said I’d only do it if she was the lead actress. I was excited to see her in a role like that.”
We sat down with Dennis Cahlo and the movie’s lead actress, Danielle Guldin, to talk about love, inspiration and what may happen when we simply show up.
Twenty Five Hundred: Dennis, what inspired you to make this film?
Dennis Cahlo: It’s based on events that happened to me over the course of a weekend. At the end, I thought that it would make a great short film. A couple years later, it came to fruition.
The young woman that the film was based on was murdered. Anything that happens now in terms of the movie, it’s important for me to give her honor because she didn’t even know that it existed. The movie has an open ending because you don’t know where it’s going to bring you.
TFH [to Cahlo]: Why did you choose the actors you cast to play the roles of the story that you lived through?
Cahlo: The Weekend was an idea that I always had. I love film; I devoured movies. Danielle and I were going out at the time we started talking about it seriously. I had seen her play and thought that she was brilliant. When I told her about the idea, she was in tears and said, “That’s so gorgeous. We have to do it.”
I said I’d only do it if she was the lead actress. I was excited to see her in a role like that. I was excited to see her with challenging material. Her emotions are so real. At first, believe it or not, I thought [lead actor] Taso Mikroulis was too good-looking for the role. Christian’s character was supposed to be miserable, not look great. Danielle cajoled me to get him in for a read. I met him and liked him as soon as I opened the door. You could see their connection when watching them do the back-and-forth reading of their lines.
TFH: Danielle, why did you choose to play this character?
Danielle Guldin: I was looking to portray characters that were deep, meaningful and layered. I was looking for a challenge at the time and Dennis had the idea for this film. I told him that we have to make it. It’s an amazing life event and, in my opinion, you can’t make that up. It has to come from a real place.
TFH: From the moment they met on the bench in New York, Christian and Chloe connected. What caused them to immediately inspire trust in one another?
Cahlo: They were in similar places. Some people — even a random stranger — just touch you. You want to know more about them. I think that New York itself plays such an essential role in the movie since it brought them together like a matchmaker. He needed someone to take care of, and she needed a home, even if for a few days. This is where the attraction came from.
Guldin: I think it boils down to energy. We’re all smart people, and some of us are more intuitive than others, but I think for whatever reason, their vibration was right at that time. She needed stability and they both needed to be needed. They didn’t plan it, they didn’t know that this was the person they’d spend the weekend with and that it would change their life. No one knows that before it happens. But in the moment, she could tell he wasn’t dangerous and that he was a bit sad. And he knew that she wasn’t dangerous and a little bit sad. Misery does love company.
“They didn’t plan it, they didn’t know that this was the person they’d spend the weekend with and that it would change their life No one knows that before it happens.”
TFH: Do you think that these characters needed to meet one another?
Cahlo: Absolutely. When “the weekend” happened to me, I was in a place of need. I needed to be with someone in any capacity, to have a semblance of a life with someone and see what it would be like, because I had been in and out of relationships. In that sense, these two characters absolutely needed each other at the moment that they met.
Guldin: Yes. That’s true for both of them, but truer for Christian, because he, having been broken up with in a non-amicable way, was feeling a lack of purpose in his life. Maybe a lack of worth. He needed to be needed. Chloe needed to be needed too because when you’re that far down a rabbit hole, there must be so many elements in life that make you feel like “What am I even doing on this planet anymore?” They must feel rejected everywhere they go. So, that feeling of being accepted, needed and wanted in someone else’s presence was profound for both of them.
TFH [to Cahlo]: Do you think that Chloe is a sick character? Is Christian a broken character, having been broken up with in a verbally abusive way?
Cahlo: In collaborating with other writers and actors, I discovered that where your strength ends, another person’s strength begins. Both characters saw something in one another that they were drawn to as a strength. Chloe’s strength was her openness to let him into her world. For her, she found in Christian the strength to take a total stranger in and nurture them for a weekend.
“I discovered that where your strength ends, another person’s strength begins. Both characters saw something in one another that they were drawn to as a strength.”
TFH [to Cahlo]: Was it love, or need, that the characters felt towards one another?
Cahlo: I think that at first, it was need, and then it became genuine love. I think it became genuine love for what one another needed at the time. There’s a moment in the film when he teaches her to let go and she’s finally free to stand on her own. It represented Chloe’s obstacle, her crutch, her inner monologue of “I can’t do it.” […] And he was able to let her go. At that moment, they understood each other’s needs. That’s why Christian’s expression changes at the end of the film.
TFH [to Cahlo]: The characters fill one another in.
Cahlo: I don’t think that anyone completes any other person. I think that you have to be complete on your own, but everyone comes into your life to show you something about yourself, about your needs. The characters happened upon each other at very vulnerable points for both of them. Had he just let her go from that bench, they may not have discovered what they both needed out of life. And become the people they end up being — I don’t even know who they are. I haven’t reached that ending. I’ll have to write it.
“I don’t think that anyone completes any other person. I think that you have to be complete on your own, but everyone comes into your life to show you something about yourself, about your needs.”
TFH [to Guldin]: Both of the characters face some demons. Demons are often seen as dark and dangerous. But do you think we need our demons?
Guldin: I absolutely think that our demons are not here to break us. We all have them. I don’t think that anyone can argue that anyone’s demons are worse than someone else’s. If you think someone else’s demons are not big and that we could overcome them in a second, we all come through life with different experiences and see the world with such different lenses. That strength is so various from person to person.
Sometimes, I go for days and weeks in a funk, and then something clicks and I understand where it comes from. But it wasn’t there in the first place to make me feel sad and worthless. Rather, once you step over this, you can step over something even bigger. Even if it’s minutely bigger. Or once you overcome the demons, you can recognize them in someone else, and you can have the tools to help that person. I don’t think any experience that one overcomes is selfish. I think the point of struggle in life is to learn to overcome it and then pass the torch to someone else.
TFH: What does love mean to you?
Cahlo: Just as you asked that question, my parents called me. I think that’s the answer! If I had to sum it up in one word, I think what love means to me is “unconditional.” Unconditional compassion. When you have humanity.
Guldin: I think love means knowing your most profound worth and knowing your gifts. Seeing those in yourself and then reflecting them out to the rest of the world, and receiving whatever comes back. It’s fully owning how much passion, compassion, affection, empathy and appreciation I’m able to hold for someone without being attached to how it comes back to me. […] If I held anything back for fear of not receiving, that would make me a completely inauthentic person. I’d rather take the risk and give it all I’ve got rather than hold back for fear of rejection. Love always reaches me somehow — through a small miracle, a friend, a smile from a stranger. I notice these things and receive them, and I feel completely whole.
TFH: If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Cahlo: One thing I would change is the nearly irreversible damage that humans have caused to the environment. I would love to see a cleaner planet and more stable climate for ourselves and for the future. I’d also love to see snow on Christmas again. But maybe I’m the only one who wants that, since everyone seems to loathe snow.
Guldin: I would change the way people communicate. In a crowded room, a large percentage of people sitting either close together or across from each other are looking at their phones instead of at each other. There is a time and a place for media and communicating via social media, but unfortunately, it seems as though too few people are engaging with each other on a deeper level anymore.
Modern media breaks communication down into bite-sized chunks. There’s very little chewing or digestion necessary and there are no stakes involved. If a certain piece of news is troubling, someone can simply distract themselves with something else at a moment’s notice.
I’d make everyone in the world capable of actually hearing each other. Not just listening, but truly understanding. If the whole world put the news and all of our preconceived ideas about each other on pause for a few days and talked to and heard one another instead, gathering true accounts, stories, and unique perspectives, I wonder if conflict would slowly start to drift away.
I’d hope that deep, genuine, real communication would wipe the slate of humanity clean and allow us to understand each other enough to be at peace.
Screenings of The Weekend are listed here.
This interview has been edited for clarity with direction from Dennis Cahlo.
All photos and headshots: Courtesy of Dennis Cahlo.