Writer/Director Andrew Haigh Revisits His Career at the Provincetown International Film Festival

Each June for 26 years, the Provincetown International Film Festival (PIFF) unspools a singular mix of first-rate features, documentaries, and shorts; in-person filmmakers; and an unpretentious vibe that’s uniquely Provincetown.

A highlight this year was British writer-director Andrew Haigh, who was feted with the PIFF’s highest honor, the annual Filmmaker on the Edge Award. Haigh traveled from London to appear at the historic Town Hall to accept the award and converse with director John Waters, who, since PIFF’s inception, has served as its chief interviewer, raconteur, and general man about town. Waters characterized Haigh as the rare indie director who makes “edgy movies that get good reviews.”

“Not [from New Yorker critic] Richard Brody,” Haigh retorted. “He always gives me a bad review.”

L-r: Andrew Haigh and John Waters. Courtesy PIFF.

Many in the Town Hall audience remembered Haigh’s breakout second feature, Weekend (2011), about a one-night stand that became something more, which screened at PIFF that year. Haigh shifted gears for his third film, 45 Years (2015), a study of a longtime marriage starring British screen legends Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role.

But his biggest crucial and commercial success so far came with last year’s All of Us Strangers, Haigh’s melancholy romance/ghost story that’s now streaming on Hulu. All of Us Strangers is about a middle-aged gay man (Andrew Scott) in the early stages of a relationship with a mysterious neighbor (played by Paul Mescal) in his near-empty London high-rise. It’s at this moment that he’s reunited with his long-dead parents, who are living in his childhood home. This was a very personal film, Haigh told Waters in their freewheeling conversation.

Jamie Bell, Andrew Scott and Claire Foy in ALL OF US STRANGERS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

“It was a tough film to make. I had cast two actors [in] Jamie Bell, who’s a bit like my dad, and Claire Foy is a bit like my mum in terms of character, temperament, and even looks,” he said. “So it was a strange thing. She’s seen the film ten times in the cinema. If people are crying at the end, she goes up to them and hugs them and says, ‘that’s my son’s film’ which I think is just weird.”

Claire Foy and Andrew Scott in ALL OF US STRANGERS. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

His parents “split up when I was eight or nine, and I lived with my dad and then my mum. So it’s a complicated film for my mum to watch. I made a film where the character gets to have difficult conversations with his parents, but I still can’t have those conversations with my parents. I can make a film about it, though,” said Haigh with a laugh.

Despite several indie hits to his credit, financing and distribution were far from certain for All of Us Strangers. “Searchlight Pictures came on board, which surprised me because when I wrote the script, which was loosely based on based on [Taichi Yamada’s 1987] novel, I thought, ‘no one is going to make it; it’s not going to get financed.’”


Waters asked about Haigh’s little-seen-stateside 2009 debut, the docudrama Greek Pete about a rent boy. “It cost about five thousand dollars. I was tired of not getting funding for anything, and I just wanted to make a film. I thought, I’ll make it on weekends while I’m working, and I’ll make it about hustlers. It got tiny distribution. It came out on DVD without sex, which meant it was two minutes long,” said Haigh.

His follow-up, Weekend, had much higher production values but “still cost less than $100,000. I still tried to get funding; there is public funding in the UK.” It wasn’t easy to attract distributors with a script, said Haigh, that some said was “too gay” and others said “wasn’t gay enough.”

In response to an audience question about his candid depiction of intimacy between two men in Weekend, Haigh said his films are not meant to represent the scope of gay life. “It’s about what feels true to me, what feels true in relationships. I try to be really honest, to dig deep inside myself to see what I am angry about or sad about. I take time to develop the characters so the audience can get to know them. I will always make queer-themed films; it’s a mission of sorts,” he said. “I feel proud and lucky to make these films.”


But the festival awards and critical attention for Weekend didn’t make it easier to get 45 Years made, Haigh told Waters. There was some expectation that he’d follow his success with another queer romance.

“They said, ‘what’s your next gay thing?’ and said, well, I want to do something about two 80 year-olds. I don’t want to do the same thing.” Haigh recounted his trip to Paris to meet with Charlotte Rampling to discuss her starring role in 45 Years. “I was terrified because she has a reputation for being, well, terrifying. I went to her apartment, which has an art studio, with all her paintings, and she was lovely, kind, and open. She was great.”

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years.”

Waters expressed his admiration for 45 Years as well as the three projects that followed, each representing a departure for Haigh: Lean on Pete (2017), the HBO series  Looking (2014 to 2016), and the five-part BBC miniseries The North Water (2021) starring Jack OConnell, Colin Farrell, and Tom Courtenay.

Haigh noted that his passion for each project doesn’t always translate into conventional success.

Lean on Pete came out and disappeared. Sometimes a film breaks through, and people at least have heard of it, but that can’t happen with everyone, and I’m starting to understand that,” he said. “Even if it’s good, it doesn’t mean people are going to see it. I could tell with Strangers that I needed for it to be successful. People want to know it’s going to make money or that people are talking about it.”

Haigh has written every script he’s directed. Although all his films are personal, he said, none are entirely autobiographical. “It’s not my life completely, but anyone who knows me, or knows anything about me, knows that so much of myself goes into all the films, even the ones that don’t seem like they’re about me [such as] 45 Years or Lean on Pete. I can’t make a film unless it feels like it is expressing something that’s deep to me.”



Featured image: Andrew Haigh, Andrew Scott, and Paul Mescal in ALL OF US STRANGERS. Photo by Chris Harris, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.







Loren King

Loren King is an entertainment journalist whose features and reviews appear regularly in various publications and online. She is past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and lives in Southeastern Massachusetts. You can follow her on Twitter: @lorenkingwriter