WESLEY is a haunting short film about the pervasiveness of American gun culture on young boys. It is the story of Wesley (James Sandler), a young boy who is both surrounded and fascinated by guns. When Blake (Johnathan Irwin), a troubled friend of his older brother has gotten hold of a 3D-printed gun, we follow Wesley’s infatuation of guns. The 15-minute film ends on Wesley eerily smiling to himself at the prospect of Blake committing a school shooting.
At a point in time where there are under 330 million people in the USA but those civilians collectively own 393 million guns, new problems with respect to gun control are showing themselves in tandem with the rise of accessible manufacturing technology.
In a world where you can 3D-print an unregistered and untraceable ‘ghost gun’, what effect does that have on the mind of American children? I had the fortunate opportunity to discuss these issues and more with Travis Andrade, LA-based director of WESLEY.
Having recently won Best International Short Film at the Manchester International Film Festival and screened at the Beverley Hills Film Festival, WESLEY seems to have resonated with viewership and critics alike.
When asking about the problems that Andrade observes with regards to American gun culture, saw several dubious elements at play. Andrade noted that there is a tendency from pundits and activists across the political spectrum to “define the problem rather than delving into the issue.” To Andrade, the issue is not so much the use of certain accessories to guns, men’s mental health, or violent videogames, but a single question: “Why are guns so embedded into our culture?”
Upon observing that WESLEY subverts what we would typically identify as a red flag when profiling a shooter. Wesley’s older brother has not been deemed a threatening character yet plays video games, even Blake does not actually commit any crimes with his crimes despite his ghost gun and openness about being on medication for his mental health. Andrade made clear that he wanted to “remain true to observation rather than fall into a lazy trope of what or who ‘the problem’ is.”
Cultural psychology is at the heart of WESLEY, rather than pointing fingers and assigning blame to either side of the aisle, Andrade imagines the undeniable culture surrounding firearms in America; “guns are so embedded in our culture, in our film, music, even just our vernacular”.
Andrade adds that guns have a symbolic value in the US that perhaps isn’t so easily translated to a British audience. He encourages us to think of firearms as a tool in the American Civil War, and the idea that “an AR-15 equals freedom, as gun lobbyists would have you believe.” Even his own personal experience sheds light on how guns were an unquestioned part of a teenage boy’s life:
“When I was 13/14, growing up in California, everybody’s dad had a gun. It was like a rite of passage going to the woods and having your friend show you their dad’s pistol.” We discussed how widespread gun culture is, ranging from violent video games to paintballing, even toy guns. Andrade posed the thoughtful question “why are we infatuated by an instrument of death when we know nothing about life at such a young age?”
The psychology of children who have been raised in such a culture is not only the focus of Wesley, Andrade expresses the goal of making a feature-length film with the same challenges at the forefront. “Guns are present in every race and class, I couldn’t handle the entire big picture even in a feature-length film. I prefer to choose one tiny aspect of the situation and deeply observe that.”