U & Me & Tennessee is a new film exploring the dark side of celebrated playwright Tennessee Williams and his relationship with his gay penfriend and lover, Konrad Hopkins.

Directed by actor Paul Birchard, U & Me & Tennessee is based around the memories of Hopkins and his stack of unpublished correspondence from Tennessee. It makes its Australian premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival 2008.

“I was intrigued by these letters and whatever story lay behind them,” Birchard said.

“Konrad had saved them for more than 50 years.”

The first contact between Hopkins and Williams came in 1952 when Hopkins, then a sergeant in the US Air Force, wrote Williams a fan letter. The playwright wrote back to the young man and soon they were exchanging photographs and gifts. The correspondence blossomed into a brief romance, clearly recounted by Hopkins over 50 years later.

U & Me & Tennessee mixes original music, archive material and Birchard’s humorous, incisive questioning to paint a vivid picture of what it was really like to be close to Williams when he was at the height of his success.

Drawing on the cinematic tradition of films like My Dinner with André and Mr Hoover and I, Birchard filmed his meeting with Hopkins at a café, aiming for as natural a style as possible.

“We didn’t rehearse, and there was no time for re-takes, because I wanted to capture on film a genuine, unforced conversation,” Birchard said.

“Konrad never faltered. Despite being surrounded by strangers in a public place, he re-lived what had happened between him and Tennessee – exhilarating, hilarious, terrifying – on camera, in detail.”

Describing the film as “a gay art house movie for the whole family”, Birchard said it had a wide appeal and an important message for all audiences.

“I think it’s essential for people to be able to see a movie where there is clear, if unspoken, acknowledgement of the positive, helpful, encouraging aspects that gay people so often bring to our lives,” he said.

U & Me & Tennessee screens 23 February, 3pm, Palace Academy Twin. Tickets available at www.queerscreen.com.au.

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