Too Rough is the winner of the Short Drama award at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. In the film, a hungover and hysterical Nick wakes up next to his boyfriend Charlie and must conceal him from his own homophobic and dysfunctional family.

Director Sean Lìonadh spoke to us ahead of the International Film Awards and the screening of Too Rough in our Made in Scotland programme.

In Too Rough, you explore sensitive topics such as the right not to come out, being a young carer and dysfunctional families, where did you get the idea for this film? And how did you prepare to tackle these subjects on screen?

This film let me put so many of my own experiences into one small setting, an enclosed bedroom. I wanted to create a kind of warzone in a domestic space, as that’s what it feels like to grow up in a dysfunctional household. The most interesting thing to me however, was the things we try to conceal from our lovers, because we feel like they can’t be loved. Emotional warfare hardens you, and always has you looking over your shoulder. But when you can finally let love in, it’s the most beautiful, intense feeling.

I’m always thinking about these things, so I didn’t have to prepare too much. I just wanted to tell the story as honestly as possible.

The cinematography is striking, where did you find your inspiration to create this beautiful and powerful imagery?

I worked with the amazing Andrew O’Connor on finding the style of the film. We looked at the work of Andrea Arnolds, especially Fish Tank. We wanted harsh light and deep shadows, to create the idea of hiding and searchlights. We wanted Nick’s world to be blue and childlike, and Charlie’s to be red, passionate and dangerous – to emphasise the different worlds they were coming from, and the threat Charlie posed to Nick’s secret.

The frame of this film uses the 4:3, why did you choose this specific look?

I’ve always loved the 4:3 ratio, particularly in the film Ida (2013). We wanted to create as claustrophobic an environment as possible.

You are a poet, a musician and a filmmaker, how would you say creativity helps your mental health?

There’s a Kafka quote “a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity”. I always realise I’m feeling my worst when I haven’t written or expressed a feeling in some time. From creating, I get the sense of being held by something bigger and it’s a certain feeling. People can always leave and disappear, but creativity is always going to be there. I trust it more than anything, and there’s so much peace in complete trust.

The film has been selected and screened all over the world, how are you feeling regarding such a positive reaction?

I’m so honoured and moved that this little Scottish story is speaking to an international audience. Screening at South by Southwest in Texas was incredible – I got to stand alongside directors I was absolutely blown away by. I think in some way the environment of the film is alien to a lot of people who have never had such dysfunction in their lives, and so they can see what that may be like. In other ways, everyone has had to hide something in their lives because they wanted to belong or stay comfortable and safe – so everyone can connect on some level.

What is next on the cards for you?

I’m currently developing a feature film called Nostophobia, with Screen Scotland and on the BFI Flare x BAFTA Mentorship Programme. It’s about a gay couple who meet in hotel rooms and as they fall in love, they evoke a supernatural entity. The entity is invisible and benevolent at first, granting their wishes, but as their love becomes more volatile, it spirals out of control and the whole thing descends into terror. I’ve always wanted to see love portrayed as horror, because that’s often what it’s felt like for me. Fears are one of the most fundamental parts of our identities, and I think the more we can explore them the better. And cinema is such a safe place to be afraid.

Too Rough is screening in Made in Scotland, a programme exploring the issues that affect our mental health in Scotland, at 8pm on Friday 13 May. Tickets are pay what you can. The screening includes SDH captions and the introduction and discussion will have BSL interpretation.

Book tickets for Made in Scotland here. Book tickets for the International Film Awards here.