New blood

Alan Ball embraces the drama, without the judgment, of Towelhead

What possesses Towelhead director and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball to explore those gray areas where sexuality converges with morality? "It's fascinating," Ball says, sequestered in San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton for a series of interviews. "I feel like I'm at a point where really well-adjusted people are the kind of people I like to have in my life. But as characters in fiction — shoot me! I would be so bored."

Ball unleashes a magnificently chortle, more Henry VIII than writerly introvert: "I'm interested in the mistakes people make [and] in the dilemmas where people's true characters are called into question. I'm interested in those mythic moments in everybody's life."

Towelhead, which Ball adapted from Alicia Erian's 2005 novel, is unflinching in its depiction of the culture shock and flowering sexuality of 13-year-old Jasira (Summer Bishil), an Arab American girl relocated to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi). The film is also courageously unjudgmental concerning the choices the young girl makes — which include her relationship with Army reservist Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), who lives next door. Ball sets the disarmingly realistic mood of Towelhead perfectly with his opening scene of Jasira about be given a "mercy" shave by her mother's boyfriend, though few would suspect that he would so adeptly grapple with the narrative's complex perspective on race — not to mention the parallels one might draw between the film's mis-en-scene, set during the Gulf War, and today's conflict in Iraq.

In contrast, Ball's latest TV foray, True Blood, which recently premiered on HBO, casts its nets far from reality into a pulpy, supernatural future where vampires can openly live among humans following the invention of synthetic blood. Can a telepathic young woman find true blood — or rather, love — with a guy who sucks? It sounds like Ball is happy to stem the angst flowing through so many of his projects. "I thought, enough with the existential naval-gazing," he says, laughing. "Been there done that."

TOWELHEAD opens Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.

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