Novice director Terracino puts a lot of heart and soul – and a lot of his own experiences – into his debut film “Elliot Loves,” a gay comedy drama that debuts in Atlanta as part of Out On Film’s Tuesday night lineup.

“Elliot Loves” is the story of Dominican-American Elliot Ayende at two stages of his life: as a nine-year-old who is sidekick and confidant to his barely-keeping-it-together single mom, and as a 21-year-old gay man looking for love in New York City.

The relationship with Elliot’s mother is as complex as any of the relationships Elliot has with other men. We caught up with the director to talk about the nuances and driving forces in the film’s narrative.

How personal of a story is this for you?
Intensely personal and somewhat autobiographical. I had a pretty brutal upbringing, as does Elliot. But the film is not strictly autobiographical. Elliot is an only child; I have nine brothers and sisters.

I think adult Elliot and I have a lot in common, but I also share a lot of traits with Kiko (one of Elliot’s boyfriends). In my 20s, I wandered into and out of a lot of relationships without understanding what commitment was and what I was getting myself into.

How does Elliot’s relationship with his mother end up defining him as an adult?
Well, Elliot wasn’t loved. His mom was wrapped up in men and abusive relationships and he was often “the thing in the way.” But when his mom was single, he was her best friend and sidekick. This is not at all unusual with young, single-parent mothers. As a Latina, there is a strong cultural pull with Ma: she has the sense that a man and a child will complete her life. But the men keep leaving, so she is caught in a downward spiral.

Elliot, obviously, grows up feeling unloved, but he also has a sense of guilt and shame that he maybe was the cause of his mother’s problems. The urban gay lifestyle is pretty promiscuous and kind of shallow. So people like Elliot – who are cute, vulnerable and walking around with their hearts on their sleeves – are often swallowed up by the gay lifestyle, which is what happens to Elliot in a way.

Tell us about Eliot’s path to self-discovery and his need to feel love.
He is 21 years old and so vulnerable – and he doesn’t understand that he is cute. So he keeps meeting guys, but it never ends up as he hopes. He takes promiscuity as a personal rejection of him, just as he believed his mother personally rejected him.

Look, we all have to learn to learn ourselves. But Elliot goes a step farther and reaches an understanding of other people’s pain. In “Greenberg” a character says, “Hurt people hurt people.” So true, and understanding that is part of Elliot’s journey.

What’s the response to the film been like so far?
We won the Audience Award for Best Film at our debut at the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Best Screenplay award at Long Beach QFest. “Elliot Loves” is such an unusual film. I had no idea what the reaction would be. I’ve been so pleased. We had over 600 people at our New York International Latino Film Festival screening, and Latinos went crazy for it. For all its brutality, I see the film essentially as a comedy and Latinos always get that.

In Italy, we played GIffoni International, the largest children’s film festival in the world. There were about 300 teenagers in the audience, and they were so fascinated by Elliot being gay and Catholic! They kept asking me what Elliot thinks of the pope! Every audience takes away something different, especially at film festivals, which attract pretty eager and intellectual curious crowds.

“Elliot Loves” screens on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 9:10 p.m. at Midtown Art Cinema. Check out Tuesday’s full movie lineup beginning on page 38 of the complete Out On Film guide. It includes the Cannes sensation “Beyond the Walls” at 5:30 p.m., Eytan Fox’s highly anticipated sequel “Yossi” at 7:30 p.m., preceded by a free screening of the original “Yossi & Jagger” at 4:40 p.m., and more.

Columnist Jim Farmer is festival director for Out On Film