Fact: a documentary dork will go out even in a snowstorm for the sake of some non-fiction on film. So there I was outside clearing off my car at 10:45 this morning to drive over to the Firehouse Theater for the Reel Pride Richmond First Annual LGBT Film Festival. But lest you think I am crazy, let me assure you that the house was nearly full, so plenty of people must have shared my documentary devotion.
The film being shown at 11:00, Out in Silence, was made by Joe Wilson, a gay man then living in D.C., whose wedding announcement in his small hometown newspaper ignited a firestorm of controversy and anti-gay sentiment. When the mother of a gay teen in his hometown saw the announcement, she wrote him seeking help for her gay teen-aged son who was facing daily torment at his high school, while school officials ignored it. Eventually he left school rather than suffer any longer.
It was an especially interesting documentary because it was so personal to director Wilson, resulting in more than just a fact piece. He had been scheduled to speak after the film screening today, but was unable to get to rva because of the snowstorm. He narrates part of the film, while his partner shoots, but gives the teen a camera so he can document his life as well. They use the camera to confront anti-gay activists and go beneath the surface of life in Oilville, PA, the town Wilson left so he could live openly.
Talking to an Arab-American teen waitress about the discrimination she faced at her school, he acknowledges what a tough town Oilville is if you're not white and male and solely use the missionary position. His attempts to befriend a minister who struggles with his Christianity and his inherent feelings about the gay lifestyle showed a real effort on Wilson's part to understand the challenges the straight community face in evolving their attitudes.
The documentary was not without humor, though. At a community event organized by Wilson, a gay group from out of town performed, followed by a discussion on discrimination. The minister raises the question of whether or not groups like gays don't have some stereotypes of their own. One of the gay performers, acknowledges that they do saying, "Yea, I assume all straight people dress poorly." I admit, I laughed loudly right along with the entire audience at that.
Eventually, the ACLU becomes involved and a suit is brought against the school system for turning a blind eye to the discrimination against the teen; anti-discrimination seminars were implemented in the school system, albeit too late to benefit the teen.
It would have been fascinating to have been able to participate in a discussion led by Wilson afterwards, but snow conquers all. The title of this post is a quote from the teen in the movie, explaining how people's perception about him changed solely because he came out and not because of anything else. The audience did have a lively discussion instead, with many members sharing their stories of the difficulties of coming out and the prejudices they faced, both recently and decades ago.
The festival continues through tonight with film screenings at 2:30, 4:30 and 8. The last film will be A Very Long Engagement, about finding an all-encompassing passionate love that will last a lifetime; in this case it's two lesbians who have been together for 42 years. Soulmates, their love began with an instant magnetic attraction and just never let up. Now there's something to aspire to, straight or gay.