Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Meet Joe

I became a documentary filmmaker in 2004, but my first film, OUT IN THE SILENCE, is not a film I set out to make.

And while OUT IN THE SILENCE is about the struggle for visibility, fairness and equality for GLBT people in rural and small town America, it’s not a story of the God-hates-fags or the kids-who-get-indoctrinated-at-Jesus-camp type. It’s not about attention-seeking hate mongers, angry protesters, or the extremes of any side.

It’s at once more troubling and more hopeful than that. It emerged out of a firestorm of controversy, and the realization that if I didn’t shine a light on and try to understand and illuminate the basis for the controversy, it would simply pass away into history’s ether … and silence would settle once again over my hometown in the faded hills of northwestern Pennsylvania, affirming and perpetuating the fear and isolation that I knew too well as a young gay boy in a stiflingly anti-gay world.

The approach to the film is aimed at breaking the mold of the traditional documentary. It is not solely observational. As filmmaker, as protagonist, as insider and outsider, I use the camera to empower, to challenge, to confront, and to look beneath the veneer of the fragile balance of order in my small hometown. It is a deeply personal social issue documentary that dramatically illustrates the challenges of being different in small towns and rural communities and the transformation that is possible when those who have long been constrained by a traditional code of silence summon the courage to break it.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

Most of the film’s action is based on intimate verite footage of my own interactions with the residents of the town. The camera captures the rawness of emotions that occur when I go face-to-face with those who have used the publication of my own same-sex wedding announcement in the local paper to publicly denounce and denigrate gay and lesbian people. I engage these folks in public parks and on city streets, in churches and schools, kitchens and living rooms, at community parades and government hearings to try to get at the core of the misunderstandings. In most cases, there is no room to maneuver, but in a few, something else begins to happen. Hatred’s illogic begins to crumble and transformation occurs.

A unique element of the film is the inclusion of footage shot by CJ, the tormented gay teen, on the camcorder I gave him. CJ’s footage provides a painful glimpse into his very private suffering as well as needed comic relief as he also records the wild and crazy lengths to which he and his small group of friends go to entertain themselves in a boring small town.

This verite footage is juxtaposed with images of beautiful pastoral scenes and abandoned factories, old family pictures and home movies, graphics of newspaper text and radio program sound bites, and the hauntingly raw music of transgender singer/songwriter Namoli Brennet to create a dynamic and compelling audio visual landscape of a small town as it struggles with its own identity.

Through this experience, I have come to believe that by seeking out, witnessing, telling and retelling the stories of those who break the silence when it is most difficult and perilous to do so we increase the possibility that others will do so as well. And through this process, we also help to close the gaps that seem to divide us. I hope that this film will do the same for all who see it in towns like Oil City, small and large, across the country.

I found out about Joe through a Tweet about "Out in the Silence". I watched the trailer, and it grabbed me immediately. Here was someone who did, with a film, what I aspire to do: the kind of community outreach that actually touches people. I look forward to interviewing Joe for a future entry.

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