Another Gay Documentary
The year of the gay continues with a documentary on PBS
PBS Films Looks at Gay Kids and Families
By LYNN ELBER
LOS ANGELES (AP) - In this summer of lighthearted gay-themed programming, a new PBS documentary is a reminder of how disconnected glossy TV images can be from real life.
"Family Fundamentals," from filmmaker Arthur Dong, is an intimate look at homosexual children and their devout parents. It debuts 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday (check local listings).
Dong's film records the heartache of people trying to reconcile their love and their beliefs, and touches on the ripple effect of such discord beyond family circles.
"The Bible is, and says, that homosexuality is a sin, and it's wrong," one mother says in the film. "It's a destructive behavior and will not bring happiness. ... You can't argue with that. It just is the way it is."
"It's really hard to change their point of view. Almost as hard as changing my point of view," says a gay son.
Dong wanted to reach across the gulf with a project that would respect and speak to both sides, he said in an interview. The filmmaking process itself revealed how difficult his task was.
One family initially gave its consent to be filmed, but then balked. In a kitchen table discussion, Dong tried to persuade the dad, a Mormon church bishop, to participate.
"The father said, 'Is this going to be a gay film?'" recalled Dong, answering that it would be "neither gay or non-gay. It's a film exploring the issues from both sides. ... That's my challenge as a filmmaker."
"If you can do that, you're a better man that I am," the man replied. He declined to participate when Dong wouldn't agree to make a film encouraging homosexuals to seek therapy.
But Dong, who is gay, said he was able to foster a valuable working relationship with a then-official of the National Association of Evangelicals who served as one of the film's key advisers.
"In our first conversation, he asked if I was gay. He said, 'You know, I think homosexuality is immoral.' I said, 'I expected you to think that. But we're still talking and still discussing the possibility of working together to create a film that people from your organization and the gay community can watch together without being antagonized.'"
News stories about prominent conservatives who have homosexual children initially piqued Dong's interest in making "Family Fundamentals."
The film reels off several examples, including the late Congressman Sonny Bono, father (with Cher) of Chastity, a gay rights activist; Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is lesbian; and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, with a gay son.
Dong was particularly interested in the intersection of the personal and the political. He cites the example of California state Sen. Pete Knight, a Republican who sponsored Proposition 22 - a successful 2000 measure to strengthen the state's ban on gay marriage. Knight has a gay son and a brother who died of AIDS.
"I found that such a strange paradox," Dong said. "What must Thanksgiving dinner be like for this family? ... I really saw these families as a microcosm for the larger questions and larger debates in the public sphere."
When politicians like Knight and others put their beliefs to work shaping policy, Dong said, it is of vital interest to society.
He didn't want to engage in "psychobabble," he said, but noted the complex psychology of one family in the film. The mother suggests her daughter is lesbian because of childhood trauma, and the daughter speculates her mother's anti-gay activities stem from guilt.
"Family Fundamentals" intercuts three stories: a man estranged from his Mormon family; a woman of the Pentecostal faith and her homosexual daughter and grandson; and a gay man who was a longtime aide and surrogate son to former U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan (both men are Catholic).
Brian Bennett finally mustered the courage to reveal his sexual orientation to Dornan, who in file footage is shown giving a speech in which he denounces homosexuality as "a grievous sin."
Dornan's response, says Bennett, was kind: "I've loved you like a son for 20 years. Did you think that would make a difference?" It did cause a rift in their once-close relationship, although Dong says both have made stabs at communication.
Perhaps the only possible compromise between homosexuals and their loving critics is "agree to disagree," Dong said.
His film comes at an interesting time, when some observers see a growing acceptance of homosexuality and gay rights. The Supreme Court recently struck down a Texas ban on gay sex, and television has made room for more programs with gay themes and characters.
But Dong, an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker who has been involved with the issue of gay civil rights for three decades, is not sanguine about how secure gays and lesbians should feel.
"There's a complacency among some in the gay community that things are fine now. We've got 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' and 'Will & Grace.' It's what we wanted."
But when a measure like Proposition 22 is drafted and passed, "we have to look at that and ask why."
On the Net:
I saw this. Pretty interesting... What brought me to tears and sorrow, was the guy who lived all by himself. Cant believe his parents, how could they do that to their son, good thing that the family was strong and whenever there's a problem, they wanna work it out... but seems like he doesnt. I really felt sorry for the guy If i were there, i'd go over and talk to him... and give him a hug. People shouldnt have to be put up with stupid stuff like that
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