Metro Weekly

Civil Obedience

Reel Affirmations 2007

Review by Will O’Bryan

Rating: starstarstarstar (4 out of 5)

Saturday, 10/13/2007, 4:30 PM
Shorts presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes

FOR ANYONE ENJOYING that smugly post-gay feeling, a trip to the ”Civil Obedience” program should cure you. The headliner of the this four-film program, Freeheld (starstarstarstarstar), is a unparalleled reminder how in modern America, there are neighbors, community leaders, who will look GLBT citizens in the face and publicly imply, ”I am superior to you.”

This is captured both beautifully and tragically by filmmaker Cynthia Wade as she chronicles Laurel Hester’s crusade during her last few months of life to wrest her pension from Ocean County, N.J., ”freeholders,” the county’s elected leaders, and bequeath it to her partner, Stacie. What Wade has captured will leave audiences shocked, and possibly nauseated when it comes to one coquettish high school student’s testimony in support of the freeholders, who repeatedly respond to this highly respected 25-year veteran of their police with ”No.” Wade’s sensitive and brilliant film will assure that Hester left behind not just a pension, but inspiration.

Moving from the end of life to its earlier stage, locals Joe Wilson and Dean ”gay gene” Hamer offer We Belong (starstarstarstar), fanning the Freeheld fury as they document the case of two gay, Pennsylvania boys who fought back against their oppressors. The reality forces Hamer and Wilson to present a nesting-doll sort of documentary as they present C.J. Bills, whose defiance of the homophobia he faced in school includes documenting the oppression of another gay boy forced to withdraw from a nearby school, Tim Dahle. What could have been a muddled movie-within-a-movie mess is instead a clear indictment against school officials who obviously don’t know wrong from right, and children who do.

The Victory Fund-affiliated Out Running: Stories from the Campaign Trail (starstarstar) is a pretty package, but without the measure of conflict one might expect. It feels more like a project looking for subjects, rather than simply being a story that needed to be told, offering profiles of three openly gay elected officials. While all three seem charismatic and qualified, it’s only the first profile, that of Oklahoma County Commissioner that moves us as we learn how his predecessor refused to meet with him after he won his election, sabotaging his office before he moved in.

With Courage Doesn’t Ask (starstar), filmmaker Joe Acton tries to blur lines between art and reality with a mix of professional actors and gay military veterans. It’s hard to watch his short with anything but reverence, knowing how gay people’s military service to America has been so woefully unacknowledged. As an exercise in filmmaking, the final presentation comes together somewhat clumsily, leaving one to wonder if simply interviewing these veterans might have made more sense. — WOB

Civil Obedience
Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.