Monday, January 30, 2012

Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Kirby Dick

Find Outrage on Video

Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Kirby Dick

(from 4/29/09)

7.jpg What I've noticed about this year's smaller Tribeca Film Festival is that everyone agrees that the overall quality of the films is better but nobody can agree on what the best films are. Word-of-mouth plays a huge part in how we press members choose the films to see each day and which to bypass. This year, every time someone recommends a film to me, the next person tells me it's overrated. Also, I've enjoyed a number of movies that other critics have walked out on.
While I encourage you to see any movie that sparks your interest, these are the ones that I've been the most impressed with: "About Elly, "The Exploding Girl," "Accidents Happen," "Handsome Harry," "The Fixer," "Soundtrack of a Revolution," "Queen to Play," "Fish Eyes," "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," "The Fixer," "House of the Devil," "Serious Moonlight," and "Outrage." Standout performances? Zoe Kazan in "The Exploding Girl," Jamey Sheridan in "Handsome Harry," Sandrine Bonnaire in "Queen to Play," Julianna Margulies in "City Island," Timothy Hutton in "Serious Moonlight."
I've heard good things about: "Which Way Home," "Black Dynamite," "American Casino," "The Eclipse," "Racing Dreams," "Team Qatar," "My Last Five Girlfriends," "Lost Son of Havana," "Fear Me Not," "In the Loop," "Moon," "Playground," "Still Walking," and "Cropsey." Below is a roundtable I participated in with Kirby Dick about his much-anticipated "Outrage," about anti-Gay rights politicians who are closeted gays themselves.
Q: What made you want to make this movie?
Kirby Dick: In August 2006 I was promoting "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," and I realized I knew the story about the hypocrisy of the movie ratings system because I'd worked in the film business. I was in D.C. and thought there must be many stories there that only people inside the Beltway knew. So I started asking around, and very quickly I was told about these closeted politicians who vote anti-Gay. I realized it was a story that hadn't been told, certainly in a documentary or the mainstream press.
Q: Talk about the choice of your title.
KD: Initially it was called "The Glass Closet," but "Outrage" seemed particularly appropriate. We made that decision coming off the passage of Proposition 8. In California in particular there's a real shift on the ground among gays and straights. There's a real anger. We think it will be upheld by the California Supreme Court, which will lead to another real burst of anger. In some ways the title was what we were feeling at the time.
Q: Michael Rogers' about exposing closeted gay politicians seemed to be the format you followed.
KD: We looked at a wider range of subjects but the issue was whether we could get substantiation. We looked at people at certain levels. Mike Rogers has at times outed staff members and we decided not to do that. We chose people in high office or in a top position in their organization.
Q: How did you choose your subjects?
KD: We looked back about twenty-five years. We chose the ones we could really get substantiation on. 3.jpg There are others we believe are gay and hypocritical in terms of their political agenda, but we didn't have the corroboration necessary at this time to include them. It was less a legal choice than a journalistic one. I wanted to get the story right.
Q: Was it hard for you to get people to go on the record about politicians they knew to be gay?
KD: It was. The sources were very concerned. They feared they could suffer serious consequences if they spoke out. In some instances, people wouldn't even talk to me off the record.
Q: When you got David Rothenberg [social activist, playwright, the first openly gay candidate to run for NYC Council) to out Ed Koch as mayor, about his relationship and awful treatment of [his secret ex-lover] Richard Nathan, it was quite shocking to people who were here during his administration. He had never gone on the record before.
KD: It was Amy the producer.
Amy Ziering: Kirby taught me that a No is just one step away from a Yes. David Rothenberg came up on our radar but I did research and found that he didn't speak on the subject. I was very skeptical but I called and told him what we were doing. He said, 'It's funny you called.' He was just reading in the paper the other day and there was an editorial by Ed Koch, in which he was outraged at johns, men who pay for sex with prostitutes. He said, 'That wasn't so bad but in it he named names, he outed the johns, prominent New York citizens.' It's one thing to take a political position, but why was he destroying these guys' families? He thought, 'I protected him for so long, yet he doesn't even have that standard.' So he said, 'You're timing to call is really good because this has been weighing on me.' So he did it.
Q: What is preferable to youthat a gay politician is outted or comes out on his own because of pressure exerted on him?
KD: I would much prefer for him or her to do it themselves, for everyone involved. In regard to the subjects I focus on in my film, when it rises to their levels of hypocrisy and we see what they have done against gays politically, one way or the other it should be reported.
Q: I think the film takes the stand that outing gay politicians is a positive thing.
KD: This isn't a film about outing gay politicians. It's a film about reporting on the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who vote anti-gay. That's the bright line that we drew. Sometimes I think the debate about outing obscures the more important issues: the hypocrisy, the psychological toll of the closet.
Q: Would the closeted gays who have been outed, done it on their own?
KD: They certainly would have wanted to. Even [former Arizona congressman] Jim Kolbe, who is opposed to outing, realizing that coming out of the closet was one of the most important decisions he made in his life. He can be a powerful example for young gay men going into politics.
Q: Has there been any backlash from Charlie Crist and Ed Koch?
KD: Not so far. They are savvy politicians who got to where they got to by ignoring this issue. I'd be surprised if there was. Otherwise I encourage multiple reactions. I want these issues hashed out in a public forum.
Q: Do you equate these closeted politicians with the sexual predators who were protected by the Catholic Church?
KD: The connection is the arrogance of power. The Catholic Church felt it could get away with it. The politicians believe they can continue live this lie and get away with this hypocrisy because nobody is going to challenge them. They have been right. The mainstream media profits by having close relationships with these politicians. The trade off is they don't report on the hypocrisy.
Q: You're targeting the issue of gay rights but are you also targeting the issue of how hypocrisy reigns and there is strategizing that exploits people's fears and manipulates the public into taking stands that are hypocritical.
A: Absolutely. Particularly in the third part of the film when we get into hate crimes, which is the consequence of the hypocrisy. We do focus on that. 2.jpg Hypocrisy will always exist and people in power will always find any way possible to maintain power. I think it's the responsibility of documentary filmmakers and the press to call this out. A point we make is that the press does call people out in almost all cases but with gay rights they won't. That's the focus of our film. We say that there's nothing different about this form of hypocrisy, let's talk about it.
Q: What about the role of the religious right in funding anti-Gay politicians?
A: The religious right has an agenda around gay rights, but in some ways I put more blame on the Republican Party, which didn't initially have that as part of their agenda. As Barney Frank says, in the seventies, the Republicans and Democrats were about equal in regard gay rights. Republicans, including people who personally had no issue with gay or lesbians, and in fact had a number of gay friendsincluding George W. Bush--and heads of their staffs were gay made a political calculation that they were going to go after gays and lesbians in order to maintain and gain power. It's such a cynical useI find that appalling. They made a calculation to cynically use the gay rights issue to maintain power. So I criticize them more.
Q: What impact has the film "Milk" had on substantial issues?
KD: We were very grateful "Milk" came out when it did. It is a very important film and in some ways laid the groundwork for this film. One of the reasons we put Harvey Milk at the end of our film is that he is a reference point for some people. What he says is inspiring yet sad in that thirty years later, here we are.
Q: What kind of release do you want for this film?
KD: Obviously we'd like to go as wide as possible. We hope the film encourages the mainstream media to talk about it. A major reason the closet exists is that the mainstream media has not written about this. The gay press has for twenty years. In many ways we're standing on its shoulders. You see a lot of them in the film. Once this issue gets discussed it's much harder for the closet to exist. What happens is that politicians early in their careers, before they're elected to office, make the decision to go in the closet or not. Because it's not written about they think going into the closet is the strategy that's going to work. Once the film is out there and the issue is discussed, they'll realize it's the wrong decision politically. I really hope that one of the impacts of this film is that in twenty years the closet will be a minor factor in American politics.

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