round, and round, and round we spin
‘If assholes could fly this place would be an airport’

‘If assholes could fly this place would be an airport’ Barbara Harris talking about the anti-LGBT discussion in the Church.

Macky Alston’s incredibly moving documentary, Love Free or Die, tells the story of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire, whose ordainment led to the Episcopal denomination formally allowing the appointment of LGBT clergy and the consecration of same-sex couples.

When we met Robinson, who exudes warmth and love, he explained that the film’s title is from New Hampshire’s town motto ‘Live free or die’.

Love Free or Die is a superbly balanced and even-tempered account of the real effects of Robinson’s consecration, on himself and his family and the church itself.

The Archbishop of Canterbury banned all British clergy from inviting Robinson to speak and so he was excluded from the Lambeth Conference, an Anglican meeting that occurs every ten years. This fact is the film’s focal point, exploring the attitudes that permit such wild prejudice to exist.

Giles Fraser, who now is renowned for resigning as chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral over it’s treatment of Occupy protesters, was the only British priest to extend a warm welcome to the trailblazing bishop. It is during Robinson’s sermon on fear at Fraser’s Putney-based church that we see a chilling repudiation from a member of the congregation who repeatedly shouts ‘repent!’. This is one of the films most upsetting moments.

We are offered a detailed account of Robinson’s home life, meeting his partner of 24 years Mark Andrew, his parents and children. The tranquility and harmony of Robinson’s familial bonds brilliantly explicate the normalcy of same-sex couples and thus cleverly highlight the insanity of the church’s reaction.

Concurrently, Alston offers us an insight into the pain forcing clergymen and woman to hide their sexuality causes, giving us a real idea of what the alternative is.

What makes the documentary even more exceptional is Barbara Harris, the first woman to become bishop, and her often incredibly humourous commentary. Harris’ inclusion thematically calls attention to the rift caused by female bishops and instant parallels can be drawn.

Although it may be difficult to comprehend why an LGBT person would want to be part of an institution that so openly discriminates against them, Robinson demonstrates that having faith and being gay are not mutually exclusive. He delivers truly beautiful sermons, galvanising the congregations he speaks to to see this issue as one of justice, which it is.

Robinson asked us after to show this documentary to one person we feel needs to see it, so I would urge you to do the same.

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Cloudburst bursts open LLGFF at the BFI

Coming to the opening night gala at the BFI’s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival I had no idea what to expect but I was sated when I found free chocolate and a bottle of water in my seat and even more so when the film that opened the Festival, Cloudburst, turned out to be brilliant:

Dotty (Brenda Fricker) and Stella (Olympia Dukakis) are like Thelma and Louise, if they had been in love with each other (which they probably were), and reached their eighties instead of driving off that cliff.

Stella is a brash, embittered firebrand who cares for the steadily infirm and quietly stoic, Dotty. Their love-nest, which they have lived together for thirty-one years, is thrown into chaos when Dotty’s willfully ignorant granddaughter has her admitted to an institution. Stella breaks her out and they head to Canada to get married so that they can’t be legally separated again, picking up a young hitchhiker named Prentice (Ryan Doucette) on the way.

Although in many ways the subject matter is relatively formulaic, lovers torn apart, a road-trip across country, director Thom Fitzgerald, brings such originality and vitality to it that it doesn’t matter.

This uniqueness steams from, I think, it’s refusal to supplant comedy with tragedy. The film’s most compelling moments are also it’s funniest, Fitzgerald draws together the brute pain of his character’s lives with the clumsy beauty of their intimacy.

Stella, whose fearful audacity won’t allow her to truly see the ever-increasing infirmity of Dotty until she is forced to confront these fears following a frightening experience at sea that necessitates an intervention from the much younger Prentice. Even during these subsequent revelatory and extraordinarily tender moments, the script works twice as hard by simultaneously expressing humour and loss but managing to compromise neither. Cloudburst successfully evokes a myriad of emotions in its audience rather than only occupying one emotional space. It never has to sacrifice comedy for tragedy or vice versa, choosing instead to use humour to illustrate the maladroit but delightfulness, perhaps because of this clumsiness, of our closest human bonds. 

It is also the originality of the characters themselves that add to Cloudburst’s striking exuberance. Stella massively deviates from prescriptive gender roles, possessing one of the most colourful onscreen vocabularies I have seen in a while, this and her overt expression of sexuality underpin a wholly novel way of portraying a woman in her golden years.

All of this is beautifully framed by Tom Harting’s prepossessing cinematography; and the importance of this natural scenery is evinced by the film’s exquisite name.

What is most splendid about Cloudburst and LLGFF’s decision to open with it, is that it’s positive. So often films that deal with LGBT issues can be painfully depressing, and although there is much to be said (and done) about the oppression of gay people, it is also refreshing to see stories that are simply a celebration of this love.

The introduction from the Festival programmers and the director himself, who, having opened LLGFF three times, cracks a joke that he must have done more sexual favours for the organisers than any other director, sets the tone for what has so far been a galvanising and constructive celebration of LGBT life. It is also heartening to hear that the Festival has had it’s second week reinstated and that they’ve hit the necessary targets for this year.

More on LLGFF later today!

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