Same-sex marriages inspire slew of documentaries
June 21 2004 11:00 PM ET
Not just any couple gets an Academy Award-winning director to shoot their wedding video. Then again, the February 12 ceremony uniting the first ladies of the gay rights movement, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, wasn't just any wedding. Lyon, 79, and Martin, 83, partners in love and lesbian politics for more than half a century, agreed to be the first pair to tie the knot with San Francisco's blessing after Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Fear that a court might intervene before the "I do's" were said demanded a rushed hush-hush affair. But amid the last-minute preparations, the mayor's policy director, Joyce Newstat, had the presence of mind to invite her friend documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff to be among the handful of City Hall insiders to witness the historic closed-door nuptials. The result is One Wedding and a Revolution, Chasnoff's behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the city's short-lived experiment in marriage equality. "There was no preproduction on this project: no lighting crew, no sound crew," said Chasnoff, who won an Oscar in 1991 for a documentary on General Electric's ties to nuclear power. "To me, it was this snapshot of what a tremendous revolution we have been going through. I think it will always be a marker in history."
As it turned out, other filmmakers, some amateur and some professional, had the same thought. Chasnoff's spare 20-minute record of the Martin-Lyon wedding is one of nine films inspired by the monthlong march to matrimony at City Hall making their debut this past weekend at the 28th San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Another five films in the festival deal more broadly with gay marriage themes. The entries include The Right to Marry; Our Right to Love, a poignant portrait of the hundreds of couples who camped in the rain outside City Hall awaiting the chance to marry; and The Wedding, a comedic look at a young lesbian couple's effort to get married on the day Rosie O'Donnell swept into town to exchange vows with her girlfriend, Kelli Carpenter. Other films are Muni to the Marriage, which draws parallels between efforts to gain legal recognition for interracial relationships and the ongoing struggle to get same-sex marriages sanctioned, and Freedom to Marry, which intersperses the stories of seven couples with the views of veteran activists and comedian Margaret Cho during a marriage rally at the state capitol.
Organizers of the festival, whose $10,000 first prize for best documentary is the most generous on the gay and lesbian film festival circuit, extended their February deadline for entries specifically to accommodate the onslaught of topical subject matter. "That is one of the great things about the number of films--they all take a different perspective," said Michael Lumpkin, co-director of the festival. "Everyone is taking their own take, and it's not just seeing two hours of the same home movie over and over." For his first film, The Wait, Zak Szymanski, 32, an assistant editor at a gay newspaper in San Francisco, focused on the camaraderie that developed among the people who lined up outside City Hall and the roller-coaster of emotions they rode waiting to see who would make it in the door before a court intervened. "Every clip I have has about 10 other filmmakers in it, so I know a bunch of people were filming," said Szymanski. Although he started the project more out of a sense of professional responsibility than sentimentality, Szymanski said the unadulterated joy he saw through his lens convinced him that marriage, a bastion of tradition, had its merits. "I couldn't deny the magic of that and what the presence of all those people in the street did to the whole city, the whole country," he said. "The magic of the entire first week was pretty impossible to screw up."
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