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One Fair City's
Pursuit of Equality

One Fair City's
Pursuit of Equality


Two straight filmmakers document the glimmer of hope Mayor Gavin Newsom offered LGBT people when he legalized same-sex marriage in San Francisco, a milestone in our continued march toward marriage equality.

San Francisco grabbed headlines in 2004 when Mayor Gavin Newsom made his city the first to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian couples from all over swarmed the city as religious groups staged sit-ins at the clerk's office. Most Americans, however, followed the legal roller coaster from home, through their newspapers.

Now, two straight San Francisco film directors, Geoff Callan and Mike Shaw, hope to put a human face on those headlines through their documentary Pursuit of Equality, which will conclude a 30-city screening tour in Sacramento on November 30. Callan, an actor who has appeared in films such as Showgirls and The Pursuit of Happyness, says he hopes the film will both educate and persuade. "There are those who are for gay marriage, those who are against it, and those in the middle," says Callan, who is married to Newsom's sister. "This film is for them -- the ones on the fence."

The documentary moves between interviews with Newsom and individual gays and lesbians, meetings among City Hall officials, court proceedings, and the marriage ceremonies themselves, including Rosie O'Donnell's. The directors had almost limitless access to the mayor's chambers, and the film's relative objectivity and lack of biased narration marks a refreshing departure from the Michael Moore school of documentary.

Although it cuts quickly from one scene or time to the next, the film manages to present a delicate balance of light humor and tear-jerking poignancy. During the city's first marriage ceremony, for 82-year-old Del Martin and 79-year-old Phyllis Lyon, the judge is nervous and excited, and attendant city officials, one by one, break into sobs. Afterward, Newsom cheerily congratulates the newlyweds before offering them a touch of realism--a copy of the California constitution they'll need to prepare for the inevitable lawsuit. Viewers also feel the sting of injustice as a lesbian couple races to City Hall after learning that the California supreme court had issued a stay on the issuance of marriage licenses. Crying, they demand to be told "no" before leaving the building.

The impetus for the film, according to Callan, was a conversation with Newsom over breakfast. "I'm about to ruin my political career," Newsom told him at the time. Puzzled, Callan asked him to reveal his plans. "I can't tell you that, but I can tell you it's the right thing to do," Newsom replied. The mayor later invited Callan and Shaw to film at City Hall on Valentine's Day 2004, when the first licenses were issued. They continued filming for 45 days, Callan says, and the project quickly took on a life of its own. "I mortgaged my house to do this," he says.

Pursuit of Equality was named the top documentary at the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival and nabbed the top prize at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and Callan says the film is his proudest achievement to date. "It's the most selfless thing I've done," he says. "I really grew from this."

At a November 15 screening in New York, coordinated by the Empire State Pride Agenda, audience members found the film engaging, booing loudly when President Bush appeared, and cheering during scenes of triumph. "It was really powerful," New Yorker Barbara Krasne says of the film. "As the director said, it really put a face to the issue."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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