Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick takes on the mainstream media and the hypocrisy of the GOP closet with ‘Outrage’
If a filmmaker ever benefited from the convergence of art and politics, it’s Kirby Dick. Two months ago, his movie "Outrage" was just another documentary trying to carve out a niche in the arthouse market. The film is distributed by Dallas-based Magnolia Pictures, yet as of late last month there weren’t even plans for it to show in Dallas.
Then came the California court’s ruling on Prop 8, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement that he will seek his state’s Senate seat in 2010. And suddenly "Outrage" — which "names names," profiling anti-gay politicians who remain in the closet — became the cause celebre of the Sunday morning talk show circuit. (The film will now open at the Magnolia on June 12.)
The criticism of the film, largely from the right (and often from people who have not seen it), has only served to fuel interest, generating the kind of buzz directors of niche movies can only dream about.
Dick hasn’t shied away from the controversy, embracing the dialogue while continually dispelling the perception that the film is a screed against the Republican Party. (Though let’s face it: If the shoe fits…)
In an interview with Dallas Voice, Dick talks about how he, a straight man, came to devote nearly three years of his life to chronicling the hypocrisy of secretly gay politicians — and what he sees as a civil rights issue for all Americans.
When I attended the screening of "Outrage," I was the only gay critic in the room and I laughed a lot; I was the only one. Afterwards, another critic came up to me said she was puzzled that I was laughing because she thought the film was so sad. Did you intend it to be funny or was I totally out of line? We certainly intended it to be funny — when you’re dealing with sex and people trying to hide sexual activity, it’s always funny in some ways. I didn’t think about it being sad, but I have heard that a lot. I have thought about it sometimes — it’s a lost ideal in a way. People should be able to be who they are and be in politics.
Your films definitely have a progressive bent — "Twist of Faith" is about the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal, and "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" attacks the MPAA’s rating system — but what drew a straight man to a story with such a gay subject?
A number of factors. One is that mainstream media wasn’t — isn’t — covering it. I got involved in August 2006, before the Mark Foley scandal and the Larry Craig allegations and before the House and Senate went Democratic, and it seemed that things weren’t turning that way. I remember when Oregon passed the first anti-gay law. It was a surprise but I thought this will never happen in another state. So when I realized I had this opportunity to counter this in some degree, I immediately wanted to do it and dropped another film. It became so rich psychologically.
Also, I consider myself as an artist and came out of art school. And politicians are always fucking around with artists, so this was a way for an artist to fuck around with politicians. I saw it as a way to get back.
You and the film have come under attack as cherry-picking by outing more Republicans than Democrats, but there seems to be a good reason for that…
I think they are trying to obfuscate. There’s a reason there are more Republican closeted politicians and that’s the strategy of the GOP to demonize gays and drive their own gay politicians into the closet. In the ’80s and early ’90s, there were stories we were not able to corroborate that some of these [Republican] politician even went to gay bars [openly], which was OK because the party was not demonizing gays then. But then they were seen as opposing the party platform.
The ideal is that all Americans should have 100 percent civil rights. So many people are being denied these rights.
Part of the controversy is that your film "outs" certain politicians, but really — and don’t take this the wrong way — there’s nothing new in the film for the well-informed.
Yeah, there’s a ‘How dare you out Charlie Crist!’ when he’s already been outed.
There’s this kind of discussion because the mainstream media has dropped the ball on this for years. Just the fact there’s this discussion going on is really one of the objectives of the film. A large percentage — like 95 percent — were stunned by the allegations in this film. The reason these people don’t know about it is because mainstream media don’t comment on it. In Q&As, most of the audience is just overwhelmed by this. Even I was surprised by that. Even Ed Koch — I’ve had gay friends who didn’t know the rumors about him.
Despite your critics, "Outrage" is plainly not ambush journalism.
There was a certain amount of pressure from people on my staff to go in the direction of ambush journalism, but I knew I actually had two audiences: the theatrical audience who would see and review the film, and the political press who would be out with their commentaries on it the next day [even without seeing it]. And they would dismiss the film if it has that ambush journalism to it. And I knew I was potentially ticking off [the press] by saying the mainstream media hadn’t covered it.
After all your research, why do you think politicians still feel a need to remain in the closet?
Within politics a lot of that can be attributed to the Republican anti-gay strategy that has made it radioactive to say that — even though most people don’t have any issue with [gay people] at all. It ties into the rise of the fundamentalists. In the ’60s and ’70s, things really seemed to be going in the direction away from that and then it took a turn into fundamentalism.
And people are trapped by that. They make a decision 20, 30 years ago in their careers and cover it up and are stuck with it. Take David Dreier [the Republican California congressman who reportedly was passed over for party leader due to his homosexuality]. I don’t know how much longer he may actually stay in Congress but he could come out and win. But then he would face the issue that he evaded his orientation for many years.
The film speaks for itself of course, but I wonder if you have other feelings about outing in general — or the approach you took with the film.
Even though the film didn’t take this position, personally, I think [a political candidate’s sexual orientation] should be public information. We did not report on politicians who were closeted who didn’t have an anti-gay record, but there’s an argument to be made that even closeted pro-gay politicians should be outed. Their conservative constituents have as much a right to know why they are voting one way as anyone else.
That’s not a very popular position, as even some of the coverage of your film showed…
[Sexual orientation is] a ridiculous standard [the media] won’t apply in any other journalistic situations. Take Ed Schrock [the former Virginia congressman who recorded explicit messages on a gay sex site several years ago]. Some newspapers and outlets won’t say Schrock is gay or that he was outed for being gay. NPR wouldn’t even mention [any of the politicians in the film by name]. They pulled out Larry Craig’s name because he wouldn’t say he was gay. The double standard of NPR was the most conservative reaction of any of the news organizations.
Some of the most bittersweet segments in the film are the interviews with former Gay Men’s Health Crisis director Rodger McFarlane, who committed suicide last month.
It was such a relief to interview him. One of the things that struck me was how articulate all [the interviewees] were, but also how very careful — some we would have to interview for hours to get a little bit of information. Not Rodger. He had us all laughing for an hour and half, talking about everything from how much sex he had to living on a submarine. How refreshing it was for someone to speak not carefully but directly. We could have done a whole film just of his interview.
"Outrage" opens June 12 at the Magnolia Theater.
Heather has deux mommies
Out Takes Dallas’ June entry, ‘The New World,’ is a must-see charmer for any queer parent — and those thinking of becoming one
Lesbian couples with children will want to see "The New World;" lesbian couples thinking of having children must see it.
The French comedy-drama follows two women — Lucie (Natalia Dontcheva) and Marion (Vanessa LarrÃ©) — through their sixth year together, the year that two become three. More of a slice of life than a complex story, "The New World" shows a range of attitudes and reactions represented by friends, family members and co-workers.
Lucie is a math teacher who wants to expand her family. Marion, physically unable to bear children, is less than enthusiastic at first but is easily persuaded to become a mom.
Neither woman’s family is initially supportive. Lucie’s parents are aging hippies and her brother is conservative. Marion’s mother (AndrÃ©a FerrÃ©ol), abandoned by her husband decades ago, devotes her life to the church. Mom says she’ll "never be a grandma to a child that’s not my daughter’s." A lesbian couple with children serves as role models until they have a fight and become a worst-case scenario.
Just finding a suitable applicant to become the father turns out more difficult than expected. Just as things are starting to look hopeless, Hugo (GrÃ©gory Fitoussi), an old friend now living in Canada, shows up and volunteers to be the sperm donor… on the condition that he won’t have any responsibility for rearing the child.
And so it goes, one speed bump at a time — until the child is born and everyone who hadn’t yet rallied around the new mothers falls in line. But another problem develops, providing the plot twist that gives the film its dramatic momentum.
"The New World" is enjoyable for its moments and for the winning personalities of its lead actresses.
Screens at the Magnolia Theater, 3699 McKinney Ave. June 11 at 7:30 p.m. $10. Outtakesdallas.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 5, 2009.