Out on the field

Scott Bloom was closeted during his high school wrestling career, but he found 4 brave gay student athletes to come out for his new documentary

MARATHON MEN | Getting teen athletes and their families to feel comfortable coming out on film was a challenge for documentarian Scott Bloom.

DAN WOOG  | Contributing Sports Writer
outfield@qsyndicate.com

There are three keys to successful documentary filmmaking: A good subject, a good story line and good luck. Scott Bloom found all three.

His goal in making Out for the Long Run — a movie about gay high school athletes — was to go beyond “the regular coming-out stories.” Bloom, a former closeted wrestler who had been terrified of being outed, ostracized or beaten up, knew there were “extraordinary individuals” out there. He wanted to highlight their accomplishments, and provide hope to LGBT people of all ages, everywhere.

The first problem was finding those young athletes. The second was convincing them — and their parents — to be filmed.

He asked organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG for help. But although he’d produced one film on Metropolitan Community Church founder the Rev. Troy Perry, and another on the “oldest gay organization in the world” (a motorcycle club), he admits he was “an unknown quantity.”

The project stalled. Then Bloom saw a Facebook page for gay athletes. With permission from creator Lucas Goodman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology rower, Bloom asked for volunteers.

He got a dozen or two responses. Some of their parents objected, and blurring faces or filming in shadows would undercut the idea of openness. Plus, Bloom hoped to include the parents’ stories, too. In the end he settled on four athletes, with a cross-section of experiences.

When he began shooting, some of Bloom’s old fears resurfaced. “I worried all over again about being ‘thrown out of the locker room,’” he says. “But everyone was very gentle to me.”

He learned that today’s gay youth “have fewer hang-ups than my generation did. They define sexuality more fluidly. That’s refreshing. It gives me hope. I was definitely not as self-aware at that age.”

Bloom’s lucky break came when he found Austin Snyder. The track star was entering his senior year at California’s Berkeley High School. (The other three athletes were already in college.) He had a great, supportive family. He was smart, popular and embraced by his teammates.

Snyder’s story would provide a counterpoint to Brenner Green, a Connecticut College runner whose father had a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality, and who stopped being invited to team dinners after coming out in high school; Goodman, who had difficulty coming out to teammates; and Liz Davenport, a soccer player from Maine whose love for sports was undermined by the bullying she endured. (She ended up “probably the most heroic,” Bloom says, “after struggling and maturing the most.”)

Snyder, a very articulate teenager, lives through what is in many ways a typical high school year. He desperately hopes to get into Brown University — but an injury causes both physical and emotional stress. The usually self-confident runner wonders if he is being punished for his sexuality.

It’s not easy being a senior — especially when you’re gay. “I’m a big romantic,” Snyder says. “High school is all about the guys getting the girls. Running helps take away the hurt of not having someone.”

Then Snyder gets the news: He’s into Brown. He goes from “the lowest low to the highest high.” In a scene repeated in homes across the country, he is giddy with excitement.

But as graduation approaches, Snyder says, “All my friends are happy and dating. I want that!”

He creates a Facebook group for cross country and track athletes heading to Brown. He joins another group for all admitted students where, he says, “all the gay men have found each other.”

Suddenly, Snyder finds someone special: a swimmer from North Carolina. Online they flirt, then talk seriously for weeks. Then, in a plot twist that would sound unbelievable in a real movie — except it’s true — Snyder qualifies for a national race. In North Carolina.

Bloom films their meeting. It’s a truly sweet scene. Later, his new boyfriend gives him a tender pre-race kiss.

The final scene also seems right out of a teen flick. Snyder delivers a graduation speech at Berkeley High. He talks about diversity and change, and urges his classmates: “Use your open-minded spirit.” Snyder’s coach says, “Austin’s story gives hope for what can be.” His father adds simply, “I’m extremely proud of Austin.”

Out for the Long Run is a powerful film. “I never expected a sports film to make people cry,” Bloom says. “But people tell me it makes them remember the fears and emotions they buried years earlier.”

And, echoing Snyder’s coach, it generates hope in unlikely places. Five rural school districts in Louisiana have bought copies for each middle and high school. The counseling director will use it as a teaching tool.

Which means its lessons will be remembered by students — gay and straight — for a long, long run.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

SCREEN REVIEW: ‘All Good Things’

DISAPPEARING ACTS | Katie (Kirsten Dunst) has a troubled relationship with David (Ryan Gosling) until both eventually disappear — she goes missing, and he begins living as a woman in Texas.

Murder in Texas?

… or maybe New York … or maybe not at all. Cross-dressing Durst case gets muddled, fictionalized investigation in the unfocused ‘All Good Things’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Quick, name the artsy Ryan Gosling movie out now about a troubled man and his complex sexual relationship with a blonde — and they have sex in a shower. Yeah, maybe you said Blue Valentine, but you could have said All Good Things. Gosling’s character here trades up the social ladder but down the well-adjusted scale with AGT, inspired by the life of Texas-based killer (and sometime cross-dresser) Robert Durst.

Gosling plays the Durst character, here called David Marks, the scion of an abrasive, wealthy New York slumlord (Frank Langella). David reluctantly enters the family business once he meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst), basically serving as bag-man for his dad’s collections arm. Dad is disapproving of him, and looks disdainfully on Katie, which only exacerbates David’s isolation, as well as his spiraling psychological instability.

Their turbulent relationship ends with Katie’s disappearance (her body is never found) and Marks himself goes into hiding, living as a woman in Galveston.

A sizeable problem with All Good Things is that it can’t seem to decide whether it is A Beautiful Mind (i.e., a portrait of mental illness and its tragic consequences) or Sleeping with the Enemy (a woman trapped in a marriage to a psychotic).

If the latter, director Andrew Jarecki should have watched more Hitchcock before undertaking this, his first narrative feature. Despite some violent outbursts, there’s no sense of menace about David. He’s disturbingly off, yes, and there are overt indications of his fury (he kills a dog), but Jarecki handles these scenes dispassionately, with a documentarian’s observational detachment. The stakes simply don’t seem all that substantial.

At its heart, this is a mystery that’s unknowable, not unlike  Jarecki’s Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans. It should be moody and enigmatic, but actually tries to explain too much. Eventually, it edges in the direction of Sleeping with the Enemy territory, and the style morphs from portrait to potboiler. By the time David turns up living as a woman, it seems more comical than creepy.

Credit Gosling with tackling the role of David, who’s inscrutable but also pretty dull, with conviction if not passion. In his old lady clothes, he looks like a slightly more animated version of Norman Bates’ mother. Dunst, Langella and Philip Baker Hall (as David’s crabby neighbor) deliver uninteresting performances of two-dimensional characters.

The true story of Durst, as reported in the media, is more bizarre than the movie can do justice to, and the armchair psychologizing (including a posited theory that seeks to say what really happened) feels forced, and the ending is unsatisfying. There’s a great movie in his story somewhere; too bad this one isn’t it. It just cannot compete with reality.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Filmmaker Arthur Dong talks up gay documentaries at UNT

The University of North Texas gets in on the master class action. The college brings in gay filmmaker Arthur Dong to speak to five classes about working as a documentarian. He will also screen films during his stay.

His 1997 film License to Kill focused on anti-gay murders, which lends itself to the hot topic of bullying and its effects on the community. Dong questions mainstream media’s light approach to the resurging trend.

“I think reporters should be asking parents, administrators what their role was in shaping a particular bully,” he says. “It seems as though they are not being called to question their part. That shows mainstream media and society still has an acceptance of an anti-gay society.”

Dong will discuss his work with LGBT documentaries for the class “Lesbian, Gay and Queer Film,” taught by Dr. Harry M. Benshoff, who invited the filmmaker. Overall, his visit to the college will have him discussing techniques in creating documentaries to five classes in UNT’s Radio, Film and TV curriculum.

“I had a master class when I was in film class and it made me think ‘I could really do this,’” he says. “But I wasnt to talk to students about the production side and what to do when they get out of school. I want to express there should be a balance. Because there is no money in changing the world. You can get awards and pats on the back, but you also gotta feed yourself.”

He will screen four of his films over the two days including Forbidden City U.S.A., Hollywood Chinese, Coming Out Under Fire and Family Fundamentals.

— R.L.

Lyceum of UNT’s University Union, 1155 Union Circle, Denton. Oct. 18–19 at 7:30 p.m.  Free. 940-565-2537. UNT.edu.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas