HOUSTON VOICE GAY HOUSTON NIGHTLIFE, ARTS & CULTURE FEBRUARY 20,2004 PACE 15
"Queer Eye' CD delights
Gay filmmaker Arthur Dong releases
documentary trilogy "Stories from
the War on Homosexuality' on DVD
By MATTHEW FORKE
LISTENING TO THE HEARTBREAKING STRUGGLES
of gay generations past and present has a funny way of
putting our daily inconveniences into proper perspective, which is one of the many meaningful "take-aways"
viewers should appreciate in documentary filmmaker
Arthur Dong's new DVD box set, "Stories from the War
An Oscar nominee for his 1983 documentary short-subject film "Sewing Women," Dong's substantive three-part
trilogy explores the unyielding culture of discrimination
against gay men and lesbians by conservative religious
groups, hate-crime perpetrators and the U.S. military.
The first film in the trilogy, "Coming Out Under
Fire," (based on Allen Berube's book) was filmed in
1994, not long after the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
debate of the early '90s. Through a montage of rare photographs and documents, government newsreel footage
and contemporary interviews with gay veterans, the
film traces the history of gays in the military as far
back as World War II, complete with government
screens for "sex perverts," gay newsletters written in
"code" and homosexual "witch hunts" conducted by
Far more harrowing, though, is Dong's second entry.
1997's "Licensed to Kill," which comprises a series of
interviews with incarcerated killers, many of whom are
on death row or serving life sentences.
Dong, himself a victim of a gay bashing in the late
'70s, turns his lens and microphone to some seriously
sick (and vastly uneducated) individuals and asks the
question. "Why?" In return, everything from religious
upbringing to AIDS to self-hatred — one convict. Jay
Johnson, is gay himself — is used to justify their horrific crimes.
Riveting stuff, though the postmortem photographs
of the victims are not for the faint-of-heart.
Dong completes the trilogy with 2002's
"Family Fundamentals." a remarkably balanced and sensitive look at three conservative
Christian families who happen to have gay
Brett Mathews is the son of a Mormon bishop. Brian Bennett is the former campaign manager and chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Robert
Dornan, a conservative Republican from
California who lost his seat to a Democrat several years ago.
And finally, Susan and David Jester are the
estranged gay daughter and grandson of
Kathleen Bremner, a Pentecostal church leader
in San Diego.
The DVD box includes some well-selected
bonus features, including introductory interviews by Dong himself; featurettes; deleted and
extended scenes; unreleased interviews (brace
yourself for those in "Licensed to Kill"); liner
notes, essays and illustrated booklets; music selections
and trailers, among others.
Dong recently discussed the DVD release of the trilogy with Houston Voice.
Houston Voice: What filmmakers inspire you and
Arthur Dong: You would think someone had asked
me that. Hmm. I've been asked what filmmakers I
admire. Stanley Kubrick is one of my all-time favorites.
HoVo: What are some of the goals you've set for
yourself as a filmmaker?
Dong: At this point, I'd say it's not to be making the
kinds of films I've been making. I'd rather be making
"Terminator 4." Did 1 really think 15 years ago that I'd
be making this trilogy? No, I'd rather not have to do
this. But I have to. Eventually, I'd like to be making
more "fun" films.
HoVo: In "Family Fundamentals" you said you were
interested in documenting conservative Christian families with gay children that fell Into three categories: a
family headed by a political leader, a family that had
dealt with reparative therapy and a family headed by a
Filmmaker Arthur Dong is unafraid to speak in glowing and critical terms
about the gay civil rights movement. In a recent interview, he says: I'm not
just happy with 'Will & Grace' and 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.' That's
fine, but its not good enough.'
church leader in a rural community. How did you
decide on these three criteria?
Dong: I came up with those criteria after researching about 30 stories where various aspects or structures
were apparent. I wanted them to be diverse.
HoVo: How did you find the interview subjects who
Dong: I found Brett after a screening of "Coming
Out Under Fire." You know, he's a vet. And I knew of
Brian's story. Rich Tafel, the former executive director
of Log Cabin Republicans, introduced me to him. And
Kathleen's story, I was referred to her from another ex-
gay ministry up North. I was thinking about doing a different family's story and it didn't quite work, but they
said they [knew] of another family [I] might want to
HoVo: You said in "Family Fundamentals" that each
of the three families' stories served as "microcosms" of
the larger social and political struggles being fought in
the public sphere. What direction do you feel the country is currently headed, both politically and socially?
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