Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sundance Movie Review

I know, some of you have been anxiously awaiting my opinions and review of the infamous documentary. I have lots of excuses for why I have not done it yet, most of which are related to being a busy, pregnant mom.  But the real excuse has more to do with the fact that I am not really sure how I felt about it.  I thought maybe if I gave myself some time, I would figure it out. Not sure if that did any good. So, as usual, I am hoping that by writing about it, I will be able to better understand what I thought of it.

Before I give you details of the film itself, let me give you a couple of reasons why I think I am not sure what I really think...

1.  I think Scott's review could have influenced me.  I knew before I saw it what he liked and didn't like and how it made him feel. I watched him tear up as he related some of the stories, and I understood how much it really hurt him.

2. I am too closely involved in the project, and the subject of it is also one of my greatest sources of inner conflict even without the film: LDS church vs. gay rights. I would really love to read a review by someone who has no bias one way or the other.  Based on a couple of articles I have read in the newspaper this week about the film, there are people in the church that believe it is filled with lies and deceptions. My main problem is that I believe the information presented in the film is true, and therefore it is very disturbing to the part of me that loves the church so much.

3. When I viewed the film, I was with some good friends, but since Scott was not with me, my anxiety was probably a bit more intense than it would have been.  We walked from the parking lot to the theater (a mile or two uphill because it sounded like taking a bus was going to be complicated and take just as long), and so between being exhausted from that, and the edginess I was feeling during the film itself due to its content, I had contractions (braxton hicks contractions, not labor) throughout the movie that made me even more anxious, making it feel like more of a negative experience than I believe it actually was.

Okay, now for an overview of the film.  WARNING: SPOILER ALERT as I reveal every detail I can remember.  As Scott mentioned, the film began with and had interspersed throughout both video and audio clips from a broadcast to members in California last year, calling them to action in helping with the Yes on 8 campaign.  The broadcast had Elder Clayton, Elder Ballard, and someone else from the Quorum of the Seventy (I think) sitting around a table, taking turns talking about what they needed the members to do, and why the church taking a stand on this issue is so important. There was only a small amount of video available, and so the main content that Reed was able to use for the film was a low quality MP3 audio track.  As Scott mentioned, Reed chose to present the audio segments with ominous music and sounds in the background, the voices distorted, the video blurry, zoomed in and in slow motion. I knew from Scott's description that it would be that way, so I really did not form my own opinion on the formatting, but rather focused on what was being said and how it fit into the rest of the content of the movie. I understand that Reed was putting his own feelings into it by presenting it that way, but for a documentary, it probably would have been better to have a still photo of the man who was talking with that segment of audio track.

The first fourth of the movie contained these clips from the broadcast, interspersed with photos of documents with certain sentences popping out as the narrator read them.  The documents were emails and letters dating back to 1996 between President Hinckley, Elder Maxwell and others.  They all had to do with politics in Hawaii, becoming involved in the gay marriage fight without making it evident they were involved, helping to establish a coalition that would act more or less on behalf of the church without anyone knowing it was the church.  The main spokesperson that they found for the coalition was an LDS mother, but her religion was not known in the campaign.  Rather, she was simply known as the president of an educational organization and a concerned mother, fighting for her children. It was very disturbing to me for a couple of reasons: they specifically kept using words such as "secret" and talked about how they were doing the work of God. Also was the fact that President Hinckley was involved, and I am doing my best to forgive him for that because I have loved and admired him so much.

So, when the CA election came around, they followed many of the same procedures they did in Hawaii, making sure that the National Organization for Marriage was formed, led by Elder Holland's son.

But this time, after the general leadership presented the request for time and monetary help to the leaders and members in CA, some of the leaders may have taken it too far.  I doubt that an instruction to do this came from SLC, but in some cases, the film indicated that members were approached with the words "We've looked at your tithing records, we know what your income is, and we believe you can pay this much to the campaign.  We will wait while you write the check." A family with 5 young children gave $50,000--their children's college savings. Both the church and the coalition created many advertisements, which of course could not be inexpensive. The coalition created one that had video from a young school class that happily attended their lesbian teacher's wedding to another woman.  The parents were outraged.  They did not give permission for their children to appear in a public advertisement, especially to help the Yes on 8 campaign that they did not agree with.

There were also clips in between from an interview with Emily Pearson, daughter of Carol Lynn Pearson, formerly LDS, whose dad died of AIDS and who married and later divorced a gay Mormon man.  Nothing was said about her marriage, and not much about her dad.  Mostly her interview explained some of the beliefs and teachings of the LDS church, explained how hearing a letter signed by the first presidency meant to most members that it was a message from God himself, explained how certain phrasings in asking for time and money would be recognized by members who had covenanted in the temple to do all they could to build up the church on the earth.

Also interspersed through the presentation of this information was the story of two gay men, also formerly LDS (one a returned missionary), who were one of the first couples to get married in June of 2008. It shared their joy in being able to marry, and their pain when one of their LDS families would not rejoice in their marriage and happiness and when protesters in San Francisco, in the name of God and morality and children, held up signs on the street that eventually helped to possibly make their marriage invalid.  They were heartbroken when the proposition passed, and could not understand why people would want to hurt them so much.

There was other deception as members were asked to knock on doors, but go dressed in normal clothing so as not to look like missionaries or have the image of being part of the LDS church in the campaign.

As Scott mentioned, there was also a short portion that explained some LDS theology regarding the plan of salvation, how we are all spirit children of God, literal offspring of a heavenly father and also a heavenly mother, and that our ultimate goal in life and the eternities is to marry and live righteously so that we can also become Gods and have our own spiritual children, something that would be seemingly impossible with two members of the same sex. Also brought up was how polygamy fits into this plan, and briefly how members in the early days of the church practiced polygamy, and how even though members no longer practice it, they believe it will exist in the next life and forever. The presentation was fairly straightforward and accurate.  The only thing that bothered me was the background music, "If You Could Hie to Kolob".  I love that hymn, and I did not really want to remember or associate it with the angry and anxious things I was feeling through the film, although it did fit the subject being presented very well.

So, that was a major portion of the film.  Then the subject changed.  My reaction changed from shocked anticipation of what else would be revealed to horrified pain and sadness as the following stories were shared.

The most painful was the story of a man that attended BYU in the 70's, that was asked to come into the office of the campus police under the guise of helping with an investigation.  He was shown a list of about twelve male students, of which his name was one, and was told that it was a list of who they thought were homosexuals.  He was told where and when to come on another day, without any indication of what would happen. At the first appointment he was shown pornography and given twice the normal dose of ipecac to make him throw up while watching the pictures.  At other appointments he was hooked up to an electro-shock system on his wrists, chest, and genitals.  He was given a button to control the shock, then had to watch more photos, and was told to push the button to shock himself any time he saw anything that he thought was sinful or that he enjoyed looking at.  The photos included naked men. He knew of someone else who refused to push the shock button, so those doing the "treatment" pushed it for him, and it resulted in him thereafter having sexual dysfunction. Of the 12 on the list, I think 10 committed suicide within a couple of years.  The interviewee himself attempted suicide.  As he related the experience, sometimes the film showed him talking, and at other times it was a reenactment of an ipecac drink being mixed, a person being strapped into a chair, and flashes of light (from the pictures being shown) in the background.  It was extremely emotional. You could see the excruciating pain it caused him just to remember and relate the experience. Scott said he was sitting behind them in the theater, and that he said it was a good healing process for him to watch himself in the film.

The film then went on to interviews with other gay Mormons, young ones (2 men and 2 women) who have attempted suicide.  Interspersed were also clips from an interview with a mother (not the mother of the other interviewees, but she and her husband have been very involved in Affirmation and Family Fellowship.  I have met them several times, and they are just the sweetest people.  I first saw her speak at the candle-light vigil right before the infamous election.).  Anyway, she spoke of attending funerals for young gay LDS who have committed suicide, one that specifically happened during the Prop 8 campaign. She spoke of how nothing is ever mentioned at the funerals of the struggles they faced with same-sex-attraction, how some of them were buried in wooden boxes because their families refused to treat them with honor and respect. One of the young men that was interviewed is a close friend of ours.  I remember clearly him sitting in our living room a year ago, clinging to his boyfriend's hand for comfort, all of us crying as he related his story of taking some pills, of his subsequent journey past that moment, finding peace and comfort in his choice to now have a boyfriend.  The spirit was strong as it testified to me of God's love for our friend, and God's mercy for his journey and choices. I have an incredible amount of love for that friend, for sharing such details of his life with us, and for being one of my greatest supports through my tough times.

Anyway, back to our story.  The next segment was about Stuart Matis, his suicide several years ago in front of his Stake Center in CA when the gay marriage debate was in the news the first time.  Of his parents writing a book, "In Quiet Desperation" and how they were relieved when he took his life and was freed from his mortal pain and struggles.  (I started trying to read that book at one time, but I could not get past the first few chapters after reading that his mom knew he intended to take his own life.  If I had been her, I would not have left his side for a moment!) It did bother me though, as they played the audio from a phone conversation with Brother Matis, and how they refused to interview for this film.  The Matis's hold a monthly fireside in Alpine, and they have done so much good for so many gay Mormons.  Reed's film did not acknowledge their efforts at all, and that made me kind of sad. (Scott, what did you say about this when I was talking to you about it?)

Next came a segment about homeless youth in SLC.  It followed teenagers to where they live two stories underground, how their LDS families kicked them out for being gay.  When asked how they find hope in this situation, they responded that there is no hope.  There were interviews with a couple of women that I know who work for organizations that help homeless youth and gay youth.  One of the women conducted the training I went to at the pride center for starting a GSA last summer. They told of how they would love to be able to take these youth into their own homes and care for them, but how it is against the law in Utah to do something like that. Very sad.

The last segment of the film was sort of the comic relief, as interviews with Chris Butters and Gayle Ruizka were presented, with their ludicrous and horrible words against gays, backed by their stalwart membership and belief in the LDS church. It showed footage from last year's legislative session when Equality Utah attempted to get a "Common Grounds" bill with equal rights in housing, employment, and hospital visitation to be considered by the Utah legislature. Mr. Butters was asked to apologize for comparing gays to Muslims, and he refused to ever do so. He was proud of being known for keeping gay clubs out of schools and the Utah constitution marriage amendment from a few years ago (making marriage only between a man and a woman.)

Toward the end of the film, there was a clip of a talk from President Monson at the pulpit at General Conference saying, "With God on our side, there is nothing that can defeat us." I fear that some who see the movie may think that his words were talking specifically about the gay marriage issue, but I know him well enough to realize that it was part of a talk in which he was simply encouraging each of us individually that with God in our lives, we can accomplish and endure anything that comes our way. I love President Monson and his words, and the way he always encourages us to be positive as we try each day to be better people.  So it saddened me that this message was used out of context, in a way that people can judge our beloved prophet.  However, the way it was used was appropriate to the film regarding the attitude of the church in general, and I think there are many members and leaders of the church that believe Prop 8 passed because it was God's will, and because members followed the requests of their leaders in doing what needed to be done with their time and money to get it to pass.

The discussion after the movie was the best part for me. As cast members went up front, I was kind of glad I was not with them, thinking how nervous I would be in front of all of those people in the theater.  The audience was allowed to ask questions, and the first one was if the cast feared any consequences to them individually from the church for being in the film.  Emily Pearson answered, "Hell, no!" and everyone laughed.  Linda Stay (mother of one of the young men married in CA, featured in the beginning of the film) talked about how many of their extended family are active members in the church, and this movie will of course cause strained relations with them (even more than already exist). The other mother, Millie Watts, looked really uncomfortable being upfront, and I felt like I could relate to the expression on her face, and was again very glad I was not up there.

Another question that came along was from someone out of town, and probably based on Butter's comment about gay clubs in the schools, she asked if any of the schools were able to have anything to offer support to gay and lesbian youth.  Linda talked about how students from four schools in St. George tried this past year to get an organization going, and how they met with resistance, to the point of the principal canceling all clubs in the school so that he would not be required by law to allow the gay one.  Millie, who was involved helping the GSA at East High School a few years back, mentioned that Provo High School (yes, Provo, in the center of Mormonism) had a club for a while, but she was not sure if they still did, because it depends on having a student or students who are willing to run it and keep it going.  When those students graduate, if there is no one to take over, then the club kind of disappears.  By this time I was SO wishing I was standing up front so I could offer my two cents, so I anxiously raised and waved my hand. Reed called on me and I stood and shared my students' success this year in starting a club, that we met with a bit of resistance last year, but this year the worst that has happened is fliers being torn off the walls.  My comment was met with applause, and it felt really good. I had my moment to let my voice be heard.

Okay, now, as for the overall effect of the movie on me and the reason I am confused and frustrated over how it made me feel: I am angry with the church, and since I have been having a hard time with church attendance anyway, I think this just might put me over the edge.  Scott came and picked me up in Park City, and on the way home I told him about how I was feeling, that same torturous inner conflict, that the church I grew up with and loved so much had honestly done such deceitful, secretive, and hurtful things. But the conversation was not productive, because Scott has himself let go of that conflict.  He is in a different place than I am; he is done with the church and is one-by-one severing the ties and letting go of the conflict, and he believes it would be best for my mental health to do the same.  But I can't.  I can't let go of the church any more than I can let go of him. But then there is MoHoHawaii's comment on my last blog that rings true to some things I have thought about, and that is if I have to make a choice between the church and my marriage and holding my family together, then maybe it is better to choose my family.  (Not that Scott is forcing me to make that choice, just that I can see it as a drifting point in our marriage right now.) That evening when I came home, I asked the children what they would want to do if I took a break from church for a while.  They were concerned and didn't really understand what I meant until I turned it into a multiple choice question: stay home with me, have me take them to church and drop them off to sit and attend by themselves, or attend with another family in the ward.  The two younger children made no comment and seemed unaffected.  The two older ones immediately started listing their obligations and (somewhat sadly) said that they would want me to take them and drop them off and they would attend by themselves.

The next day at school, I kind of told my friend that is in a bishopric what had been going on over the last month with Scott and I and the documentary, and I started by asking the question: "If I have to choose between the church and my marriage, what should I choose?" With clarification that Scott was not forcing me to make that choice, he said without hesitation something to the effect of, "Considering the ages of your children, you should definitely choose your marriage over church."

What do I do? I mean that as a rhetorical question, because I believe only God can answer that for me.  I value your thoughts and opinions, but ultimately, it is between me and God to decide what to do.  Please continue to pray for me.  I really haven't knelt down and asked the question because I am afraid of the answer. I am afraid of getting no answer.  I am afraid of getting an answer, because all of the choices have drawbacks to them and will make me sad. But I am not sure I can just keep doing what I'm doing, going along not knowing what I want to do or what the future will bring.

We have a therapy session scheduled this week.  Maybe that will help. Meanwhile, I have an LDS cousin in CA who saw the discussion about the movie between Scott and I on facebook, and sent me a message to find out more about it.  I sent her my blog address, and she is now losing sleep over me, and wants to know what my goals are.  Maybe that will be good material for an upcoming post...


Scott said...

I would really love to read a review by someone who has no bias one way or the other.

I felt like Variety's Review was non-biased and quite good.

It did bother me though, as they played the audio from a phone conversation with Brother Matis, and how they refused to interview for this film. The Matis's hold a monthly fireside in Alpine, and they have done so much good for so many gay Mormons. Reed's film did not acknowledge their efforts at all, and that made me kind of sad. (Scott, what did you say about this when I was talking to you about it?)

First a bit of clarification about the presentation of the Matises in the film: Stuart's suicide was described, with a segue into the Matis' part in "In Quiet Desperation" (with quotes to indicate, as Sarah mentioned, the relief they felt that Stuart had kept himself chaste, even to the point of choosing suicide over acting on his attractions). The film then went on to say that the Matises had been invited to participate in the film, and that they had originally accepted the invitation, but that they had then backed out. Audio from a phone conversation with Fred Matis was played, in which he stated that their views were completely aligned with those of the brethren (or something to that effect).

As Sarah said, this portrayal did not flatter the Matises--it made them look like people who would choose the dogma or doctrine of the church over the life of their son. And, as Sarah said, it didn't give any indication of the good they have done for hundreds of struggling gay Mormons with their monthly firesides (and I don't dispute the fact that they have done a lot of good).

But in my opinion the portrayal was entirely accurate. The audio clip from Fred Matis illustrated very well the attitude that many LDS parents have ("our views are aligned with those of the brethren")--views that often drive their gay children away and in too many cases drive them to suicide. This attitude was in stark contrast to that of Linda Stay, the mother of one of the two men who served as the focal point of the film. She chose Tyler and his happiness over the dogma of the church, and she's going to gain much more of the viewer's sympathy for that choice.

We can feel bad for the way the Matises were portrayed, but only inasmuch as we can feel bad that a spotlight was directed at them--because I don't believe their views or position were misrepresented at all, or that Reed specifically intended to make them look bad.

lanabanana said...

Well, Sarah....I totally understand your wanting to wait to write this until your feelings and views "jelled". I am in awe of your ability to remember and report such details. I could never do that. It truly allowed me to feel like I was there, experiencing all that you did and I thank you for taking the time to write it. I anxiously await the time that I can order the documentary on DVD and watch it for myself.

My advice on "church or no church" is this......if you experience peace by participating, then go. If you experience anxiety by participating, then don't. That may by a little oversimplified and I understand your concern about your children and their welfare. Blake and I recently had a discussion about this and about how much good he feels like he received in his life because of participation in the church. He feels that it gave him a wonderful base for his life. And so I asked him, "So then, what of Noah (my grandson, his nephew) who is not receiving any of that? What do we do to give him a similar base? There was no good answer. No good substitute. Is there possibly a gay-affirming church in your area that you could attend as a family, that would meet the needs of you all? Is that something you've looked into at all?

Good luck to you on your continued journey. Remember that we are all only doing the best we can, following our own personal light in the hope that at "the end", we will have found peace.


Mister Curie said...

Thanks for the great review of the film. I really want to see it. Your thoughts really reminded me of what I read about the church's fight against the ERA and the civil rights movement. It is all documented in Quinn's "The Mormon Heirarchy" series. He even hints that the church will follow this same pattern for the fight against gay rights, looks like he was right.

Anonymous said...

My heart is breaking. For so many reasons.

Ned said...

Thanks for the extended entry Sarah. You have an impressive memory.

Although I haven't seen the film, the review I've linked to below strikes me as authentic in terms of what I'm thinking about the film based on what others--including you and Scott--are saying about it.

hitfix review of 8: The Mormon Proposition