Families Are Forever Deals with Devout Couple Who Learns Their Son is Gay
By Demitri Corbin
Families Are Forever is a 21-minute documentary short that tells the story of a devout Mormon couple, who were staunch Proposition 8 supporters, who one day discover that their 13 year-old son is gay.It was the 2013 Ojai Film Festival Theme award-winner. The film is the third in a series of films produced by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a research, intervention, education and policy initiative of San Francisco State University to study the impact of family acceptance — and rejection — on the health, mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.I recently spoke via telephone with the film’s executive director and program director for FAP, Caitlin Ryan, PhD., to discuss the making of Families Are Forever from her office in San Francisco.Demitri Corbin: There’s a lot to this story. Let’s start from the beginning. How did the Family Acceptance Project start?Caitlin Ryan: I’ve been a clinical social worker for 40 years, starting in the ’70s and in the ’80s when the HIV epidemic emerged, and I started AIDS Atlanta. It was the only AIDS organization in the South … and in the South particularly, young gays left to go to the big city, to become themselves, and come home maybe once a year for Christmas or Thanksgiving. And their families didn’t know that much about them. Then in ’82, ’83, I started to see parents in intensive care units, and worked with families who didn’t know their son was gay. Throughout that period, most people didn’t see how families were being affected. That set for when I had an opportunity to create a program.Fast forward to the ’90s I continued working in the field … the ’80s saw more and more adolescents coming and the age kept dropping. I knew I wanted to develop a program. In 2000, I moved to California and got the opportunity to develop a program.
DC: That leads to my next question – how did you come to develop the study for the research? Was it an accumulation of research over the years? Were you developing in your head as you moved along?CR: I received a very large grant from the California Endowment for the first comprehensive study on how families acceptance or rejection effects high-risk behavior in LGBT adolescents and teens. I knew in general, families protest against their children’s sexual orientation and services were designed to serve the teen alone, or with a group of their peers.Families seemed to be a problem. I knew all families weren’t rejecting their children and I knew we needed a large family study in order to develop a new model of care families – a new service with which to support families. And I studied families all across the state in urban, rural, farm workers. I took 2- to 4-hour interviews and discovered 100 ways contemporary adolescents are rejected by their families, and how these behaviors measured the relationship between how families responded and high-risk behavior. Faith and religion are a huge factor in acceptance or rejection.By 2004 I knew I wanted to make films. I wanted the films to be about diverse families, films designed give youth and families hope – a multiple series of ethnically, religiously diverse families that tell the story, show families were being in support of their LGBT children. FAP uses models to show, to breakdown perceptions of youth and providers, to offer prevention strategies in the field of counseling, education – help families with support.
DC: Let’s talk about the creative team, tell me about the director, Vivian Kleiman.CR: We met about 10 years ago. Vivian Kleiman is a veteran filmmaker. I knew her work and we had the same philosophy. I met her at a conference and asked her if she would work with me and she said, “Absolutely.” Then I had to raise the funds piecemeal – if I could get them out faster it would make a huge difference. Each film is its own cultural work.DC: Tell me about the first film, Always My Son.CR: That was the second film. The first was the story of a Latino family with a lesbian daughter with preschool children. The mom was struggling – it brought up intergenerational issues. That was the main story. The average age of younger kids coming out is a little older than 13. They know at about age 6 or 7. The perception is young people come out later. It’s important that family and caregivers understand how to support them. In families of color, seniors are really important. This film has been used a lot in senior’s centers.Always My Son is the story of a typical masculine father with a son who is gender non-conforming. The son loves dolls, pretty colors and as the son grows older, the father pushes the son away. The mother is more responsive but the father just ignores it – silence – that’s related to risk. They start noticing depression and are sent to a psychologist because he was registering a high level of risk. He goes to a party one night and gets alcohol poisoning and they have to rush him to an emergency room and that’s when the realized how much distress he was in and needed help. They started an LGBT support group for teens and found a church that was accepting … it’s like a Wizard of Oz thing in that you don’t see what happens behind the screen, how families conservative and religious, how they integrate cultural and religious beliefs and values. It shows the journey of how either rejecting or accepting affects high-risk behaviors.DC: That brings us to Families Are Forever. The evening I met you the film had won the OFF Best Theme Award but you also won an award that evening in BakersfieldCR: Yes, the Best Independent Film Award at the Bakersfield Film FestivalDC: How did it feel getting two awards in one night?CR: Oh, we were all really blown away to win the Theme award, it was just an honor. I was so moved by the festival, everyone’s warmth, the people who were there were artists with great, long careers in film and it was just an honor for our team. Vivian wasn’t able to be there, she had other commitments. She would have been thrilled!DC: What I liked most about the film is that it was fresh – this all happened just in the last year. How did you come to find this family?CR: Well, when the son was coming out they realized they need some help. They were sending him to reparative therapy and that only increased his risk. He was suicidal and they knew they had to change. He urgently needed help and they went online, found FAP and interviewed them. The mom said I was the brightest light in the darkest abyss of their life. They desperately needed a therapist and I recommended a friend who found them a therapist. I went with them on a speaking trip at a Mormon Conference and I asked if they would like to tell their story and they said yes, of course. They would love to tell their story.
Our conversation lasted 45 minutes. I will end it here. Look for the extended conversation in the coming weeks.The Ojai Film Festival wrapped up last night with an encore showing of the festival winners. Families Are Forever will be available, along with other film festival entries, at Ojai Library in the coming weeks. For more information on the Family Acceptance Project visit http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/
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An interview with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni
By Demitri Corbin
Saturday, November 9, 2013
HS: Thank you.
HS: The official launch was a month and a half ago with MB Boissonnault, an L.A. artists, who’s landscapes are beautiful, haunting, and emotionally charged. It was a partnership with Wallspace L.A., Valda Lake’s gallery in Los Angeles. We wanted to start with something that was comfortable, yet different. We’ll have rotating shows approximately every six weeks.
DC: What’s next?
There’s something that’s nice about this place. There’s something peaceful about the place – that’s warm and cozy and comfortable – not a sterile art gallery. It’s a house. We have a fireplace to hang art over. You can see what it’s going to look like in your house.
HS: I do want to say that we couldn’t have done any of this without Carl Thelander. He’s the owner of the building and a true arts patron. He’s been so supportive of the whole thing and all he asks is to be invited to the parties!
DC: I do want to ask you about the other galleries that are opening up – which I love –
DC: Wonderful! I think that’s good – look, just in time.
We rise to see that the gallery is now completely full and Heather dives into hosting mode. I make my way through the crowd and down the street to Phillip and Gary’s weenie roast (don’t laugh), resolved to return later for my interview with Lisa.
It’s now close to 9 p.m. and the Porch reception is still going strong. The baby grand now sits in a darkened room but the gallery, front lawn and porch are still teaming with guests who travel back and forth to the wine bar and the Jolly Oyster food truck parked in the driveway between the gallery and OYES. I flag down Lisa amongst the crowd and we make our way to the piano bench and begin our conversation. Lisa is exuberant from the success of the evening.
LC: Yes, it’s an Ojai-based company. We were challenged by our business advisor to do something B-HAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal. So we thought how do we put on something in a community that is already arts-centric. We went around to all the organizations that are already putting on festivals and I approached Jamie Fleming and we talked about how to uplift the arts conversation, and we decided to do the festival as part of the Ojai Film Festival. It worked out and we were fortunate to put on the Ojai Art festival with the OFF. Through our company, 49pm, we provide software tools to artists and arts organizations called Entrythingy, and artists around the country used our software to enter their artwork into our show.
DC: Tell me more about Chris and Uta.
LC: Chris is the creator of 49pm and Uta is a graphic designer. I do sales and marketing. Uta has done the branding for the festival, she created the logo that you see all around town. We worked 100s of hours to get stores, shops, and local businesses involved. We have wonderful artists showing. In addition, we included five featured installations that are all around downtown Ojai including a garbage tower at The MOB Shop built by Greg Prinz, one of the owners, a piece made entirely out of cardboard by Josh Short that’s in front of Modern Folk Living, a sculptural piece made entirely out of pieces collected out of trash containers from dumpsters all around Ojai by Joseph Umali Fernandez, an installation called Neighborhood Infusions where mulberries gathered in Ojai have been made into an infusion drink called Ojai Mullberry Rye and presented as a public participatory live installation by Fallen Fruit of Los Angeles, and a curated photographic installation by local Ojai photographer Enrico Natali.
At this point Heather enters the room, drink in hand.
HS: Demitri, if you want to know what is Lisa’s complete inspiration – it’s me!!
We all laugh.
DC: Let’s end it on that note! Thank you!
We leave the darkened room and return to the festivities.
The Ojai Art Festival is holding an international juried show of art from trash, discarded objects and materials. DISCARTED asked artists to work with trash, discarded objects and materials to raise questions and ideas, aesthetic and moral, about the life of the planet our wasteful society threatens.
Ojai Valley Green Coalition Hosts “Harmony” Screening
By Demitri Corbin
It’s a hot late afternoon as I make my way to 206 South Signal Street, Suite S, the offices of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. Through the alphabet of beauty, healing, chiropractic and travel suites, I find the staircase to Ste. S. Opening the door as I knock I enter and pass the cases of donated wine for Sunday’s screening reception and approach the six-foot table where Deborah Pendrey and Anca Colbert sit with their day’s work sprawled before them. They both exhibit end-of-the-day frazzle, as do I, and quickly announce they have sparse time.“Deborah has a fund-raising meeting at 4,” Anca confesses.
“Everyone downtown is scrambling, it seems, so I’ll make it quick.
We begin the conversation with a question about something I’ve wanted to know as I’ve looked over the festival schedule.
DC: The schedule says that you are, “presenting,” this documentary. It seems that a lot of local organizations are sponsoring screenings, which is great. Are you sponsoring this screening?
AC: Actually, we are hosting the screening. It is something that the festival started last year; a new segment called Focus Earth, with organizations hosting a series of ecology documentaries. So, we do the leg work, we all do media promotions and marketing, and the Film Festival provides the staff to run the screening. It’s a really great idea.DC: And, economical too.DP: People really liked last year. “Chasing Ice” last year was a really big deal.
DC: I see from the trailer that it premiered in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival in London. It’s been making the festival rounds.
AC: Yes, it’s been shown at a couple of festivals.
DC: Did you choose this film?
AC: Yes, we chose it. Because it made sense for us because of what it’s trying to put beliefs into action with education and promoting change and care of a green mission, so it was a good match for us. And what is great about it is that Prince Charles comes as a bit of a surprise. Most people think of him as someone with privileges and you see that he has chosen to make a difference, to walk his talk. He heads the most generous non-profits in all of England, I believe that’s what it says in the recent Time magazine article. What’s beautiful is that it (the film) shows him walking the earth, all the continents, making a change.
DP: And for the film, he brings to a more global level, making it more inspiring. It takes you out of the usual gloom & doom scenario and actually offers some solutions by stating the challenges in a different, engaging, surprising …
AC: Yes, surprising because the perception most people have comes out in this movie that most people think that Prince Charles is disengaged, when in fact he has devoted his life to being engaged. It shows a strong spiritual set of beliefs … if he were a politician who had to be elected, he couldn’t speak like this. You see the depth of his humanity.
DC: Let’s talk about the panel, the distinguished panel that you spoke of before.
AC: (laughs) Yes, the truly distinguished panel. Each panelist is an accomplished individual who is, I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, walking their talk, making a difference, showing vision and promoting change.
DP (chiming in) John Rulac! Nutiva! He’s sponsoring the screening.
AC: Yes, John, someone who is also walking his talk. The moderator is Michael Shapiro, a combination producer, screen writer and movie maker and long time environmental and political activist. Lori Pye, PH. D, also with an intersection of disciplines; conservationist and environmentalist, a Jungian psychologist and the first to open a school in ecopyscology… and Jim Churchill, the Ojai farmer and activist, famous for his Pixie tangerines. And then there’s Nicholas Deitch, an architect and civil activist.
DC: Is he from Ojai?
AC: Ventura. He has helped to build low-cost housing for Ventur … the one thing I want to say is that the movie is fun, and again, filled with surprises.
DP: Wait ’til you see the farmer from Louisiana!
They start laughing!
AC: Yes, wait til you see-
DP: And hear …
AC: … the farmer from Louisiana! He’s wonderful. Even though the film addresses profoundly serious matters, there is a sense of levity that leaves one with a sense of hope and possibility.
DC: Thanks, that’s good. I will leave you to your work.
It’s 15 minutes before Deborah’s next meeting and she plunges back into her work. Anca walks me to the door.
AC: Please come to the reception after the movie and enjoy some wine. It was donated by Casa Barranca.
DC: Thanks, I’ll see you Sunday.