One of the joys of being out on the festival tour is meeting other filmmakers and, sometimes, you end up riding together for ten miles in a cab, after two in the morning, in a strange neighborhood in Ohio, looking for the only diner that's still open at this time of night. So it was a few months ago with me and Mike Roth, the co-director of SAVING MARRIAGE, a documentary that looks at what happens when the state of Massachusetts decides that gay couples should be allowed to marry. The film, which has been playing festivals around the country, has its Los Angeles premiere this Sunday at this year's 25th anniversary edition of Outfest.
AJ: We met at Cleveland and we were both in the middle of our festival tours. Can you talk about what that festival experience has been like for you?
Mike: I didn’t truly understood the value of film festivals until I started doing the circuit myself. SAVING MARRIAGE is my first film and it was very important to me for people to be able to see it on the big screen. Unfortunately, economic realities prevent most documentaries from getting any kind of significant theatrical release, so the festival circuit has been a way for audiences outside the largest cities to see the film in a theater. We never expected the movie to be highly profitable, but being able to watch audiences laugh and cry along with the film’s subjects has been tremendously gratifying and is probably the best “payment” I can get.
AJ: Your film has played both general film festivals as well as GLBT-focused fests. Do you sense a difference in audience response?
Mike: I know the log line of SAVING MARRIAGE is “the fight to keep gay marriage legal in Massachusetts,” but when you watch the film, you realize it’s not so much about gay marriage as it is just about marriage. It’s also about people who stand up and fight for what they believe in, and that is an inspiring theme with universal appeal. So the audience response is pretty much the same at both GLBT and general film festivals. They’re reacting to the characters and the story, and it doesn’t really matter if they’re gay or straight.
AJ: The Massachusetts decision to allow gay marriage has recently been upheld when the state legislature rejected allowing a state referendum to overturn the decision. When you have a film like yours, where the news is constantly changing even as your completed film is working the festival circuit, do you ever worry about how the changing situation on the ground affects your film?
Mike: From the very beginning, making this film was like covering a breaking news story. Things were constantly changing during our 18 months of production, and the audience definitely gets the same roller-coaster feel that we had while making it. Even once we “finished” the film, we knew that there would be more events that would affect the ultimate ending, so we structured the ending as an epilogue, thus making changes relatively easy. We have already adjusted our July 2007 Outfest screening print to reflect the huge news out of Massachusetts in June. The big plus with the situation constantly changing in Massachusetts is that it keeps the story in the news, thus allowing us to promote the film not only in the traditional Arts & Entertainment sense but as a political news story as well.
AJ: Outfest is obviously one of the largest GLBT festivals in the country, but also one of the largest fests period in Los Angeles. What are your thoughts about playing there?
Mike: I’ve lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years now, so it’s basically my home town. My friends here have been listening to me yammer on about this film since we started making it in early 2004, but none of them have had the opportunity to see it yet. So to finally be able to present what has been my life’s work for the last three years to the people I most care about is tremendously meaningful to me. And I hope that seeing this labor of love finally come to fruition will be meaningful to them as well.
SAVING MARRIAGE screens Sunday July 15 and Sunday July 22. Outfest kicked off last night with it's Opening Night Gala and regular screenings start toight. In addtion to SAVING MARRIAGE, among the docs in Outfest are fest favorites CAT DANCERS, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (screening as a centerpiece gala), ALEXIS ARQUETTE: SHE'S MY BROTHER, BLACK WHITE + GRAY: A PORTRAIT OF SAM WAGSTAFF + ROBERT MAPPELTHORPE and RED WITHOUT BLUE. Also making the journey from the Cleveland Film Festival to Outfest is Russell Marleau, with his John Hughes-inspired THE CURIOSITY OF CHANCE.