The second annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival is off to roaring start with last night’s enlightening documentary about Judge Damon Keith and his remarkable contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The film entitled Walk With Me covers Judge Keith’s career and his landmark/groundbreaking decisions that have impacted discrimination rulings that we rely on today. In fact, several topics in the film had an eerie similarity (much to my dismay) to current cringeworthy events. The film is as relevant today as it’s story was in the 60s and 70s. And, documentarian Jesse Nesser is a product of Vermont’s Jay Craven professorial talents and his proven ability to bring a story to life in film- a bonus to all of us who treasure what Vermont brings to our lives.
I have also had the opportunity to preview Ribbons– it’s a short, somewhat autobiographical film by Brandon Cordiero about a mother who brings her 7 year old son to an AIDS memorial on a beach in P-town, MA and the joy and peace he felt being a part of something that made sense to him. (Ribbons is airing Sunday at the Marquis Theater in Middlebury.)
I had a chance to ask Brandon a few questions about the film and he filled in a few blanks for me:
You chose to tell the AIDS story as one of compassion and understanding, yet in 1997 there was a real sense of fear of the AIDS epidemic and fear of the gay community. Why did you choose to focus only on the compassionate side?
You are more than right; the sense of fear throughout the AIDS epidemic was palpable during the ‘90’s. In that time of deep sorrow, there was a place that faced AIDS with compassion and understanding, and, that place is Provincetown, MA. So, the reason RIBBONS showcases these two qualities is because, I wanted to tell my story, which is Provincetown’s story. I grew up there during the height of the AIDS epidemic and as I got older, I realized just how fortunate I was to grow up bearing witness to my community’s unique response to the epidemic. There are countless kids out there who are born in places where their lives are threatened every day because they are queer. Now more than ever it is our time to tell and share stories about our LGBTQ(Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer) community. In media and the political sphere, we are more visible than ever. This brings about a unique set of challenges; it means we are exposed to more hate crimes and at the same time it means that young queer kids can start to see themselves represented in the world. And so, the older queer population must do it’s best to claim all of our communities history – in sharing and telling these stories, we create visibility and have the potential to help LGBTQ youth along their journey of self discovery.
As a child growing up in a diverse and accepting community like Provincetown, did you also understand the tough reality that the LGBTQ community faced in other communities? If so, when and how did that understanding come about?
At a young age I was afforded the ability to have open and honest conversations with older queer people. Because so many people moved to Provincetown in search of acceptance and love, these one on one interactions, paired with the meeting of other queer kids in college, informed me of the harsh adversity gay people were up against in other parts of the country. As I learned more about this, I got pissed off. I needed to do something about it – I didn’t know what that would be, but, I knew I couldn’t stand by and be silent. While we have made some undeniable gains in the last 10 years in regards to LGBTQ Rights, we have a long way to go before queer people can feel like true equals in our world. Through film and theatre I hope that more people can learn more about the history of the LGBTQ community and that it can continue to be a medium which helps spread our story.
Considering your acceptance to the MNFF and other film festivals and the positive response that you have received thus far, are you considering expanding this story to encompass more about life, AIDS and community? A feature film perhaps?
This whole festival circuit has been quite a remarkable experience, and, since this is my directorial debut, NONE of it is lost on me. I feel so fortunate to be able to share RIBBONS with audiences around the world. In particular, I have never been to Vermont(I know, I can’t believe it either!) So, not only is this RIBBONS Vermont debut, it’s mine as well, and I couldn’t be more excited! In terms of expanding RIBBONS from short to feature, I currently am writing a screenplay called TRIBE, which is indeed the feature length adaptation of RIBBONS. The plan is to shoot in 2017 in Provincetown, MA. Throughout the entire process of making RIBBONS, I was very happy to be telling a story in short form. After sharing the short with a collection of close friends and colleagues, they all started to ask about “the feature version.” A majority of these people had seen my original one man show, I Love You, You’re Hairy, Now Change, the same show that I had adapted ribbons from. The show was about my own childhood experiences of growing up in Provincetown, they all knew that there was “more story to tell.” I listened to them, and after re-reading my one man show, I realized…they were right. Thus began the exciting process of writing the feature.
What are your hopes and expectations for this film?
The initial goal in making RIBBONS was to tell a story that might be able to help LGBTQ youth to feel less alone, to hopefully prevent one kid from committing suicide. Film can be one of the most effective forms of activism and I think we all can attest to the impact film can have on our lives. This past June I was lucky enough to screen the film for a group of LGBTQ youth at Harvey Milk High School a publicly funded high school in New York City specifically for at-risk LGBTQ(Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgernder, and Questioning) youth. The screening proved to be an invaluable experience for both me and the students – provoking some of the most thoughtful and insightful comments I have heard to this day. I hope that I can continue to share this film with LGBTQ youth – to teach them about a model community in which queerness doesn’t make you public enemy number one. I am also working on creating a lesson plan in tandem with the film with hopes of sharing the message in RIBBONS with a other LGBTQ youth groups.
There are plenty more opportunities to watch amazing film here at the MNFF2016. It’s going to be a cloudy weekend in the Upper Valley- perfect movie binging weather. I suggest you drive over and be a part of this tremendous festival. I am certainly looking forward the weekend ahead!