Two stellar documentaries are part of the lineup for this year’s Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival running Thu, Nov 5 to 14. Prodigal Sons follows trans filmmaker Kimberley Reid as she returns to her hometown and her estranged brother in Montana, while Cure for Love captures the lives of people within the ex-gay movement in Canada.
A very personal and compassionate story, Prodigal Sons has more than its fair share of family drama. Reid, a trans woman, ventures into delicate territory as she returns to her high-school reunion in small-town Montana. But that turns out to be the least of her worries — her troubled relationship with brother Mark is the real meat of the film. Mark’s fragile mental health pushes the boundaries of Kim’s identity and eventually her safety as well.
Growing up Kim was a high-school quarterback, popular and good-looking; Marc, well, wasn’t. At 21, when a car accident left Mark with a brain injury and mood swings, all he could do was recall the past. This didn’t sit well with Reid, keen to banish her former life. The two barely spoke for 10 years.
Upon their reunion Mark’s awkward rehashing of the past creates great tension. But Reid’s sympathy and willingness to move away from old conflicts keeps the peace — for a while.
Mark’s progress is undermined by several dark episodes without medication and there are some terrifying on-camera moments where Mark violently lashes out at Kim. Highlights of their past conflicts bubble to the surface and we see the dark side to which Kim closed the door all those years ago.
The film takes a bizarre turn as Mark, who was adopted, finds out the identity of his birth parents. He’s descended from none other than Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth (being put up for adoption by Rebecca Welles, their daughter). A trip to Europe to visit Oja Kodar (Orson Welles’s former partner) seems to give Mark a new take on his past and a healthy handle on life. But back home Mark relapses dangerously and the family’s unity is up in the air.
Kim Reid’s documenting of her family not only gives beautiful insight into how families struggle when one member’s mental health is in jeopardy but also captures the complexities of sibling rivalry.
Reid’s insightfulness on her and Mark’s dynamics are profound. Mark’s entrapment in the past contrasts her own rejection of it. Their reunion brings up her own issues as a trans person who is at once rejecting her former identity while at the same time trying to salvage the past.
Prodigal Sons screens at 9:15pm on Fri, Nov 6 at the Workman Theatre.
further along the mental health spectrum, Cure for Love follows a group of individuals involved with Exodus International, a network of Christian organizations devoted to eradicating homosexuality.
Brian and Ana are a “re-oriented” couple, newly married and trying to settle in. Ana likens marriage to “having a permanent roommate.” She states, “I don’t use the term falling in love — because it’s stupid.” Meanwhile Brian declares, “I’m totally still attracted to men…. My wife knows that, my church knows that.”
However their friends Jonathan and Darren, more accepting of their own sexuality, have left the community and are now part of the ex-ex-gay movement — people who have survived the rigorous therapies and reeducation of the evangelical church.
“The doctrine of guilt is so pervasive,” notes Jonathan, who talks of his unending self-hatred that nearly led him to suicide. “If what I believed was so righteous then why was it driving me to do such an unrighteous thing?”
The refreshing part of the doc is that it avoids overt commentary and lets the characters speak for themselves. Whereas the seminal ex-gay doc One Nation Under God from 1993 gives a left-leaning introduction to this creepy culture, lesbian wrtier and codirector Christina Willings avoids judgment and offers a more cinema verité style in understanding her subjects’ situation and pressures.
Reading their personalities is the most fascinating part of the movie: Brian’s over-the-top happiness and Ana’s etherized persona offer a marked contrast to the ebullient Jonathan and relaxed Darren.
But can ex-gays and ex-ex-gays be bffs? Cut to a cataclysmically awkward dinner party where Jonathan and his new boyfriend explain their happiness with the repressed Brian and Ana.
The film highlights each person’s acceptance of each other despite the cavernous rift between the queer and evangelical communities. As Jonathan states, “I’d be so happy for Brian and Ana if their marriage last their whole lives.”
Cure for Love screens at 7pm on Nov 6 at the Workman Theatre.