By Noma Faingold
In the summer of 2014, a five person film crew outfitted a borrowed van to serve as a
mobile production studio. A $10,000 budget meant they shared a modest hotel room at
each stop of the grueling 30-day, cross-country shoot, which began in San Francisco.
Director of photography Jason Fassler, 29, gave up trying to eat healthy early on and got
very little sleep.
“I stayed up late most nights because I had to offload footage at the end of the day and
prep gear for the next day,” he says.
Four straight men and one straight woman were committed enough to
“Homo The Documentary” to drive 18 hours in a row to be on time to interview
a subject in Oregon and to spontaneously grab their equipment to get footage of a gay
pride parade (called Emancipation Parade) in Hutchinson, Kansas.
“Every day was worth it,” Fassler said. “The experience changed us.”
Director Riley Hayes, 27, hired his Sunset District roommate, Fassler, after being selected
by the film’s producer, Michael McClure, to put together a team. Hayes and Fassler
knew each other from film school at Chapman University. McClure carefully set up
interviews to gather a spectrum of views on the issue of marriage equality and gay
rights, from talking to longtime activists to religious leaders with extremely negative
opinions of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community.
While the production may have been planned with precision, the completed
documentary comes off organically. The filmmakers, perhaps being influenced
by Morgan Spirlock (“Supersize Me”), put themselves and their on-the-road narrative
in the film, but the technique was not about inserting their own point of view
into the mix.
“We wanted it to feel like the viewer was a member of the crew,” says Fassler.
One such segment occurred when a few locals in Hutchinson they interviewed invited
the crew to go hand fishing, or “noodling,” the next day. They went and fit right in, with
camera and boom mic in tow.
Those interviewed for “Homo” were quite open and welcoming, says Hayes.
“We let them speak. We weren’t attacking them. We wanted to understand
them, even if it was about understanding ignorance,” Hayes said.
“Homo,” which had its world premiere on June 1 (and a second screening June 7)
at the 16th annual SF Documentary Festival, also shows what it is like for LGBT people to
live in places like Salt Lake City and the Bible Belt, where gay men are still getting
harassed and beat up and transgender women are fighting job discrimination.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in June 2015, for a
minute, Hayes was worried that “Homo” wouldn’t be relevant, until he envisioned the
documentary as “a snapshot of how the country felt about marriage equality leading up
to history being made.”
“We knew what we had was so powerful. The film can be used to help
spread understanding,” Hayes said.
Under a Donald Trump presidency, Fassler says the non-judgmental tone of “Homo”
will be easier for audiences to digest during these polarized times.
“In the film, no one is screaming at each other. We didn’t go in with a strong agenda,
in spite of our personal beliefs,” he says.
Hayes sees “Homo” as having some parallels with the results of the election.
There are people who have very clear and opposite views on marriage equality
in the film. And there are people who are ambivalent.
“Being neutral is actually worse,” says Hayes. “Neutrality helps the oppressor,
never the victim.”
“Homo The Documentary” had its world premiere at the 16th annual
San Francisco Documentary Festival (SF Doc Fest) at the Roxie Theater on
June 1, at 9:15 p.m. A second screening will be held on June 7,
at 7:15 p.m. For more information, go to the website at www.sfindie.com.