Continuing my spotlight on the second half of titles in the 2012 Sundance US Documentary Competition: LOVE FREE OR DIE, Macky Alston’s portrait of gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.
Sundance Program Description:
In June 2003, the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire came under fire when it became the first to elect an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as a bishop. Since that flash point, Robinson has been at the center of the contentious battle for LGBT people to receive full acceptance in the faith.
Director Macky Alston (whose film, FAMILY NAME, won the Freedom of Expression Award at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival) follows Robinson into the breach in the struggle for equality. While resolute in his calling, Robinson grows increasingly critical of the central role that religious institutions have played in fostering homophobia and hatred. He is pointedly not invited to a once-a-decade convocation of bishops and courts controversy by attending. His presence the next year for the Episcopal General Convention underscores the impact of its impending decisions about the church’s stance on the consecration of future gay bishops and the performance of same-sex marriage ceremonies.
While Robinson never intended to be the poster boy for gay bishops, LOVE FREE OR DIE demonstrates that he has become a beacon of hope for millions. His history-making church provides a model for other communities of faith to treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of their sexuality.
As noted above, Alston already has a Sundance award winner to his credit. His other films – QUESTIONING FAITH, THE KILLER WITHIN, and HARD ROAD HOME – have screened at notable festivals including Hot Docs, Full Frame, Toronto, and SXSW. The film’s producer, Sandra Itkoff, previously collaborated with Alston on THE KILLER WITHIN and on Nicole Opper’s OFF AND RUNNING, and produced Yoav Shamir’s DEFAMATION. Subject Gene Robinson previously appeared in Sundance alum FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO (2007, Daniel G Karslake).
Why You Should Watch:
Robinson is a strong and complex subject – sometimes refreshingly cantankerous, while at others, quietly humble. Ignoring the impulse some documentarians have to gloss over the imperfections of religious figures, Alston is confident in portraying Robinson as a well-rounded individual. His moments of anger and frustration at the way religion has been used to persecute are among the film’s most provocative and honest. As evidenced by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent creation of ordinariates to woe disaffected Anglicans and Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic Church, Robinson’s story – and that of LGBT people attempting to affect change within religious institutions – is especially topical.
The film’s Facebook page may be found here. Alston discusses his doc in a “Meet the Artists” interview for Sundance here and with Indiewire here. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.