Sunday, August 29, 2010

David Rothmiller's FOR MY WIFE: timely, educational & a good commercial for GLAAD

How timely is FOR MY WIFE, the one-hour documentary -- made in 2008 -- written, directed and edited by David Rothmiller and produced by LD Thompson? Ask how often the subject of gay and lesbian marriage is in the news these days, and you'll quickly get the picture. This 73-minute film (made even shorter now, for its DVD release, probably to better fit into 60-minute educational television time-slots) begins with an unexpected event that turns into a horrible situation that then delivers an outcome that is not only tragic but smacks of unnecessary -- and discriminatory -- actions.


Rothmiller (shown at left) and his "star" Charlene Strong -- one of the two women involved in the situation that begins the film, and who, by the end of it, certainly deserves that appellation -- recreate the event skillfully with a combination of remembered verisimilitude and pick-up photography.  By the end of their recreation, we're aghast, angry and ready to go to battle, just as Charlene does, for marriage equality in her home state of Washington. We follow this woman in her learning curve, as she takes her own awful situation, meets with and learns to educate not just the populace but perhaps some of state's politicians -- a few of whom are themselves gay or lesbian -- and allows her-and-her-partner's tragedy to make her home state into a place closer to real equality.


Though short by most documentary standards, the film occasionally repeats itself: Washington's smart and sympathic governor Chris Gregoire, above, tells us what we've already heard twice or more -- although she does mention a telling bit about a credit card that's both new and nastily appropriate. Probably the most interesting portion of the film is devoted to the debate on the floor of state senate, where we hear some marvelous (and some stupid) things said about the subject of marriage equality.  The opposition, as is its wont, brings up bestiality and necrophilia -- and is promptly told to keep to the subject at hand, please.


Most moving and important, perhaps, is the testimony of Democratic state senator Rosa Franklin, above, who tells us how she has seen the complexion of this Senate change so noticeably over the decades. She speaks of her own marriage and how she even supported DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) -- and yet she cannot abide something as unfair and unequal as what has happened to Charlene. The back-and-forth speeches, pro and con, wonderfully capture American government at work for its people. All of them.
 

In the second half of the film we see how GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) trains Charlene -- and how she proves such a splendid spokesperson for the cause of our equality. We visit other couples (or the partner who remains) that demonstrate quite well how, without the right to marry, there is simply no legal next-of-kin relationship. Later, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry talks about the actual vocabulary of marriage -- love, contentment, sacrifice, respect -- and how important having all this is to gays and lesbians.  Well, he left out a few other words like acrimony, separation and divorce.  And since the divorce rate still hovers around 50 per cent in the country, it might occasionally be worth noting the down side.


Yet that's not the point.  Real equality would give the GLBT population the chance to screw up, too. And, as the GLAAD rep explains: "When dealing the the media, you've got to stay on-point." (Like a good Republican?) Toward the end of the film, no less than Gloria Steinem reminds us how much all social justice movements have in common.  Then she gives Charlene (shown above, and on poster at top) some good advice: "Follow an intelligent progression."  It appears that Charlene has done just that.  Becoming an activist for social justice seems a very good fit for her -- just as For My Wife is a fitting and active memorial for her late partner, Kate Fleming.


The documentary, from the invaluable Cinema Libre Studio, hits the street this Tuesday, August 31, available for sale or rental

2 comments:

David Rothmiller said...

Thank you for your attention to our film and the issue of inequality with which our subject deals. As the director of FOR MY WIFE, I feel it's important to name those of merit appearing in a review such as this. Democratic State Sen. Rosa Franklin deserves such respect. It is ill-serving to refer to her simply as the "Black senator".
Also of noteworthy importance is my partner, producer of the film, LD Thompson.
And far from being a commercial for glaad, the film is Charlene's story. She was embraced by glaad and put on her way as an activist. Any other org serving in a like manner would receive such inclusion.
Respectfully,
David Rothmiller

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, David. I appreciate these "additions," which I will now add to my review. I believe I had asked the PR person who sent me the DVD for the name of that senator (which I did not write down while watching the film), and so I am happy to now have it. I'll also include the name of your producer in the review. As to the "GLAAD commercial" reference, I did not mean this as a pejorative. I'm all for GLAAD. If we must have media (and being part of this, I can't complain too much), we should be grateful for GLAAD -- the reference to and use of which in your film came across, to this viewer at least, rather like a commercial. Again, if this strikes you as a cheap shot, it was not meant that way. GLAAD deserves a commercial now and again.