Sunday, July 6, 2014

DVDebut: Cindy L. Abel's BREAKING THROUGH gives a positive and necessary jolt to GLBT docs

The new GLBT documentary BREAKING THROUGH begins with a litany of the awfulness of growing up gay or lesbian in the "old days" (these may still feel like current times for some of the younger set). But wait: There's a difference here. All the men and women we've just heard from are now elected government officials -- senators, congressperson, justice, judge, secretary of state, sheriff, district attorney and mayor, to name but some of their titles -- from all across the U.S.A. Already, the documentary, directed by Cindy L. Abel, is unusual and inspiring. So of course we want to know more.

Ms Abel, shown at right -- as director, producer and co-writer of the film -- gives us quite a bit more, as we learn the backgrounds and histories of many of these elected officials, along with their struggles growing up and their decision to come out, sometimes facing discrimination in school, at home, in the job market, at work, and during their run for office. And it is all topped off, finally, with their quite wonderful and compelling success. Each story is singular, one more interesting than the next.

One of our officials, Commissioner Joan Garner (above) has this choice morsel to tell. For a time in her life,  she explains, "I had wanted to become a minister. But our minister at church told me that I should instead aspire to be a minister's wife." Judge Phyllis Frye (below) is transgendered; if that isn't one hell of a leap (for the electorate as much as for Ms Frye), I don't know what else might be. Hearing about what Frye went through prior to her current status is both alarming and salutary.

One of the figures we learn most about is Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan (below), who possesses the double whammy of being both Asian and gay. We see him grow and age and win elections and partner with his companion, all with the love and approval of his family. Also of great inspiration is the story of the rise and rise of Latina sheriff of Dallas County, Lupe Valdez.

One of the most moving moments in the documentary comes when Georgia State Representative Karla Drenner tells of the apology she received, unasked for and thus all the more surprising and heartfelt, from one of her constituents. Two of the most famous of this crew, elected to the highest office so far, are U.S. Senators Barney Frank (shown at bottom, right) and Tammy Baldwin (below). While Frank's story is already well-known, it's good to hear more about Baldwin and her rise.

Over all it's good to hear just about everything in this inspiring documentary -- including the work done by Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns on behalf of endangered GLBT teens. I just wish that Ms Abel had been able to quit while she was ahead. Her documentary is finally just a little too long and repetitive and, toward the end, overly preachy (the end credits song, in particular). The message has come through loud and clear already and does not need quite the repetition given it here.

Very much worth seeing and rejoicing in, Breaking Through -- distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and running only 67 minutes (in the theatrical cut; you might want to watch the 87-minute extended cut, which is also available on the disc) -- hit the streets last month on both VOD and DVD. It is hard to imagine a better documentary to celebrate June's Gay Pride Month.

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