September 10th kicks off the 27th annual Austin Gay and Lesbian (and all other identities I swear) International Film Festival. For the next four days we will be covering the very latest narratives and documentaries. Opening night began with a somber note, the Matthew Shepard documentary, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine followed by a Q&A with Director Michele Josue and Matthew’s parents Judy and Dennis.
The film could not be more perfectly titled, for a couple of reasons. First off, Michele was literally a friend of Matthew’s and serves as our narrator/ guide through the film. Second, this is not a film about what happened to Matthew Shepard; though those events are covered. This is a documentary about a man named Matt and the story of his life as told by his friends and family. Just the distinction between Matt and Matthew becomes profound when you get past a media event and come to intimately know the real person.
The documentary follows his whole life, chronicling his childhood and his families move to Saudi Arabia to support his father’s work. He attended a boarding school in Switzerland and was extremely well liked where ever he went. Many of these teachers and friends are interviewed and paint a never before seen picture of someone with dreams and enormous potential. He was cut down all too soon and his death sent a shockwave through American culture, but for those close to him there was a much more personal loss of their friend and son.
That angle makes this documentary really stand out amongst the many that have been made. I have spent more of my life in theaters than I should probably admit to and believe me when I say I have never heard an audience weep like that. Weep, openly, on all sides of me and not just at his death. They cried at all the good memories relayed and the hardships this young man faced. Yes, they wept for his loss and there was anger towards the assailants during the Q&A but that’s not the heart of the film. This is a moving, personal examination and celebration of Matthew Shepard’s life and more powerful in fighting hate than focusing on the crime. It is a must see (if you’re attending the fest and missed it, the Doc will play again on Sunday. There is also a digital release planned for early next year.) and glorious opening to this year’s aGLIFF.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.