Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Director's POV: Rochester LGBT documentary Shoulders to Stand On

For more than a century, Rochester has led the nation in the historic struggle for civil rights. But, even as history is made, the record of the people and events who made it is often fragile and can be lost over time.

Shoulders to Stand On, a full-length documentary produced by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, sets out to capture and preserve LGBT history in the Rochester region. The film tells personal stories about the achievements of Rochester’s LGBT community. 
It premieres Oct. 12 at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House, as part of ImageOut.

Kevin Indovino is the film's director. ImageOut recently asked him to reflect on the experience.

IMAGEOUT: In an Empty Closet interview, you told Susan Jordan that one of the questions you're asking a lot of people is: as you look at the LGBT movement in Rochester, “what is it about our city that made it possible to be progressive?” Did you find the answer in the process of producing Shoulders to Stand On?

KEVIN INDOVINO: The most common answer I got from people is that Rochester has always had a spirit of social justice; most people would note that we are the city of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. 
But, in trying to go deeper than that, the one conclusion that seemed to emerge is that Rochester became a highly educated community very early on—and where you have educated, forward-thinking people, you have an environment for social change. 
Industrialists like George Eastman took distinct steps to make sure Rochester was the best place for workers to live. The educational and cultural institutions he helped to put in place were intended attract the brightest and most creative people to this community. 
And that way of thinking carries on even today. With the downsizing of our major industries we are again promoting our educational, technology and cultural institutions.

 IO: You've also said that the people who took action in the early days didn't see themselves as “activists,” but as people who saw the need to do something. What's the difference?

KI: Good question. I guess as we look back at them now, we see them as activists and clearly someone like Bob Osborne, the founder of the Gay Liberation Front at U of R, saw himself as an activist. He was very much involved in the civil rights movements of the 1960s and brought that way of thinking to the GLF.

I think what I was really getting at in the Empty Closet interview was that these people didn’t see themselves as history makers—they weren’t thinking in terms of what kind of legacy they would be leaving behind.
They were simply reacting to the situation at the time, seeking visibility and respect from the community.

IO: Did producing the film change the way you look at your own heritage as a member of the LGBT community? How?

KI: I think mostly I am very humbled. I don’t think any of us today realize the courage and sacrifices it took from the generation before us to get us where we are today. And how amazing it is that we are able to record and celebrate these people’s achievements while most are still alive. 

It also gives me a renewed respect for the greater Rochester community. That community is often misinterpreted as being conservative, but in reality we have always been at the forefront of progressive thinking.

IO: What are the prospects for this film achieving a national and maybe worldwide audience?

KI: It’s not likely that the documentary will get much distribution beyond the Rochester region because of its very local content. Not impossible but not likely. We knew that going in. We do have several community organizations / institutions expressing interest in doing their own screenings of the documentary and that’s exactly what we were hoping would happen. 

However, the documentary is really just a small part of a much larger project. It was purposely produced in a chapter-like format so that we can easily break it up into online segments.

The Shoulders to Stand On website will be redeveloped and redesigned as an educational toolkit, using the documentary segments, audio interviews and many archival materials that we found during the production of the documentary.

The online component is what will be used mostly on a national or international scale.

1 comment:

Kate said...

This was a great film and an important piece of understanding the national landscape! Please do another film that focuses on Trans history! Today it's just not acceptable to not have time to include Trans stories. I hope this film and a future film on our Trans history both get played in other cities; I think they could be relevant to US LGBT history even if the details differ in other locations.

I look forward to the website! I think a discussion section would be awesome if it's possible to include that, especially for conversations across generations. After the third screening, I thought it was fascinating that one of the film subjects answered the question about what he wants to tell the younger generation by saying what he wanted to hear from them instead.