A gray winter sky hangs over lonely city streets, rotted oil derricks, and abandoned factories. This is Oil City, Pennsylvania, a fading industrial town in the heart of the American rust belt. It is the sort of town that Barrack Obama had in mind when he made his infamous comments about bitter small town residents clinging to their guns and religion as they watch the rest of the world pass them by. The peace and quiet is shattered when the filmmaker, Oil City native Joe Wilson, places the announcement of his wedding to another man in the local paper. The announcement catches the eye of Kathy Springer, a local woman whose teenage son, CJ, is being brutally tormented at school because he is gay. Ignored by the school authorities and with no where else to turn, she seeks help from Wilson and they begin a difficult but ultimately successful struggle to take on the school authorities who made every day "eight hours of pure hell" for CJ. The announcement has a very different effect on Diane... Written by
I've lived in Washington, D.C. for twenty years. It's where I met Dean, playing pick-up basketball, and made a life for myself. But no matter how long you've been away from home or how much you've changed, the place, you were born and raised in, always stays some place deep inside. For me, that place is Oil City. A small town with small town values in the hills of western Pennsylvania.
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Joe Wilson, a resident of Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage is legal, weds his partner. Perhaps in a conscious desire to stir the pot in his hometown, Oil City, Pennsylvania, he sends a wedding notice to the local newspaper. Predictable hate-filled letters to the editor that quote scripture and promise fire-and-brimstone are received and published. After reading them, Wilson and his partner go to Oil City and talk with residents about bigotry and intolerance towards minorities in general and gays in particular. The resulting documentary is short, engrossing, and offers some surprises for those prejudiced towards small town residents.
Stereotypes wither throughout the documentary. An Evangelical minister and his wife listen and understand, although they never reach complete acceptance. The frustrated mother of a bullied gay teen surmounts natural reticence and speaks out in public forums for change. The harassed teen, CJ, is no stereotype either; interested in cars and sports, he could have remained in the closet, but for his courage and determination not to live a lie. A civic-minded lesbian couple renovates a downtown theater and hope for mainstream acceptance and success. The DVD extras hold further valuable interviews; in one, a woman associates gays with bestiality and incest, but after a civil conversation with Wilson, softens her position. Only one militant "family values" woman remains intransigent throughout and prefers to hate rather than understand.
"Out in the Silence" is an earnest work. The low-key film-making is not dazzling or kinetic; however, the subject is important and the results of Wilson's investigative journalism worthy of study; do not miss the DVD extras, many of which would have enhanced the film. Wilson's message is not new, but worth remembering. Live your life openly; prejudice against strangers is easy, bigotry towards friends is difficult.
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