In his previous movie This Film is Not Yet Rated, director Kirby Dick used his investigative mind to explore the way that the MPAA decides how to rate certain movies, showing clear biases against independent and foreign films that show overt sexuality. With his new movie Outrage, he goes deeper into Errol Morris territory by investigating politicians who have voted against issues on gay rights despite allegedly being gay themselves.
It largely deals with the 2007 arrest of Idaho Senator Larry Craig for trying to solicit gay sex in an airport lavatory despite denying being gay and regularly voting against bills that would give gay men and women the same right as straight ones. It also tries to uncover the truth behind the sexuality of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who continues the conservative mindset of past administrations.
It might seem like outing potentially gay politicians would be something more for the tabloids than for a serious documentary filmmaker like Dick. In fact, the political vs. personal practices of those in government who choose to mask their sexuality in order to maintain an image that would go over better with their constituents, rather than being honest with themselves and those who could benefit from their support is something infinitely fascinating. Of course, the film is important to the gay community because a lot of what’s happening on Capitol Hill and their local government right now directly affects them, but it’s also interesting as an investigative piece of filmmaking based on the interviews with openly gay politicians like former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe and others. Dick worked with known activists and political “outers” like Michael Rogers of BlogActive.com to seek out the truth.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Kirby a few weeks ago to talk about his latest eye-opening doc.
ComingSoon.net: Was this a subject you were already thinking of covering when you were finishing up “This Film is Not Yet Rated”?
Kirby Dick: Well, kind of. It was in August of 2006 that I first got the idea. I was in Washington D.C. promoting “This Film is Not Yet Rated” – this was two months before Mark Foley and about a year before Larry Craig was arrested in a bathroom. I only knew about the rating system because I’m in the film business and I thought, “There must be several great subjects for documentaries in Washington that people inside the Beltway, they’re the only people that know.” I started to ask around and then very quickly this subject came up and somebody just said, “Karl Rove is gay,” and I just said, “What?” Now, there’s no evidence that he is, although his stepfather (who he calls his father) was gay. Immediately, they started talking to me about closeted gay politicians voting (against gay rights) and the political and the psychological significance of this, the history of the two, it just seemed like it was a very rich subject for a documentary. I was surprised that no one had made a film about this. I was even surprised that I hadn’t made a film about this because I had been following this outing and discussion for about 15 years. Not closely, but every time there was an article that came in front of me I would read the whole thing and I read Signorelli a number of times. I just thought, “Wow, why didn’t I think of it then?” Because it’s interesting. When you’re making documentaries, every so often somebody will make a film and you think, “I could’ve (done that).” You’re not necessarily envious, but you’re thinking, “Why wasn’t my trigger looking for subject matter working at that moment to think of that?” This was one that fortunately no one else had made it.
CS: One of the television news shows like “20/20” must have done something on it, right?
Dick: There was a little thing we had on “48 hours.” Yes, I’m sure there was some of that; I think they were probably two bursts of that. One was around Signorelli in the early ’90s and one was probably about Mike Rogers in 2004, 2006.
CS: Were you on board pretty fast when the Larry Craig arrest broke because it seemed like you were already following Mike Rogers.
Dick: We were shooting four or five months before that, yes.
CS: What was the game plan when you started doing it? Was it just a matter of finding people like Mike and try to get them on camera or just finding people who have been involved with this issue?
Dick: You’re finding people involved in this and also, the other thing we wanted to do is, we really wanted to get inside the political system and have people talk about this. Very quickly as we were talking to people in D.C., we realized how much people really thought about these issues. These are people that thought about these issues for 20 years and had real insight into them. One of the great challenges, and I think we were very successful at it, was getting a range of people that did speak.
CS: One of the breakthroughs must’ve been getting McGreevey or some of the other politicians who had already come out. Did you try getting some of the politicians like Craig or Crist who you suspected of hiding in the closet on the record or on camera?
Dick: We didn’t because we knew they wouldn’t speak about this. I mean, these people are sharp politicians, and that would be the stupidest thing they could ever do. But what we did feel also though is that we’ve included for nearly every of the subjects that we focus on who are closeted, because they’ve been asked this many times and so we were able to include their responses in the film.
CS: Using previous interviews with them when they were asked about it.
Dick: Right, exactly.
CS: What about the sources you used in the movie who chose to remain in shadow? Can you talk about that and their decision to not be on the record?
Dick: They were somewhat concerned about repercussions. It was probably more personal and business than it was that some one would actually harm them, but that was their choice. We really strongly encouraged them to come on and we had a really good relationship with them, but that was their decision and that was our agreement.
CS: At the time you made “This is Not Yet Rated,” the MPAA was something that many filmmakers were having issue with, and you did seem to make some difference. When you make a movie like this, you obviously want to make a difference, you want it to be seen, you want to get people talking. Have you showed it to anyone whose mind has been changed after seeing it?
Dick: Well actually, that’s what we thought. I tend to have small screenings as I’m editing with friends and friends of friends just to get a sense. When you make a film you’re so inside the subject matter that you don’t realize actually what you’ve made without seeing people’s reactions. I was very surprised that first of all people didn’t know about this subject really at all. Secondly, that they were many times predisposed against reporting on closeted politicians who vote anti-gay and that changed from seeing the film. I think in that regard this will do it, but I think on a more important level, the closet exists because people don’t talk about it. It’s dark and I want to shed some light on it and I really do hope that by people talking about this, that it exists. The consequences of the closet, that politicians coming into the political arena now in their early 20’s oftentimes when they make a decision to be closeted realize it’s a choice that’s obviously very difficult personally, but it’s also the wrong decision politically. In 20 years I hope that the closet is a much more minor factor in American politics and that there’s not a need for any kind of sequel or anything.
CS: I don’t want to give anything away, but the last line kind of says it all.
CS: I was curious about that. As a straight male who has a lot of gay friends, sexuality is not something you openly ask about, even from people you know. Why is it so important to have that aspect of one’s life out in the open as far as those who work in politics?
Dick: Well, first of all just to have the freedom to be able to say who you are and be who you are without fearing anything. It’s just who you are and I think everyone has that right to be who they are without feeling like they have to live a secret life.
CS: Now, the politicians who had already come out and you talked to openly. Did they have any opinion Crist or Craig or any of the politicians who might still be in the closet? Did they want to keep those thoughts off the record?
Dick: The one thing you learn from talking to politicians is why they are successful politicians. They are very, very good at making their case and they’re very careful about crossing any line that might get into sort of difficult waters if you will. Like for example, the answer Jim Kolbe gave, “That’s Larry Craig’s life, that’s his decision and I’m not gonna give my opinion on it.” He was really there–and I think we were very fortunate enough to get him–he was really there to talk about his experience and I thought that it was very interesting to see. Here’s someone who felt that it was a near religious experience for him. It was something that he really felt this weight being lifted off his shoulders. You could see after that he felt free to vote the way he really wanted to vote which points out the costs of the closet. These are people, nearly everyone I think who I focused on in my film, does not want to vote anti-gay but they felt compelled to in order to protect their closet. That’s the damage the closet causes.
CS: At what point did you come up with the title “Outrage” because it’s the perfect title? Was it something very early on?
Dick: Later in the game. The working title was “The Glass Closet,” it’s just another expression for it. It’s a closet that within D.C. everybody knows, people know, but it’s still closed. They’re still in the closet.
CS: Even as an outsider, I’m interested in the topic of gay marriage and why it seems to bother so many people. It’s pretty obvious to me that giving gay people the right to marry takes nothing away from married heterosexuals, so I never could understand why there is so much dissension against it. Did you get a chance to talk to anyone opposed of it who went further into their reasoning?
Dick: It’s interesting because with the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I think this has given this film even an additional impetus than we have. We wanted to include it and we did. I mean, I think more through Amendment Two in Florida (in 2008) because I think that’s what the country is much less aware of and that’s a much more onerous bill even than Proposition 8. I mean, that’s a bill that first of all, it’s an Amendment so it’s gonna require 60 percent to overturn it. Secondly, it not only outlaws gay marriage, it outlaws any form of Civil Unions, so it’s just really regressive. All the subjects we spoke to, across the political spectrum, I was surprised to find out that none of them were opposed to the outing of Larry Craig. They weren’t opposed to that because they felt that hypocrisy that’s that clear-cut, they wouldn’t do it themselves, but they could see the justifications for it.
CS: This is obviously a very layered topic as you said earlier, and you have so many different people talking about it in this movie. With all the people you ended up talking to, how many hours of footage did you end up having?
Dick: Oh, I don’t know, with stock footage–a lot of it’s stock footage too–I don’t know, well over 300 I would say.
CS: How much time did you spend editing all of that to get it down to the 90 minutes it is?
Dick: It was a long process, and we started and stopped the editing process and what I feel, I think best about is the structure of the film because we don’t have a single thread that we’re following through and like you said, we have all these multiple issues the personal, the political, issues that are just breaking at the end of ’08 and we really put a lot of effort into the structure so that people felt like they were moving through the film without hitting bumps or confusions.
CS: Speaking of the breaking news, you were making this film for over two years and all this stuff’s happening while you were making the movie, so when something new happened, did you have to stop what you were doing and start focusing on the new information?
Dick: I pretty much make one film at a time. I mean, all this stuff’s related, all this stuff’s together. I had to include it, but also, I’m a filmmaker. I don’t begin by writing a script and saying, “I’m going to make this film.” I begin by finding a topic that’s so complex that I’ll only come to understanding it at the end of making the film, of the process of making the film. So, anything that happens in between, to me, is just an added sort of insight or a vector if you will that will energize the film in my coming to understand what the film is all about. So, I’d rather being stabilized by current events, it’s actually energizing.
CS: When did you finally decide, “This is done. I need to finish this.” Was it after the election results from last year?
Dick: Yes, I think Charlie Crist, the two things that really sort of focused I think in some ways was the fact that him coming out and unequivocally supporting Amendment Two and then his getting engaged and married. At that point I could see that there was light at the end of the tunnel in terms of finishing the film.
CS: Are you gonna give this to the MPAA to rate or are you just not gonna bother at this point?
Dick: I don’t think we have time to do that actually. It’s coming out in May.
CS: Do you think you could even put a movie before them without them being unbiased at this point?
Dick: I think they’d be very careful about giving me an NC-17 rating. They did have a very good reason by their standards I’m sure, but by anybody else’s standards, it would be questionable. Because they don’t want the publicity, they don’t want me to come back I’m sure. (Laughs)
CS: I noticed when I went to the ShoWest the year after the movie came out, in Dan Glickman’s speech, it seemed as if he took your movie to heart and they knew they had to change their system.
Dick: They didn’t change, really. These are some masters of spin. I think they had an eight-point plan, five of them were sort of irrelevant. They made one they said they were going to make then two I don’t believe they have. The problem is that if you’re an independent filmmaker, you have no access to the system, you have no knowledge of it. If you’re within the studio system you have all kinds of access through the studios and you have people that will take you through the process. You have opportunities because of the financial situation. Studios have to reapproach again and again and again. It’s stacking against independent and foreign filmmakers.
CS: Whenever you watch a documentary like that or this one, you really hope that a movie can make a change.
Dick: The change it made is that it makes people aware that this is an issue. I think that’s important. I think there’ll be long term benefits to that and I think again, the same thing’s true about “Outrage.” People will be very more sensitized to this issue of hypocrisy and again, will realize the closet and the damage it causes. I think there’ll be a real societal pressure for people to be honest and open about their sexual orientation.
CS: Obviously the gay community will be very interested in your movie, whether it makes change or not. What about people who aren’t gay or who aren’t into politics? Do you think a lot of straight guys will say, “This is an interesting topic, I want to learn more about it? Do you think those not directly affected by these issues can get something out of your movie?
Dick: I do. I think first of all the hypocrisy totally crosses whether you’re gay or straight or not. It’s so clear-cut and like I said, I think audiences are really glad to know about this kind of hypocrisy, which most don’t know before they see the film. I think also because of Proposition 8 people are realizing that gay rights issues is not just a gay issue. I mean, it’s not an issue just for gays and lesbians, it’s a human rights issue and it affects us all. I guess that audiences will respond to that aspect of this film. Again, Proposition 8 has made gay rights be seen as human rights in the same way that in the ’60s the Civil Rights struggle was not just for African-Americans. It was a stain on this country that had to changed.
CS: Can you talk about how Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” might have helped get more people interested in this subject?
Dick: I think that yes, you have an audience aware of the history of the gay rights struggle, one aspect of the history. It was interesting. At that time there was a sort of euphoria and people were not realizing that Proposition 8 was going to pass; at that point everybody thought it was going to go down to defeat. So, it’s a kind of a combination. On the one hand yes, there was a history and an important history. On the other hand, it’s not over yet. The struggle is still going on and it’s still hanging in the balance. It’s moving positively, but by no means is it over. Just as quickly as Obama got elected, four years from now we could have a different kind of administration who might be taking a completely different view and appointing Supreme Court Justices who might have a completely different view on this that Obama does.
CS: But even Obama is sitting on the fence about gay marriage.
Dick: Oh my God. The Democrats have their own problems with these issues, but my feeling is it’s a political calculation on his part. Right now he’s got so many issues on his hands he’s gotta be careful. I personally feel he’s being overly careful. I mean, I think “don’t ask don’t tell” should be repealed; I think it’s good for everybody and I think it would be a very good thing and it should be done soon.
CS: Do you know what you’re going to do next? Are you still going to stay in the documentary realm?
Dick: Yes, yes, yes. It’s too insane to leave (laughs) but yeah, I’m sure there will be controversy.
CS: As far as doing another thing did you want to stay in the political realm?
Dick: Maybe, yeah. I think there will be a political aspect to most of the projects I’m developing now, but not as D.C.-centered as this one is.
Outrage opens in select cities on Friday, May 8.