A documentary driven by activism always risks alienating audiences opposed to its intentions.
The success of Kirby Dick's "Outrage," an engrossing survey of closeted conservatives in Washington, D.C.'s, inner circle, became immediately clear after the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last night for one reason: Audience complaints about certain omissions from the movie did not preclude their overall appreciation for it.
Dick, whose last feature was the anti-MPAA tirade "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," unearths the "brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy" to bury the sexual proclivities of gay politicians with voting records directly opposed to their public ideology. Using the recent bathroom antics of disgraced Senator Larry Craig as a starting point, Dick studies a series of high-profile closet cases and the various grassroots muckrakers — Michael Rogers of Blogactive chief among them — responsible for outing them.
The targets of these startling exposés include former Virginia senator Edward Schrock and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman, both of whom protested gay rights. In Dick's film, the stories (if not the actual people) come out: David Dreier, Shephard Smith and Florida governor Charlie Crist all fall under the scrutiny of Dick's lens through the analysis of various advocates.
If the movie seems a bit one-sided, well, that's sort of the point.
At the screening, which a number of the voluntary documentary subjects attended, almost every question about what Dick chose not to include in the movie was preceded by an expression of general satisfaction with it. One attendee wanted to know why Dick made no mention of Barack Obama's anti-gay marriage stance, and listed several other cases of Democratic politicians with hypocritical stances on gay rights.
Dick emphasized the greater problem of closeted conservatives with incessantly suppressive voting records (Schrock, for example, never once voted in favor of gay rights) and explained his reasoning for skirting the "why not" game when it came to the movie exclusions: "I could pretty much go through 90 percent of Congress and do that," he said.
Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells asked why the segment on closeted members of the media highlighted the private excursions of Shephard Smith but not Anderson Cooper. Dick pointed out the differing proclivities of their respective networks: CNN's predominantly left-leaning mentality made Cooper's closeted lifestyle less hypocritical than Smith's, given his subservience to the traditionalism of Fox News.
Another questioner argued that Craig, whose clandestine sex life gets probed throughout the movie, was a victim of entrapment by the police. "I agree with you," Dick said of the tactics used to reveal Craig's bathroom flirtations. "It was incredibly wrong." He initially tried exploring this aspect in the movie but ran out of space, the director said. "It was just a matter of time," Dick said.
Of course, Dick has something more revealing than the entrapment case: on-camera recollections of DC resident David Phillips, who recalls going home with Craig for a brief tryst before the politician slipped him 20 bucks to buy his secrecy.
Obviously, that wasn't enough.
Magnolia Pictures, which produced and plans to release the film later this year, will likely position it as an Oscar contender. Whether it gets that far, they have the right mouthpiece behind it. Dick said he has three hopes for the movie's impact: "One hundred percent rights for everyone in this country," the ability to "highlight the hypocrisy" and "shed light on the closet."
The turnout for the movie demonstrated that he's not alone in the mission to achieve those goals. Radio host Michelangelo Signorlie and former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey showed up at the premiere, and both make compelling statements throughout the movie. (McGreevey, recalling his admission of homosexuality as he resigned from the governorship in 2004, gets visibly teary.)
Meanwhile, it's clear that the activism won't have a reason to rest anytime soon. In the movie, Dick points out that the newly married Crist may run for president in 2012, but one of his former female "flames" suggests there are more than simple rumors behind the discussion of his closeted life.
"Call me in 10 years," she says, "and I'll tell you a story."