By MIKE CHAIKEN
In the divisive post-election America of 2016, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus organized a concert tour of the Deep South.
The mission of the 300-member choir was as much about starting a dialogue with opponents of the LGBTQ+ community as it was about facilitating unity through the power of music.
David Charles Rodrigues, a Massachusetts-born film director, was there with a crew to follow the chorus on its journey and record the local reaction to the ensemble’s presence as well as its message.
The result was the documentary “Gay Chorus Deep South,” which will be shown on Wednesday, June 5 at the 32nd Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival in Hartford. The festival (OutFilmCT.org) itself runs from May 31 to June 8.
When he came up with the idea for the document, Rodrigues said in an email interview, “I was obsessed with the idea that this ‘Divided America’ was being blown out of proportion by the media and social media. This created a sense of isolation and allowed the people in power to exercise greater control.”
Rodrigues explained, “When I learned about a Gay Men’s Chorus from San Francisco traveling and singing in the Southern states of our country, I saw the ultimate way to test this hypothesis and to see if this division was greater than love and our sense of humanity.”
As he set forth to record the chain of events surrounding the Lavender Pen Tour of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Rodrigues said, “I was hoping to find human solutions to an inhuman problem. Where music, dialogue and just being present would help overcome prejudice and turn hate into love. Because discrimination, violence and hate are not natural qualities that we have inside of ourselves. They are fabricated from fear.”
By the end of filming the document, what he found surprised him. Without giving away what happens in the film Rodrigues said, “(It) was way more profound, complex and nuanced than what we were looking for.”
The tour, and the filming, was rife with surprises, said Rodrigues, who made his feature-length documentary debut with “Gay Chorus Deep South.”
“I think that for the chorus, every stop, every interaction, every performance in a church was a surprise,” said Rodrigues . “In either direction, towards celebration or towards discrimination. They really didn’t know what to expect, which just proves how brave they were.”
“For me, personally,” said Rodrigues, “the biggest surprise was to see the role that the accepting churches play in these places, they are the most vital agents of change in these communities. They are helping the LGBTQ community become part of the community and it’s just the most beautiful thing to see.”
The documentary has its share of face-to-face interviews with the “characters” in “Gay Chorus Deep South.” But it also has many fly-on-the-wall moments. These were accomplished through trust, said Rodrigues.
“After spending a lot of time with (the subjects of the film) before the tour, we managed to create this sense of complicity, blind trust, and even with a mostly straight filmmaker team … they made us part of their community,” said Rodrigues.
“I think our intentions of telling the most authentic story were clear from the beginning and that’s how we managed to create this bond,” said Rodrigues. “We are now family for life.”
Although the film focuses on the LBGTQ+ community, Rodrigues said the story of “Gay Chorus Deep South” holds poignancy beyond that community.
“This film is really about ‘the other’ and how people who are considered ‘the other’ can overcome the threat and the fear instilled by this current administration. How can we go from being ‘the other’ to just being ‘all of us together’?” said Rodrigues. “We can sing, we can love, we can travel, we can create dialogue and build bridges and we can do it ourselves. We don’t have to wait for a higher power to do it for us.”
For the broader population, Rodrigues said the story of “Gay Chorus Deep South” is important because, Rodrigues said, “Everyone is impacted by discrimination, hate and bigotry. It may not have direct consequences to your lifestyle, but it will impact your family, your community, your economy, and deep inside, your soul.”
When the final credits roll, Rodrigues said he wants the audience to have two takeaways.
“The first is to be kinder… Stop deleting friends with different opinions from you on social media, stop holding grudges with family members who initially don’t approve of your choices and vice-versa. Kindness is the first step towards acceptance and celebration,” said Rodrigues.
“The second point is that if you want to be heard, listen,” said the filmmaker. “Because if you sit down and listen to someone, even if they are saying the opposite of what you believe in, they will listen to you and from that some connection, some understanding can be built.”
“Gay Chorus Deep South” will be screened at the Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival on Wednesday, June 5 at 8 p.m. at Cinestudio, 300 Summit St., Hartford. A reception will be held at 6 p.m. prior to the film. Tickets are $10. For more information, go to OutFilmCT.org.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.