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Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine

2013
Distributed by Collective Eye Films, 2305 SE Yamhill Street, Suite 101, Portland OR 97214; 503-232-5345
Produced by Liam McNiff, and Michele Josue
Directed by Michele Josue
DVD, color, 89 min.
High School - General Adult
Gay, Bullying, Discrimination, Activism


Reviewed by Neil M. Frau-Cortes, University of Maryland

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 4/15/2016

The murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old gay student who was brutally beaten in rural Wyoming, was a hate crime that had a great impact on American society, and helped shape public opinion regarding LGBT rights and bullying. This documentary film is a profoundly moving portrait of Shepard's life and death seen from the perspective of his friends. The film is narrated in the voice of director Michele Josue, one of Matt’s closest friends, as she embarked on personal quest for healing and closure.

One of the strengths of the documentary is that it puts a face to the cold facts by asserting that the most effective antidote against hate is to get acquainted with personal stories of the people impacted most directly by discrimination. In this way, the film demonstrates how prejudice disappears when real people fill in for stereotypes. The director successfully presents an engaging and intimate portrait of Matt without creating a mystified hagiography.

The film includes previously unreleased footage, including home videos from the Shepard family and scenes from his funeral, that are interspersed with a selection of interviews with relatives and friends of the deceased. As one of the interviewees declares, “rhetoric and bias against gay people have an impact.” Tolerating homophobic and racist speech has consequences and it is our responsibility to eradicate discrimination at its earliest stages. This is the legacy of Matthew Shepard, a young man who wanted to change the world, and whose death spurs real change through the work of his parents and the Shepard foundation.

The film is not naively optimistic nor does it present an overly simplified story of courage conquering hate. Even at the funeral, the crowd that we see bereft with grief and strong with solidarity is dramatically contrasted by the hate groups picketing in the background. The outpouring of letters of support is tainted by the number of hate letters that condone the crime in the name of morality and religion. The film's reflection on hate and forgiveness has unexpected turns, as Matt's courageous parents decide to plea for the killer's capital punishment to be committed to life in prison instead. The director’s message is clear: personal closure may never arrive; perhaps it is better that way, as remembering from a place of full acceptance, spurs us into action.

This film is a superb tool for fostering dialogue around issues like bullying, hate crimes and discrimination. The film is suitable for a wide range of audiences and contexts ranging from high-school classrooms to adult education groups, or even undergraduate courses.

Awards

  • Cleveland International Film Festival 2014, Best Film
  • Emerge Film Festival, Maine, 2015, Best Documentary
  • Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival 2014, 2nd place
  • Out on Film, Atlanta, 2014, Best Documentary
  • Toronto Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival 2014, Best Documentary
  • Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 2014, 2nd place