by Andy Cataldo
Filmmaker Antony Osso created a series of six shorts featuring the touching stories of queer couples, entitled “The Devotion Project.” On February 13, in honor of Valentine’s Day, he screened the films together at the LGBT Community Center – including the world premiere of the series’ final film “Foremost in My Mind” – and brought along a panel of some of the featured couples. Here’s a quick overview of each film along with links to access them:
● “More Than Ever” – Bill Campbell and John Hilton, who had been together more than 50 years since they met before World War II
● “Say Only Yes” – Brian Cantor and Paul Labrecque, who met in London in the 90s and stayed together for over 25 years in the face of hardships
● “Listen from the Heart” – a married lesbian couple, Laura and Jaime Fitch-Jenett, raise their son Simon with a heart condition
● “My Person” – a queer couple, Eric and Anne Plemons, share their experience raising their daughter Jonah while facing transgender issues
● “Build Your Wings” – a young couple, Victor Bragz Lara and Daniel Pando, who have been together for eight years, move to New York and shape an open relationship
● “Foremost in My Mind” - a former model, Audrey Smaltz, and Olympic medalist, Gail Marquis, fall in love and marry later in life
After the viewing the audience heard a recap of progress to date on marriage equality: nine states offer marriage benefits, and challenges over DOMA are soon to be heard by the Supreme Court. (The day after the event – Valentine’s Day – Illinois became the 10th state to legalize gay marriage). Then a discussion was opened with the panel of attending couples featured in the films, hosted by Michael Crawford of Freedom to Marry. It was touching to see them in person, including the inspirational John Hilton, who told us that his partner Bill passed away three weeks after filming.
The couples were asked what it meant to them to be able to marry in New York. Gail from “Foremost in my Mind” struggled with calling Audrey her partner due to the confusion that arose with this term as she is a business owner. Gail also felt that the term “lover” did not do justice to their relationship. Gail says to us with a beaming smile, “Wife. How easy is that to say?”
The couples were also asked to discuss advice for young gays hoping to find a loving relationship. Some valuable points came out that can be applied to all relationships, gay and straight. Brian and Paul, who began their relationship when one was living in the US and the other in London, encouraged people to recognize and remove obstacles preventing them from getting close to someone special. Their advice was that often people have an expectation of perfection when, in actuality, healthy relationships are built around compromise. One shouldn’t be afraid of taking a risk, they advised.
Finally the couples on the panel were asked how they got involved in the project. Bill and John met the filmmaker as a result of frequenting cabaret acts in New York including Kiki Herb and Bridget Everett. Brian and Paul got involved with the hope of making life easier for just one kid in a small town facing the familiar struggles of gay youth. Audrey felt it was important to get involved to provide a healthy relationship role model to younger African Americans. Audrey and Gail were quite a charismatic couple and won the audience over quickly with their charm. (You can read their New York Times wedding announcement here.)
If Antony Osso’s goal was to start a dialogue about love, this event was clearly a huge success. Now it is up to us to watch and share these incredible films on YouTube and spread that message to the rest of the country.