Religion is a complicated topic. Add in homosexuality, and get ready for an onslaught of people saying, 'You're wrong,' 'That's sinful' and 'We'll never see eye to eye.'
With her new documentary, Fish Out of Water, Chicago filmmaker Ky Dickens tackles both sides with an arsenal of honesty, passion and a little yellow bird.
Windy City Times recently caught up with Dickens to gain some insight into this ambitious process.
Windy City Times: When and why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
Ky Dickens: My parents got me a camcorder for my 12th birthday, and I carried it around with me everywhere. I really enjoyed capturing the simple nuances that make people and places unique. Suddenly, with my new camcorder, I could capture the aspects of moments that often are forgotten when those moments turn into a memory: the tapping of someone's foot, the way someone cuts their food, they way someone stutters or blinks. I was instantly addicted, and from the time I was 12 to the time I was 18 I constantly had a camera around my neck. I would edit footage together by using two VCRs—one to play my tapes and the other to record the edited version.
WCT: Where did the idea for Fish Out of Water come from?
KD: I went to school in the South ... right in the middle of the Bible belt at Vanderbilt University [ in Nashville, Tenn. ] . When I came out my senior year in college, a lot of my friends were deeply affected and offended. Their grievances centered around religion. They were completely certain that I was hellbound and that the devil had hold of my heart and that I had fallen out of grace and was a different, tainted person than the one they had loved for three years. They were able to quote what seemed like a hundred different Bible verses to prove to me that I was a sinner who needed to change.
I was incapable of defending myself so I decided to go talk to a few ministers about the things they were saying to me and if they were true in the eyes of Christian doctrine. I felt that the only way to keep my friendships was to debate them on their playing field. And that playing field was the Bible. I was shocked by what I heard from some Nashville-area ministers because most of them told me that the verses used to condemn homosexuality were totally taken out of context, and that being gay is an identity to be celebrated along with other God-given identities.
By the time I had acquired all the information needed from the ministers, we had all graduated. But I decided to write a letter to my best friend, the one that I wanted to lose the least. The letter was about six pages long and, in it, I outlined an argument to every spoonful of Bible abuse she ever fed me. I discussed the seven verses used to condemn homosexuality. I delved into theories surrounding identity, forgiveness, love and the tenets of Jesus' message. I didn't think the letter would make a difference. It is almost impossible to change someone's ideology, especially in regards to faith and ideas around family. However, about five weeks later she called me. She wanted to apologize. She told me I was right and that she wanted to start rebuilding our friendship. I was shocked. Shocked. Letters like that never work. They aren't supposed to ever work. They're basically written just to make the sender feel enabled. But this letter worked. My mind was blown. And with that, I decided to make a film outlining all the aspects of my letter.
WCT: Were there any issues you faced while interviewing people on a controversial topic like this?
KD: I interviewed a lot of anti-gay folks as well as pro-gay folks. The film took us to every corner of the country—to small towns in South Texas to the clamoring streets of New York City to truck stops in Kansas and to beaches in Florida. I met hundreds of folks who are very different from me. However, if you find common ground with a person, if you treat them with respect and look them in the eye, if you ask them questions about their life and sit down with them for a cup of coffee, suddenly everything become disarming. I learned that lesson quickly and, thus, had no conflict or tension in any of my interviews because, before launching into questioning, I made sure we connected as human beings.
WCT: What do you hope to achieve with this film?
KD: I hope to give people the resources and tools to talk about this issue. It isn't just GLBTQ folks who need tools to talk about this issue but politicians, teachers, therapists and families need to know both sides of this argument. I also wanted to find a way to talk about this issue in an accessible, colorful and light way. Therefore, we are using an animated character [ a yellow bird ] as the narrator. This frees us from attaching a gender, race, sexual orientation or age to our narrator's perspective. We animate the Bible any time that it is mentioned. We hope by treating the film as entertainment, and the content as information, that we can reach a broad audience.
Fish out of Water, which was filmed locally, will be released in 2009.