Putting relationships together

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November 4, 2010

11:15 PM

The documentary “Inlaws & Outlaws,” by Drew Emery ’86, was shown at the College of William and Mary Monday for its 404th screening. The film presents stories of relationships between a wide variety of people, covering everything from their happiest moments to the most trying events in their lives. Although the stories are tied together through common themes, each individual brings a new insight into what relationships are and why people fall in love. Most notably, the film focuses on groups that are typically marginalized when discussing romantic relationships, such as gay and lesbian couples, of all ages.

“It’s a nonthreatening presentation of what can be a very hot topic for some people,” Spanish professor George Greenia, said.

As the stories develop from childhood, the identities of these individuals flourish and take shape, some faster than others. Some state at the beginning of the film that they always knew they were attracted to the same sex, others recount their slow struggle to define their sexual orientation, and some hardly mention sexual orientations.

While a central focus of the documentary is on homosexual relationships, individuals are not overtly labeled as straight or gay from the beginning. Instead, the documentary lets each person tell his or her story, and gradually reveals different aspects of people’s identities. This method of presentation forces the audience to focus on the common themes of experiences, such as first loves, marriage and hardships, rather than on labeling the relationships. These common themes give the film fluidity while still discussing a variety of topics.

“[This film] is not only about different stages of relationships. The bigger picture is that we each have a relationship with relationships,” Emery said. “For example … how people learned and first observed relationships as kids.”

The concept of “relationships with relationships” is evident from the beginning of the film. In the first portion of the documentary, the individuals recount their early home lives and the effects of family dynamics on their identities and relationships. These childhood stories also describe common experiences to which almost anyone can relate, such as innocent elementary school crushes or awkward teenage encounters. The individuals reminisce with casual, down-to-earth attitudes, which make their accounts humorous, endearing and relatable.

“I wanted to show the common humanity,” Emery said. “Regardless of politics, what we [people] do have in common is that we can relate to the ideas of romantic love, and that family is [at] the heart of belonging.”
While some of the interview subjects are single or divorced, most of them are married or in committed relationships. Much of the documentary is devoted to expressing the uniqueness of each relationship, which is easily seen in the genuine and loving way the couples interact on-screen. Couples shared their traditions, what they fought over, and also expressed how outside factors like religion and family have influenced their relationships. The gay and lesbian couples also express thought-provoking accounts on of struggles that straight couples may not encounter. At the end of the film, people weigh in on gay marriage, relationships, love and the value of marriage in general.

“Reactions [to the documentary] are all over the map because everyone finds something different in the film to connect and respond to,” Emery said. “A common thing is that people are surprised that they identify with people in the film. The straight people in the audience may relate to a gay couple’s relationship and admire or look up to them.”

In deciding whom to film for the interviews, Emery said that despite his emphasis on common themes, there were unique viewpoints he wanted expressed.

“We had different messages we wanted to include, so we were very proactive in finding people who could tell those stories,” he said. “For example, I definitely wanted a divorced couple, so I had to find a couple that would be willing to share.”

To find these people, Emery sent out an open call to anyone who felt like sharing his or her story. Then he invited them to workshops, from which he selected an even a smaller group to be interviewed on-camera. Only about a quarter of the couples recorded made it into the film. Out of those selected, Emery made sure to include different ages, sexual orientations and histories.

“I knew I wanted the film to feature true stories that were intergenerational, but I didn’t know it was going to be about marriage in the beginning,” Emery said. “It was erupting around the time as a national issue. I resisted at first, but then I realized that the thing … not being talked about in terms of relationships was what gay and straight relationships have in common.”

The movie is touring as part of the Hearts and Minds Campaign, which seeks to screen the movie to any organization or group that requests it. The campaign was formed after a popular demand to screen the film after it was released. The program also helps those who want to screen the movie to do it virtually for free by providing hard copies of the movie to sell to viewers after showing the documentary. So far, the campaign has been successful in showing the documentary to a wide range of people, taking the film from everywhere from Oklahoma to Australia.

“I’m glad to know that leadership and gay leadership has emerged from William and Mary in surprising ways,” Greenia said. “We have one of the largest gay and lesbian alumni associations in the United States.”
As an alumnus of the college, Emery expressed pride at how open-minded the College has become regarding LGBT lifestyles. During his question and answer session after the film screening, he emphasized that an accepting college environment is crucial because college has become the time period when students generally come out. He hopes his film will open up discussion and make gay relationships less of a marginal subject.

“From the film, I hope people are inspired to either be in love, to look for love or to value the love that they have,” Emery said. “I hope some of them [are inspired to] fight for love because it’s a civil right. The pursuit of happiness is a core to American values.”

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