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OUR LAGUNA: Gays and Bible film ‘comes home’

“For The Bible Tells Me So” has been seen in venues around the world since it was selected for the 2007 Sundance Fill Festival, but in a way, it came home Saturday night.

Film executive producers Karen Ellis and Sandra Harkness welcomed the audience to the screening at the Neighborhood Congregational church of the award-winning documentary that explored the experiences of devout Christians caught between religious teachings and their sexual orientation and how it affected their families.

“This is our home town, and it brings tears to our eyes,” Harkness said.

The presentation was the first public screening of the film in Laguna Beach.

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“We tried to get into the Edwards Theater here, but we couldn’t,” Ellis said.

The audience’s response was heartwarming.

“I got an e-mail the next day [after the show] from a teacher from another town,” Harkness said. “She said the film had changed her perspective.”

One man, who donated $1,000 toward the production of the film, said his father had been saying unkind things about the gay lifestyle until he gave his parents a copy of the film, which they watched together, Harkness said.

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“His father said, I am NOT like those people.”

He had been unaware of the effect of his harsh words.

“I had been told this was a remarkable film, and I am glad I went,” City Clerk Martha Anderson said. “I think it gave a very thorough look at the issue.”

According to Ellis, the film has generated little controversy. Some opponents of the movie’s point of view were filmed, but when it came down to the final cuts, they declined to sign releases, Ellis said.

The thrust of “For The Bible Tells Me So” is to combat literalists, who take as gospel the lines written about sexual conduct between the same sex, but skip over other commands — such as stoning to death adulterers or giving all of one’s money to the poor. And how about “love one another?”

“Literalists pick and choose,” Ellis said. “But the movie points out that the Bible was written centuries ago and, as Bishop Desmond Tutu said, was written in the idiom of the time.”

However, it was the compelling stories recounted by families faced with a child whose sexual orientation conflicted with the teachings of their churches, and society’s morals and the sometimes awful consequences, which can be exacerbated by the belief that sexual orientation is a choice that grabbed the emotions of the audience.

“Why would anyone choose something that brings pain?” asked a mother in the film who was unable to accept her daughter’s orientation. The mother lost her chance for reconciliation when her daughter committed suicide.

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The families in the film included those of former House of Representatives Majority Leader and one-time presidential candidate Richard Gephardt, whose daughter is gay; Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who is gay; and the Reitans, whose teenage gay son, Jake, opened their eyes to a different viewpoint.

“We found the families in different ways,” Harkness said. “The producer found Gene Robinson’s family. The Gephardts came from the Human Rights Campaign. The hardest to find was an African-American family — that delayed the film by a year and a half.”

Four black families came close to being included, but decided finally not to do the film.

No Latino, Asian or Jewish families were in the film, although two well-known conservative Rabbis participated, which gave the documentary great credibility, according to Harkness. She said a Latino family was interviewed but didn’t survive editing.

“The film has time limits,” Harkness said. “The first cut was four hours long.”

What was left resonated with audiences.

“I have seen the film twice and I cried both times, to my surprise,” said attorney Gene Gratz. “And I was surprised at some of the places. I was very moved by the historical consecration of Episcopal Bishop Robinson — and I am not Christian.”

Gratz, Judy Regan and Cathy and attorney Larry Nokes were among the movie buffs who attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, where the documentary debuted.

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Frank Ricchiazzi and Borden Moller also had seen the film previously, at a Log Cabin meeting. Julie Phillips has seen the film four times.

Phillips is a member of the Congregational Church’s Openly Affirming Committee. According to a published statement, the church seeks to include all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, marital status, age, mental or physical ability, race, ethnicity or socio-economic background.

Laguna Beach Certified Public Accountant Jim McBride, who served on the High School Building Oversight Committee, saw “For The Bible Tells Me So” at a church in Newport Beach.

The idea for the film was born in Newport.

Robin Cook, a Newport resident who is straight, went to a seminar at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church on what the Bible really says about homosexuals and said ‘I have to make a movie about this,’” Harkness said.

Without any filmmaking experience, Cook dove into the project.

“She found director Daniel Karslake, who put together a trailer for the purposes of fundraising,” Harkness said. “I saw it Washington when I was there with the Human Rights Campaign and I was very impressed.”

Harkness and Ellis, both raised in Southern Baptist families, followed the project with interest. The movie was three years in the making, held up by fundraising, which was all by donations.

Saturday night’s audience included some of the local financial donors to the film.

“It was wonderful to have them here to feel what we have been feeling as we traveled around the country,” Harkness said. “There is such a sense of hunger for discussion about this.”

Donors included Ed Tosdeschini, John Ferrante, Jennifer Kessler, Paul Blank, Cara Logen, Francois LeClaire, Joe Ambrose, Mike Federson and of course, Harkness and Ellis.

“We thought at first we would be [listed as] donors,” Harkness said.

However, they earned the title of co-executive producers through their fundraising efforts and the time they devoted to the project.

Ellis said she had no idea the impact the film would have on her life when she first saw the trailer. The two women began traveling to opening nights around the county after the film made its debut in New York on Oct. 5, 2007, and went into general distribution a week later. They have been on the road since and will be again.

“It’s given me hope that I didn’t have going into this project,” Harkness said.

‘FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO’

RELEASED: Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 21, 2007.

AWARDS: Won 7 awards for Best Documentary at film festivals around the country and was nominated at Sundance Film Festival in 2007 for Grand Jury Prize.

DIRECTOR: Daniel Karslake


OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; hand-deliver to Suite 22 in the Lumberyard, 384 Forest Ave.; call (949) 494-4321 or fax (949) 494-8979 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com


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