Out in the Silence is not a film I set out to make. It’s not a story of the God-hates-fags or the kids-who-get-indoctrinated-at-Jesus-camp type. It’s not about attention-seeking hate mongers, angry protesters, or the extremes of any side.
It’s at once more troubling and more hopeful than that.
The idea for the film emerged after witnessing the emotional response ignited by my same-sex wedding announcement in the local newspaper. I realized that if I didn’t acknowledge the controversy, it would simply slip into history’s ether. And I refused to let silence settle over my hometown in the faded hills of northwestern Pennsylvania, affirming and perpetuating the fear and isolation I knew too well as a young gay boy in a stiflingly anti-gay world.
The film is aimed at breaking the mold of the traditional documentary; it is not solely observational. As filmmaker, as protagonist, as insider and outsider, I use the camera to empower, to challenge, to confront, and to look beneath the veneer of the fragile balance of order in my small hometown.
It is a deeply personal social issue documentary that dramatically illustrates the challenges that exist in rural America and the transformation that is possible when those who have long been constrained by a traditional code of silence summon the courage to break it.
Most of the film is based on intimate vérité footage of my own interactions with Oil City residents. The camera captures the raw emotions of those who have used my wedding announcement to publicly denounce and denigrate gay and lesbian people. I engage these folks in public parks and on city streets, in churches and schools, kitchens and living rooms, at community parades, and at government hearings to try to get to the core of the misunderstandings.
In most cases, there is no room to maneuver, but in a few, something happens. Hatred’s illogic starts to crumble and transformation begins.
A unique element of the film is footage shot by CJ, a tormented gay teen, on the camcorder I gave to him. CJ’s footage provides a painful glimpse into his very private suffering, as well as comedic relief during juvenile attempts to entertain himself and his friends in a boring small town.
This provocative footage is juxtaposed with images of beautiful pastoral landscapes and abandoned factories, old family pictures and home movies, graphics of newspaper text and radio program sound bites, and the hauntingly raw music of transgender singer/songwriter Namoli Brennet.
The film creates a dynamic and compelling audio-visual landscape of a small town as it struggles with its own identity.
Through this experience, I have come to believe that by seeking out, witnessing, telling, and retelling the stories of those who break the silence, we increase the possibility that others will do so as well.
I hope this film will help to close the gaps that seem to divide us in towns like Oil City—small and large—across the country.
–Joe Wilson, June 2008
- Presented by Penn State Public Broadcasting.