We started meeting with many, many different people to sort of get a sense of the experiences of gays and lesbians in Washington. And everyone we talked to, whether they were Republican or Democrat, they all wanted this film made.
How did you decide that covering closeted politicians was going to be your next film?
I was in Washington, D.C. in August of 2006. I was there promoting my previous film, 'This Film is Not Yet Rated,' about the hypocrisy of the American film rating system, and I thought, "There are probably a lot of great documentaries that only people in D.C. know," just like I knew about the rating system because I was in the film industry. So I started asking around, and very quickly I started hearing about these closeted politicians. This was before Mark Foley and Larry Craig, and I was somewhat aware of this issue, but I wasn't aware how extensive it was. And I was also fascinated to learn that the press has been very reluctant to cover this. And I thought: This is really a perfect opportunity to make a documentary about a subject that is controversial, that deals with some very profound psychological issues and also deals with the human rights issues of millions of American gay and lesbian citizens.
Why do you think the press is so tentative about covering stories about gay politicians?
You have journalists - particularly political journalists - who depend on their access to these politicians. And in many cases, they've known that these politicians are closeted and have chosen not to report on them. And I think part of the reason for that is they know that if they push this issue and look into the hypocrisy, that they will lose access to those politicians. And particularly at a time when journalists are getting laid off in sort of epidemic proportions ... I think people are being very careful. I do want to say, that particularly over the last half a decade or so, I think journalists have wanted to report on this issue, and I think they have been held back in many cases by the news outlets that they work for. Because I think these outlets are concerned that perhaps a portion of their readership does not want to read about gay issues, and so they don't want to write about them and turn off this readership.
How difficult was it to get people to talk on the record?
We started meeting with many, many different people to sort of get a sense of the experiences of gays and lesbians in Washington. And everyone we talked to, whether they were Republican or Democrat, they all wanted this film made. But I came across a great deal of fear from some of these sources in talking about this subject matter. I would get with them on the phone, they would be very supportive of the film, they would certainly have information, and they would say "Well, let's set up another time to talk about it." And when I called back, they had decided that they didn't want to come forward because they were afraid there might be some sort of retribution. And this is another reason that the closet has stayed for so long, because we are dealing with people who really do have power over other people's lives.
The film focuses a lot on Republicans - is there a reason for that?
I really took a non-partisan approach to this. I was interested in the hypocrisy.
I really took a non-partisan approach to this. I was interested in the hypocrisy. And certainly we report on a Democrat in our film. There are a number of closeted Democrats that I didn't report on them because they were not voting anti-gay, so their actions didn't rise to the level of hypocrisy. But once the Republican Party chose to incorporate as a major part of its platform an anti-gay-rights position, then it drove the Republicans who were gay deeper into the closet. And so the strategy of the Republican Party has put many gay members of the party in a real bind. You know, we drew a very bright line in our film, in that we focused almost exclusively on elected officials - people who had power over the lives of millions of other Americans - who are voting against their rights and living in the closet. In so doing, these politicians were living a double life. And that's hypocrisy. The film is about hypocrisy; it's not about outing people.
You're straight yourself - do you think your own orientation had any effect on your experience making the film?
I think it was, in some ways, an advantage in making the film, because it's a situation where this is an issue for many gays and lesbians in politics, and certainly for many gay and lesbian journalists. And I think they were very gratified to see a straight filmmaker view this as an issue of national importance and come report and make a film on it. They were very responsive to me. And I think, in small part perhaps, because I was straight. I think the gay rights struggle is the most important human rights struggle in this country at this time. This is one of the reasons that I made the film - I really wanted to help change the climate and move the gay rights struggle forward.
How do you think the film can best achieve that?
I know that it stimulates a lot of discussion and re-consideration of the issue. And one of the things I believe will happen with it is that the more people who are going into politics who see this film, the more they'll realize that rather than making a decision to be closeted, they'll make the decision to be out - because they'll realize it's better for them both personally and politically. Over the next generation, I think you'll see this change. And I hope and I believe that the film will play an important role in that. Just to have the millions of people who subscribe to HBO seeing the film ... It's good to have this issue out and discussed and in the open.