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Interview with Randy Barbato

HBO

When I Knew the film is inspired by Robert Trachtenburg's book of the same name. What was it like working from that source material?

It's invigorating and inspiring to even be able to make a film like this where people can reveal themselves and talk about this subject the way they do in the film. It reminds us how far we've come.

Randy Barbato

It wasn't a huge leap in terms of being excited and inspired by the material. For us the biggest challenge was how do we take it to the next step? We ended up going all around the country, and interviewed about a hundred and fifty people. The first day we filmed in Philadelphia we knew we were tapping into something really special. We took out some local ads and talked to a couple gay and lesbian centers there. We rented space in a hotel, and about a hundred people showed up--you'd think it was an American Idol audition.

We spoke with HBO that night and said, "What are we gonna do? There's so many people and every story is so compelling. We have something bigger here." That's when we started talking about this idea of creating wheniknew.com, that maybe this was more than just a film. And in essence that's what we've done. In some ways When I Knew the film is a trailer for wheniknew.com where we plan to feature all of the interviews we did, and also allow people to upload their own interviews. We're also using a video booth that we've taken around the country to different film festivals where people can share their own stories. So, it's pretty exciting.

HBO

How did you pick the stories that ended up in the film?

Randy Barbato

The stories were all so good, but ultimately we picked stories that moved us emotionally the most; stories that made us laugh, or brought a tear to our eye. It was more of an emotional mosaic that emerged, and it also just so happened that we had this group of people that really do represent young, old, black, white, hot, not so hot.

HBO

It's interesting to see how far we've evolved, culturally, where this kind of subject matter can be spoken about so openly. What do you think it says about our society that you were able to capture so many intimate, revealing moments?

It's about making something that might contribute to the way not just gays or lesbians might openly talk... but also for heterosexuals to get a better understanding of what it might be like for a young person to discover that they are different, that there might be something about themselves that they can't even share with their own family.

Randy Barbato

It's invigorating and inspiring to even be able to make a film like this where people can reveal themselves and talk about this subject the way they do in the film. It reminds us how far we've come. When you think about the traditional rite of passage for most gays and lesbians, it's that moment when they come out and share a huge part of their identity with other people, when they say, "I am gay," or "I am lesbian." And for many years that's really been the talking point and the story that we share. This film is really not about that moment, but this other moment when you first make that discovery, or you first start to realize that you're gay.

And the sad thing is, from the moment of "when I knew" to the moment of "when I came out," there's all that time in between which for so many people is a very difficult and challenging time. That's what the inspiration of making this film was about: reducing the time from when people knew to when people came out. It's about making something that might contribute to the way not just gays or lesbians might openly talk about that and remember that, but also for heterosexuals to get a better understanding of what it might be like for a young person to discover that they are different, that there might be something about themselves that they can't even share with their own family.

It's important for people to understand that the very core of your identity is something that for many young gays and lesbians they often fear sharing with their own family. Because of this, it's really important for parents to see this movie. Because parents have no control over whether their child is straight or gay, but what you do have control over is supporting and loving and protecting them.

When I Knew