‘Love Free or Die’ hits close to home | ParkRecord.com

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‘Love Free or Die’ hits close to home

Macky Alston has been to Sundance once before, to debut one of his films in 1997, but this year the experience is a little different. Alston’s movie, "Love Free or Die", a documentary competition film, hits close to home and he hopes it will start a dialogue that could change a lot of people’s lives.

The documentary follows Bishop Gene Robinson, a New Hampshire man who became the first openly gay Bishop to be elected by the Episcopal Church. Producer Sandy Itkoff and Director Macky Alston follow Robinson’s fight to bring equality to the church and prove that he should not have to choose between loving God and loving his husband.

Alston calls religion his "family business." His grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, so was his father, and he was expected to do the same. However, when he told his parents he was gay 20 years ago, it threw a wrench in the system, he said.

"It has been extraordinary to see how my family’s mind has been changed due to me being a happy, functioning gay Christian," he said. "When people watch this movie, they will have to see humanity in all of its greatness and flaws and see themselves in these LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people of faith."

One of the gay clergymen interviewed in the film is Utah’s former Episcopal Bishop, Otis Charles, who talks about his experience of trying to be heterosexual for his faith and hiding his true feelings. In the film, Charles sits next to his partner and explains that for years, he felt like he was wearing a suit that did not fit. Once he retired from the church and was honest with himself, he says he fell in love with a man and found happiness. Charles and his partner helped convince leaders of the Episcopal Church to allow clergy to be openly gay, a turning point in the film.

Alston and Itkoff call their collaboration "The result of love at first sight." When attempting to capture both sides of a contentious topic, such as homosexuality and religion, there has to be a certain amount of understanding and trust between filmmakers Itkoff and Alston said.

"We shared a certain level of intellect and compassion," Alston said. "We were opposite sides of a coin and put our fingers all over each other’s work. It takes that kind of collaboration to make a project like this work."

According to Itkoff, the film took over four years to make and quite a bit of convincing.

"We had some issues getting the clergy to come forward," she said. "It is a difficult topic to get people to talk about, especially considering the current environment inside the church, she said, adding that hopefully more conversation will be generated after Sundance.

"You never know what to expect before your premiere," Alston said. "I can’t wait for that first time an audience is engaged in your movie. I know we have a powerful and timely film that I am hoping will prompt people to begin talking about this and really stand up for what they believe in."

Itkoff said she is also excited, and nervous about the first screening.

"People at these festivals have strong opinions and they will tell you what they think," she said. "But that is what makes us better and makes us understand the issue better, if we showed this to a group of our friends with similar interests we would never get anywhere. We are hoping Sundance will be a springboard for the issue and make people think about equality when they go to the voting booths this year."

Bishop Gene Robinson will hold a service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 4595 Silver Springs Drive, Park City, on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 10:30 a.m. The service will be followed by a lunch reception and a conversation with Bishop Robinson at 11:45 a.m. The event is free and open to anyone. For more information visit http://www.lovefreeordiemovie.com .

"Love Free or Die" is in the Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Competition category and screens:

Monday, Jan. 23, 6 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 8:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 3:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinema 3, Salt Lake City

Thursday, Jan. 26, 11:30 a.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

Saturday, Jan 28, 2:30 p.m., The MARC, Park City