We first told you about the documentary Fish out of Water back in April and y’all totally freaked out with excitement because it’s all about the issues surrounding homosexuality’s shaky relationship with the Bible, which we’ve always had a lot of feelings about. (See: Documentaries for Homos: Deliver Us from the Religulous Bible While Tying the Knot Before G-d and Autostraddle Roundtable: Religion & Sexuality.) (Also See: the justifications for denying gay people equal rights in America).
I was lucky enough to attend the two recent Chicago screenings and Q&A sessions for Fish out of Water, and I read everything I could find about the film, so I’m here to give you the rundown [Creepy side-note: there's a review by a man in Kansas who has the same last name as me and I want you to know that we are not the same person]. I also met Writer/Director Ky Dickens and Producer Kristen Kaza, and talked to them and another one of the producers, Fawzia Mirza, online. Everyone involved in the making of this film is totally adorable!
“FISH OUT OF WATER seizes the issue of homosexuality and the Bible, dissecting the impact it has had on American culture, politics, the LGBTQI community and the Christian Church as a whole. With animated historical clips and quirky interviews taken from barbershops to truck stops, the film will inspire, inform, and with hope, transform America.”
The film starts with an animated retelling of Ky’s personal coming out story (at Vanderbilt!). It then uses a combination of candid interviews and animations of the seven Bible passages typically used to condemn homosexuality to break down how people use these stories versus what is actually being said. It covers the procreation argument, ‘Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve’, Sodom & Gomorrah (which is actually about rape and incest committed by HETEROsexuals), the cherry-picking of the laws of Leviticus, and what ‘natural’ and ‘sexual immorality’ really meant in the 1st century.
Yes, this movie covers all of the information you need to have in your brain to argue properly with your grandparents, your ex-boyfriend, and the television set.
Elizabeth: Firstly, how did you decide to make this film? And how/why did you decide on the format of part animation and part interviews?
Ky: When I was coming out and being pummeled with religious-fueled arguments, I didn’t know how to defend myself. There were no readily available resources to help me understand what the Bible said regarding homosexuality. At that point, I knew I wanted to create a film that could tackle this subject head-on. I felt that in order for a film on this topic to be useful, it had to be entertaining and fun. Talking about homosexuality and the Bible can be very boring and extremely polarizing. Using cartoons to tackle the topic makes this weighty subject easy to grasp and digest, while also making this topic disarming and accessible.
Kristen: Initially, Ky approached me to help her with PR for a fundraiser in the very early stages of production. As I got more involved in the project and witnessed Ky’s grassroots style of documentary film-making, I was hooked. It was a story that needed to be told, and Ky’s inclusive and community building approach was something I couldn’t imagine not being a part of; it was the project I had been waiting for. Things have a way of just falling into place like that, so I came on as a producer.
Fawzia: Ky and I met at a film festival two years ago. I was working on another documentary at the time, A Message from the East. A few months after knowing each other, she had seen my work and then Ky asked if I would work on Fish out of Water. I was so motivated by her vision and creativity and the message, that I agreed to come on as a producer.
Elizabeth: Has your opinion/faith changed since you started with the interviews? I feel like for much of the LGBT community, the image of religion that they have is that one of those extreme right-wing conservatives who think we are all evil sinners, and that has made them shy away from church settings.
Ky: I think that a growing majority of church leaders embrace the LGBTQ community and see us as an element of a diverse, beautiful human race. This sentiment is growing and powerful and I do think this will be the overwhelming opinion of the church within the next decade. The question is whether LGBTQ people will ever feel totally trusting, comfortable and safe around faith groups again. The Christian church has scarred the LGBTQ community deeply and the queer community has every right to feel suspect and bitter when it comes to ides of church and faith. The church will have a lot of work to do, to win back the trust of LGBTQ community.
Kristen: We hear a lot about how religious communities have hurt GLBTQ people, but rarely hear or experience how they can support and uplift them. It’s important to share both stories, and I think we accomplished that with Fish out of Water. Giving visibility to the folks that identify as gay and religious or spiritual is really crucial in bridging the gap that have divided families and communities for so long around this issue. We aren’t trying to influence anybody’s feelings or perspective on religion or faith, but we do want to present as many voices as possible so that the topic is less polarizing.
Fawzia: As a Muslim working on this project, it was great to have the insight into Christianity and Jesus in a way I hadn’t before. I also think the film helps people of all faiths fight these popular arguments. So much of the hate that is being slung at the gay community has its roots in religion, or should I say, misconstrued and misinterpreted religion- whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim. I also think that people should be allowed access to religion if they want it, it shouldn’t be someone else’s choice whether you can enter a synagogue or a mosque or a church or a temple.
“So much of the hate that is being slung at the gay community has its roots in religion, or should I say, misconstrued and misinterpreted religion.”
Elizabeth: Any plans to make more films of this ilk, perhaps focusing on different religions and/or religious texts?
Kristen:What’s very clear to me after making this film is that people stay away from divisive topics like sexuality and religion because of how threatening or perplexing they can seem. With documentary films, we have an opportunity to make these topics more digestible, so I would say that at the most basic level, any project we take on will aim to make the topic at hand more accessible and easy to understand, as we hope we have achieved with Fish out of Water.
Fawzia: Once you start digging into the misinterpretations, it is hard not to want to do more work like this, especially when you see so many people professing a need for it. We’ve talked about a few projects, but let’s see what happens – join our mailing list on our website and you’ll find out!
Ky: Many Americans feel uncomfortable asking religious, social, political, racial, or moral issues. I’d like to make films that can do this in an accessible, colorful way. There will be more movies to come!
Fawzia: We wanted an anti-gay minister that expressed the right-wing view on gay people, and even though some say he is too polarizing to be taken seriously, we have a lot of people in this country who quietly, internally, agree with his messages. Besides, a lot of us have heard that type of rhetoric before, and if you can disarm those words, make them funny, they won’t feel like they hurt as much. As far as specifically securing the interview, I contacted his family, Shirley Phelps, and we went from there. [In the first Q&A I attended they explained that they couldn't manage an in-person interview where one of them could be there, so they sent a list of questions and a camera person. I'd be grateful not to have to be in the same room as that man.]
Elizabeth: Did you encounter a lot of opposition when trying to get interviews? Negative feedback? Or did it feel like most of the religious figures wanted to help sort of dispel all the myths/misuses of the Bible passages ‘against’ homosexuality?
Ky: I was anticipating a lot of opposition but ministers on both sides of this issue were eager to speak. Regardless of which side of the debate they fell, religious leaders felt it was a moral obligation to weigh-in on this controversial topic. The most opposition I encountered was from the LGBTQ community. The queer community has been badly burned by religious sentiment and Bible-backed discrimination and it took an enormous amount of relationship-building and explaining my intentions to get the LGBTQ community to open up with their feelings and to trust me with their stories.
Elizabeth: How did Kaki King come to do the score for the film?
Kristen: We knew very early on that we wanted Kaki King to compose our score; her style seemed like the perfect fit for our unconventionally colorful and fast paced documentary. Kaki is a seasoned guitarist and composer, so we knew it was a long shot, but when she had a show scheduled at the Empty Bottle in Chicago back in the Spring of 2008, we knew we had to jump on it. We met her backstage and brought her and her band tamales and showed her the trailer. I think the message of the film really resonated with her, and she agreed to compose an original score for us. Considering we were at such an early stage in production, it was pretty remarkable to get her to sign on so soon and with such little information; I think speaks for the integrity of the project. We couldn’t be more proud of the work she produced-the score truly is an essential character in the film.
Elizabeth: Ky, I read on your Twitter that a Walmart big-wig wants to help support Fish out of Water… did your head explode? Because I’m still trying to wrap my head around that fact.
Ky: We keep finding allies in the most unlikely places. Fish out of Water has an inclusive, hopeful tone and because of that, it brings people into this conversation that might usually shy away from discussing gay issues. Folks from Wal-mart might help sponsor some screenings in Arkansas. Living in a big, liberal city, I’ve always considered Wal-mart as a symbol of the deep red south. However, things are obviously changing.
Elizabeth: Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Something you wanted to put in or leave out of the film? Someone you wanted to talk to?
Fawzia: You know, when you make a film, there is always something you can look at afterwards and wish you had added, or changed, or tweaked, or if you had more money, you would have done a, b, c. But, to be honest, this film is something we are all really proud of, and the thing that reminds us of that is people’s reactions after watching it.
Ky: Every time I watch the film, I see something I wish I could change. And like Fawzia said, if we had the money or time to do everything we wanted to do, the film would have been longer, covered more themes and included more people. However, my principal concern when crafting Fish out of Water was that love and humanity sparkled through the muddled mess of human interpretation. I think we succeeded on that front. I hope so… I guess we’ll see.
Elizabeth: I read in an earlier interview that you were going to take the film across country in a pink VW van, but I don’t remember seeing any pink van outside the Music Box Theatre [where Fish out of Water had its Chicago premiere as part of the Reeling Film Festival]…
Ky: The “Great American Outing” van tour will be taking place next July and August . We’ll be traveling through the South and Midwest offering free screenings of Fish out of Water. We’re heading to Dallas, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Jackson, Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, Asheville, Charleston, Louisville, St. Louis, Des Moines, Lincoln and Kansas City. We’re actively looking for field producers in each city to help us plan our screenings on the road. If anyone out there lives in one of these cities and would like to be one of our tour producers, please contact us ASAP at [email protected].
Churches, schools and community centers can book screenings in their neighborhood at anytime. On our website, they need to click on the “Book a Screening” tab. This will lead them to the correct form to fill out. Then we take it from there!At the end of the second Q&A a woman asked Ky to sum up Fish out of Water in three words. After everyone laughed at how absurd that seemed, Ky simply said, ‘Think for yourself.’ Perfect.
Fish out of Water will be released on DVD in April 2010 by First Run Features (which also brought us For The Bible Tells Me So and A Jihad for Love, which you should also watch!) and it will also be available on Netflix and iTunes. I want to buy a case and send it to Obama, NOM, California, Maine, and the 38 Senators who just voted NO in New York…