Limited Partnership Filmmakers Commit Years to Telling Marriage Equality Story

Limited Partnership director Tom Miller (left), and producer Kirk Marcolina

Limited Partnership director Tom Miller (left), and producer Kirk Marcolina

Tom Miller committed a long period of his life — 14 years — to his film Limited Partnership, and it became a true labor of love, appropriate for what is at its very heart a love story. The film traces Richard Adams’ and Tony Sullivan’s long journey to become legally married (again), as they eventually sued the U.S. government, initiating the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history. Miller, who went to medical school and is also a pediatrician as well as filmmaker (he’s produced several other films for PBS) partnered with producer Kirk Marcolina to tell what is both an historically important story and an incredibly personal, heartrending one.

“A remarkably poignant chronicle of the devotion of these two men for 40 years… Miller and his editors have kept the story hurtling forward right up to the rousing if bittersweet conclusion. It helps if a documentary has compelling subjects, and Adams and Sullivan certainly hold the camera. But the skill of the filmmakers socks the story home.”— Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter

Both Miller and Marcolina chatted with us about the making of Limited Partnership, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS tonight, Monday June 15 [10pm; check local listings], in likely the same month the Supreme Court will be ruling on the marriage equality case. Tony and Richard, the stars of Limited Partnership, were among the first to bravely trek down that long legal road. Continue reading

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Bringing the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Full Circle

Clela Rorex, Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan reunite for the film Limited Partnership at event in Los Angeles

Clela Rorex, Richard Adams, and Tony Sullivan (l-r) reunite

Tony Sullivan is no stranger to practicing the art of patience. He navigated through decades of legal fights with the U.S. government over both his own legal status as an immigrant from Australia and the legality of his marriage to the love of his life, Richard Adams. And he was the subject of a film that took nearly 13 years to make, Limited Partnership, which premieres Monday on Independent Lens [10pm; check local listings]. In fact, when the film started production, no state had legalized same-sex marriage, but fast forward to this month, when the Supreme Court is about to rule on whether or not all states must allow it.

It’s possible none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for a progressive county clerk in Boulder, Colorado who had been approving same-sex marriage licenses. Tony says he first learned that gay marriage licenses were being issued in Boulder from TV, including Johnny Carson making a joke about it on The Tonight Show. And eventually the pair made their way to Colorado in 1975 to get married. The license was signed by feminist county clerk Clela Rorex. This set off a firestorm, but also helped set Tony and Richard on a long, historic journey fighting for both marriage equality and immigration rights.

Last week we had the opportunity to sit down with both Tony and Clela together as they visited San Francisco. Clela still lives in Colorado, retired but an activist for civil rights, speaking to students and on panel discussions as an ally of gay rights. “I talk about the requirement to not be a bystander in life, you have to be out there, not just through texting and Facebook,” she says.

Meanwhile, Tony lives in Los Angeles, his home for decades, save a few years he had to live in exile — but more about that in the film. Continue reading

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1971 Followup: A Conversation with Laura Poitras and Betty Medsger

Laura Poitras won an Academy Award for CitizenFour, her film about Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to the mainstream media and is now living in exile abroad. Betty Medsger wrote the book The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, and was a reporter at The Washington Post who first received the COINTELPRO files from the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI. Medsger and Poitras are both important parts of Johanna Hamilton’s film 1971, which just premiered on Independent Lens: Medsger is featured in the film while Poitras was an executive producer. In a video exclusive for Independent Lens, Hamilton sat down for a conversation with both women, about protecting sources, the impact the Snowden revelations had on Medsger’s book, and things that shocked them about the 1971 story.

Read more about 1971 >>

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Johanna Hamilton Goes Back to 1971 to Find Burglars Who Revealed Illegal FBI Spying

'1971' filmmaker Johanna Hamilton in outdoor pic  in front of trees

1971 filmmaker Johanna Hamilton; photo by Diana Matar

1971: A year before the Watergate scandal sent shockwaves through the United States, with no end in sight to the Vietnam War, and anti-war protests intensifying. In that same year a group of ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. What they discovered shocked them.

Long before Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance, these activist-burglars exposed COINTELPRO, the FBI’s illegal surveillance program that involved the intimidation of law-abiding Americans. For forty years the burglars kept their identities secret, but in Johanna Hamilton’s new film 1971, these previously anonymous Americans publicly tell their story for the first time.

With the film premiering on Independent Lens on PBS tonight, May 18 at 10 pm [check local listings], Hamilton took the time to talk to us about how she approached telling this story on film, and its resonance with the more recent Wikileaks and Edward Snowden revelations.
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Nine Movies about American Radicals

From the film 1971, citizen activists planning their break-in

From the film 1971

By Noel Murray

There’s something deeply and inherently provocative in movies that tell stories about open rebellion against the United States government, because they force us to think harder about what it really means to be a good citizen. Are radicals traitors, heroes, or something in-between? Can we even judge them until enough time has passed to know whether they were right or wrong? After all, if the American Revolution had gone another way, the tales we tell about Paul Revere and George Washington would have a decidedly different spin.

Johanna Hamilton’s documentary 1971 (airing on PBS this Monday, May 18 — check local listings) is about an activist group that once undercut the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country by raiding a Pennsylvania FBI office, and then disseminating the embarrassing classified files they found there. Though the title refers to the year the robbery took place, the film’s clear message is that the issues of government spying and secrecy — and whether citizens have the right to force accountability by any means necessary — are as relevant and controversial now as they were 44 years ago.

Like 1971, the nine fiction and nonfiction features below also deal with people and organizations who’ve defied the status quo — sometimes questionably, and sometimes in ways that today seem more noble than dangerous. Continue reading

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1971 Pop Quiz

The acclaimed film 1971 airs on Independent Lens on PBS next Monday, May 18 [check local listings]. But first, test yourself on all things 1971, from music to sports, politics to TV, with our new quiz. You don’t have to have been alive in 1971 to take a stab at this one (though it will probably help you in a few places). Give it a try and let us know how you did!

[Or click here >>]

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Filmmaker “Flies” with Elizabeth Streb, Extreme Action Architect

Born to Fly filmmaker Catherine Gund

Born to Fly filmmaker Catherine Gund

As the subject of her new film Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, New York-based filmmaker Catherine Gund found one of the more dynamic artistic minds in a city not lacking for great art (Streb is a recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award). In over 30 years of practice, choreographer Streb – sometimes called “the Evel Knievel of dance”– has pioneered a movement form called “POPACTION,” which she describes as “a mixture of slam dancing, exquisite and amazing human flight, and a wild action sport.” The film was called “beautiful, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable” by And:

“What does it say about the state of Hollywood action filmmaking that this year’s most dashing derring-do transpires in a doc about a choreographer?” (Village Voice)

Gund previously made What’s on Your Plate?, a critically-acclaimed multimedia project about kids and food politics; the Independent Lens films Motherland Afghanistan and A Touch of Greatness (nominated for an Emmy); and Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance. She also co-founded the Third Wave Foundation, which targets grants and programs to young women between 15 and 30. Gund took time out from her busy schedule to talk to us about Born to Fly, which premieres tonight on Independent Lens on PBS at 10 pm [check local listings], including how she hope the film will inspire others and on her work with the great Albert Maysles.

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Action Heroes of Dance: They Were Born to Fly

STREB’s Samantha Jakus runs down the side of Bergdorf Goodman. Photo Courtesy Bergdorf Goodman.

STREB’s Samantha Jakus runs down the side of Bergdorf Goodman Building in NYC. Photo Courtesy Bergdorf Goodman.

In the film Born to Fly, which premieres on Independent Lens on PBS this coming Monday May 11 at 10 pm [check local listings], we meet not only the one-of-a-kind “extreme action architect,” choreographer Elizabeth Streb, but also several members of her dance troupe. One has to be a tough cookie inside and out to brave Streb’s physically challenging, risky routines.

Two of those featured players took a time out from running, dancing, ducking, falling and spinning, to talk to us about life in this unusual dance company.

Samantha “Sammy” Jakus, from Philadelphia, would call her journey a true Rocky story. She has trained in dance, tumbling, circus, and by wrestling with her three brothers. Exploring the body’s physical limits through movement has led her to STREB.

Cassandre “Cassy” Joseph, born and raised in Brooklyn, began training in artistic gymnastics at the age of four. Her career as a gymnast spanned 18 years, during which she earned several state, regional, and national titles. Then, like Jakus, she found at STREB an avenue for further pursuit of extreme movement. Continue reading

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Art on the Edge: Extreme Dance, Performance, and More

a male dancer ducks while on a moving mat in a dancer by Elizabeth Streb in Born to Fly

A Streb Company dancer, seen in Born to Fly

On May 11, Independent Lens presents Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity, a film about “extreme action architect” Elizabeth Streb, who was once called the “Evel Knievel of dance.” Her choreography, which she calls POPACTION, “intertwines the disciplines of dance, athletics, boxing, rodeo, the circus, and Hollywood stunt-work,” and her dancers are often required to perform physically punishing maneuvers.

To get you in the mood as we approach the film’s PBS premiere, we’ve collected some other examples of “extreme” performance and visual art, some even more out there than Streb’s work.

We had to bypass posting some of the interesting stuff we found — it was just too intensely extreme. But still, a word of caution: a few of the items we are posting here may still be too intense for some viewers, and there may be some nudity (though nothing too explicit). Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

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Telling the Story of Kumu Hina

filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, with Kumu Hina and student

Filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, with Kumu Hina and student Ho’onani

Kumu Hina, which won the Frameline Jury Award for Achievement in Documentary, was called “a subtle but inspiring tale” by Alice Lytton in IndieWire. “This is a film which could, if given the chance, push people both within and without the LGBT community to question not only their assumptions but also their language.”

The film is an intimate portrait of Hina, a mahu (transgender) woman and cultural legend in Hawaii who teaches Hawaiian language, history, and culture. She finds a surprising candidate to lead her school’s all-male hula troupe: Ho’onani, a sixth grader who is proud to be seen as a mixture of boy and girl. As Kumu (teacher) Hina helps Ho’onani negotiate the mixed reactions of her classmates and her family, the power of culture to instill a sense of pride and acceptance becomes clear.

We spoke with Hawaii-based filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson about how they first came across Hina, what younger generations can learn from this story, and things that surprised them while making the film. Kuma Hina premieres on PBS tonight, Monday, May 4, at 10pm (check local listings).

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