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The Smith Family

Premiere Date: June 25, 2002

   

Ask the Filmmaker

More than 90 viewers sent in questions for Tasha Oldham, the director of The Smith Family. Here she responds to a selection of questions about her role as an observer, the reaction of the Mormon community to the film, and how the Smith family members are doing today.

Viewer Question: Were there any moments too personal to include in the film? Did you grieve as if you were part of the family during Steve's death?

Tasha Oldham: I don't believe we ever withheld moments because they were too personal. This is an incredibly personal, intimate portrait of a family so those moments were what we were trying to capture. Although we did have to make these moments work within the context of the story we wanted to tell. So there are many personal moments that didn't make it into the final cut because they didn't serve the overall story in the end.

Viewer Question: Did you ever consider being more overt about your presence, and including yourself in some of the scenes?

Oldham: I never wanted to be part of the film. It was never about me or my presence. I wanted the Smiths to tell their own story. I did not want it to be Tasha Oldham's perspective on the Smiths. I wanted to remain an objective bystander and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. And each person comes to this with different life experience and backgrounds so they will each take away something different.

I didn't want to manipulate the audience into believing one way or another. This principle dictated every decision in the film, particularly the film's score. Music was central throughout the film because it was a huge part of the Smith's life and very much something that bonded them as a family.

I wanted to use live instruments, which is virtually unheard of on films of this modest budget. The music had to be as genuine as their story — simple and with few instruments.

Viewer Question: Kim is incredibly strong, loving, and compassionate. She is a spiritual guide for all of us to follow. My question is about her — how is she doing? What is her health like today and how is she coping with the loss of Steve?

Oldham: Kim is doing remarkably well. She is back to work, which she hasn't done since before she was married. And she is happy to be engaging in life again.

She her moments and life certainly isn't easy. She misses Steve more than anything, but she is looking forward to living a long productive life.

Viewer Question: What has the response of her neighbors/fellow churchgoers been to Kim, Tony & Parker? Any repercussions after the film aired?

Oldham: The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We have all been thrilled and taken aback at the same time. The community's support has only grown since the film's broadcast. I had warned Kim months ago that after the film airs random people will come up to her and act as if she is their best friend. I don't think she quite believed me. Now everywhere she goes, people just come up and hug her.

Viewer Question: If it isn't too soon to ask, what has been the reaction to your production thus far? Not from the "Church" per se, although that would be interesting to know, but more from LDS viewers of the program.

Oldham: The response has been very positive. The first time I screened the film to an all LDS audience, I was nervous because I didn't know how they would react. But they have been more positive than any other audience. As members of the church, I think they get it on so many other levels. There are so many little Mormon nuances and inside jokes that they can really appreciate. There were over 200 people in that screening and each one came up to me and thanked me for making the film.

Viewer Question: I noticed that the father spoke at his son's missionary farewell, which would have flown in the face of the Church's policy towards participation in a meeting by a gay man. Was this allowed because of family wishes as the "program" came from them, and/or, because the bishop and stake president were more open and non-judgmental (they had chosen not to excommunicate him) than the official Church position might have (had to have) been? Was it even an issue? Did they have to insist that he participate, or did it flow naturally? How did the members really feel? Were they compassionate?

Oldham: The members and entire community were incredibly supportive and really rallied around the Smith family. Each day that I was there, someone else from the neighborhood stopped by with meals they had prepared, laundry they had cleaned or some other act of love.

Steve speaking at Tony's farewell was not an issue. The family planned the ceremony.

Viewer Question: It seemed like everyone family, community and church seemed to eventually come to terms and accept them as they were and support them through the crisis. Weren't there any people who ostracized them, shunned them, couldn't find a way to accept them? Did the clerks in the grocery store treat Kim the same as a non-HIV person? Wasn't the family getting "looks" from others at the goodbye scene in the airport? The film never showed anyone acting fearful of touching or otherwise interacting with people living with HIV/AIDS. In three years this must have happened more than a few times.

Oldham: There was never at time the Smiths felt ostracized nor did they personally encounter negativity. I think the Smiths were as surprised by this as anyone. I have no doubt there are many people who haven't come to terms with their situation but I don't believe this led them to treat them differently.

Keep in mind, the details of their story were not public knowledge, only a few people knew the exact details of what exactly transpired, unless they were close friends of the family. In fact, during my interview with their next-door neighbors, with whom they were extremely close, I was the one who inadvertently revealed that Kim had the HIV virus as well.

I interviewed countless neighbors and church members and the overall attitude was that this was a family in going through a tough time. The details of how they got to this place didn't matter.





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