The Filmmaker

Johnny Symons

Filmmaker Johnny Symons talks about his motivations for making ASK NOT:

Many Americans still view "don't ask, don't tell" as an acceptable solution. As with many other LGBT issues, they allow a few vocal homophobes with little personal experience with gays and lesbians to set the terms of the dialogue and establish a norm of fear-mongering instead of one of equality and respect. The film enters into this arena and, through the power of personal stories, reveals the contributions of gay and lesbian military personnel and the literal and figurative costs of banning them from service. I hope the film illustrates the deep psychological impact of "don't ask, don't tell" on the estimated 65,000 LGBT servicemembers who currently serve in silence. By exploring the history of the policy’s implementation, I hope the film will reveal that the law is based not on carefully researched empirical evidence, but on distorted facts and fears that were propagated through a series of calculated political maneuvers. By demonstrating that 25 other countries around the world have now abolished their bans on gay service with no negative effect on combat readiness or unit cohesion, I hope it will become clear that this law is unnecessary. By documenting the courageous work of young activists, I hope to show average Americans that they too can make a difference in this effort, and motivate them to take action to repeal this failed policy.

His three favorite films:

Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) by Ellen Kuras
Babel by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu

His advice for aspiring filmmakers:

Good filmmaking is all about good storytelling. Use your creativity and your contacts to find subjects and stories. Get your hands on a camera and start capturing the drama as it unfolds. It may take you a long time to get the film fully funded and finished, but the footage you’ve gathered in the meantime may prove to be one of the most compelling parts of your film. Ask questions. Go for emotion. The unfolding of people’s lives can be amazing.

His most inspirational food for making independent film:

I’m a big fan of salads with lots of veggies and protein. Sugar can be a nice quick fix, but to make a film, you need healthy food that gives you stamina for the long haul.

Filmmaker Bio

Johnny Symons

Johnny Symons is a documentary film- and videomaker based in Berkeley, California. His ITVS-funded film DADDY & PAPA (2002), an exploration of the personal, cultural and political impact of gay men raising kids, premiered at Sundance, won more than 15 major festival awards, aired nationally on Independent Lens and received a national Emmy nomination for Best Documentary. Beyond Conception (2006), his feature documentary about the relationship between a lesbian surrogate and a gay male couple as they conceive and bear a child, premiered at the Florida Film Festival and aired on Discovery Health Channel. Symons is the co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated Long Night’s Journey Into Day (2000), a feature documentary about South Africa’s search for truth and reconciliation, and winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival.

Symons has been creating films about gay culture since 1991, including Beauty Before Age (1997), an exploration of the fear of growing older in the gay male community, which received an NEMN Gold Apple and an IDA nomination; Shaving the Castro (1995), a portrait of a 70-year-old Castro Street barber shop that aired nationally on public television; and Out in Africa (1994), an exploration of black African gay life, which was named Best Documentary at the Turin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Symons’s other credits include It’s STILL Elementary (2008), LOST BOYS OF SUDAN (2003, PBS), Bubbeh Lee and Me (1996, HBO) and The Celluloid Closet (1995, HBO). He has freelanced as a segment producer for the PBS gay and lesbian cultural affairs show, In the Life, since 1998.

Symons graduated with honors from Brown University and has a master’s degree in documentary production from Stanford University. He currently teaches documentary film at both Stanford and the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.

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