After working on projects and homework all day I decided to catch one of the movies at this year’s University of Oregon Queer Film Festival. The festival is being held at the Bijou Cinemas and began Friday, February 9th, and runs until Sunday, February 10th.
Arriving halfway through “Performance anxiety,” I was treated to a love scene between two attractive men. It was pretty hot. The premise for this short film was that two straight actors needed to film a gay love scene. I had missed all the build up where the two actors squirm and take issue with kissing and fondling each other.
My timing was perfect. This wasn’t hardcore porn, but creative camera angles, two guys kissing, and a little full-frontal nudity. The video and sound quality was good, but the premise didn’t really interest me. I had come to see the following movie anyway: “Unfit: Ward vs. Ward.”
This a documentary is about a 1995 custody modification case in Florida that resulted in Mary Ward, a lesbian, losing custody of her 11-year-old child to her ex-husband, John Ward, who is a convicted murderer. This sounds like madness and as the documentary unfolded, the insanity and injustice of the situation only grew.
During the documentary John recalls the murder while on “Geraldo” after he had won custody of his daughter. He had asked his first wife to grant a divorce and to give him custody of their daughter; she said she would see him in hell first. He then shot her three times, walked up to her as she begged for her life and shot her three more times in the heart before reloading his revolver and shooting her six more times. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served a mere eight years in jail.
None of that mattered to Judge Joseph Tarbuck. He didn’t even mention it in his ruling to grant custody to John. Tarbuck insisted that he did not “condemn the mother of this child for living the way she does.” Instead he wanted to give the child the opportunity of living in a “non-lesbian world.”
Mary appealed the ruling with help from the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, but that failed to reverse the ruling. The movie shows how Mary was a good mother, having raised multiple children already, and that John was completely unfit as a father. He had little to do with their daughter’s life the six years following Mary’s divorce and when their modification case was filed.
After the failure of the appeal while waiting for a decision on another appeal, Mary died of a heart attack. In the end, her lawyers were able to succeed in having the court not report its decision, which prevented future lawyers from pointing to this case as evidence to stop another gay or lesbian from keeping their children. Not much of a success, if you ask me.
This was a powerful documentary. There was so much injustice and our consolation is that this messed up kind of thing is happening less. However, the film makes a point to say that gays and lesbians are still losing the rights to their children because of the ignorance of some.
As I filled out the evaluation slip for the film festival on my way out of the Bijou a woman said she always came to the event, but she wished they’d show happier movies. She wasn’t saying the movies were bad or the messages were unimportant, but the stories weighed heavily on their viewers and she wanted a happier tale.
I don’t see why this is unreasonable. We live in the time of “It Get’s Better,” and it would be nice to see more documentaries about the LGBTQ community that tells a story about joy and happiness. Maybe the final day of of this year’s Queer Film Festival will offer a movie like this.
Image from http://bijou-cinemas.com