Outrage Director Kirby Dick on His Incendiary Gay Politico Doc: 'This Was Not a Hit Job'
Add one more to yesterday's list of noteworthy Tribeca Film Festival viewing: Outrage, director Kirby Dick's documentary expose about closeted gay politicians. But not just any closeted gay politicians, but those whose conservative leanings prompt their allegiance to virulently anti-gay policy. Take Idaho congressman Larry Craig, arrested for soliciting sex in a men's bathroom, yet who voted against HIV/AIDS support 11 times in almost 20 years. Or Charlie Crist, the Florida governor who advocated a gay-marriage ban in his state despite leaving a trail of male lovers throughout his political rise. Outrage follows that trail among others, compiling evidence, experts and other testaments to the hypocrisies compromising gay rights nationwide.
For the Oscar-nominee Dick, whose Twist of Faith and This Film is Not Yet Rated provided similarly detailed perspectives on systemic abuse, Outrage boasts an unprecedented flush of anger. Much of it owes to subjects including ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer and politico-outer extraordinaire Michael Rogers, while the more modulated former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey unpacks the philosophy that drives leaders into the closet -- and keeps them there -- in the first place. Dick talked to Movieline this afternoon about those dynamics, their impacts, and what didn't make Outrage's final cut. (The film premieres Friday at Tribeca and opens in limited release on May 8.)
Well, I guess you're getting audited this year.
We'll see! Do any of these people have the power to do that? Who knows?
Obviously your timing couldn't be better. How long did you have your eye on this subject before you decided to take the leap?
I had the idea in August 2006 -- two months before Mark Foley and a year before Larry Craig. We were actually shooting for five months before Craig was arrested in the bathroom.
Did you find potential subjects coming to you as you were moving along and as word got around about what you were doing?
We were very lucky to get the range of people we got to speak in the film. Washington is a very careful town, naturally, and for some of these people it took a long time -- maybe nine months or a year. It's also a small town, so most people were aware in advance that this film was being made once we started approaching some people. But mostly our time was spent trying to convince people that this was not a hit job, but a legitimate film that was going to be very thoughtful and examine an issue. What was interesting was that everyone across the political spectrum wanted this film to be made. This was an issue that people thought the mainstream press was not covering, and they wanted it covered.
What about the implicated politicians? Did you approach them?
We did not approach them. They've been asked this question on a number of occasions, and I think that nearly all the subjects we focused on have responses in our film. So we just decided not to. Their general M.O. is to ignore this and keep the closet door closed.
How many potential subjects did you omit from the film, either for lack of evidence or corroborating sources? Rumors about Karl Rove's sexuality, for example, have circulated for years, but he's not mentioned at all.
I'd say there were a dozen or so strong rumors that weren't strong enough to report on. And I don't know -- they may be gay, they may not be gay. This isn't a story of reporting rumors. But there were some I think people would be surprised by.
But as his work relates to gay rights and actual policy, isn't a guy like Rove hugely important?
Yeah. In fact, when I was in Washington, that was sort of what got me interested in the story. Someone told me Karl Rove was gay. I was just, like, "What? This could be a film." But there's been nothing even like a semi-substantial rumor that he's gay, as far as I've received. It could just be a fantasy. There is something wonderfully twisted about the idea of Karl Rove being gay. [Laughs] More twisted than wonderful.
You also cite media's complicity in keeping these figures' sexualities hidden, even while they're voting against their own community. But what about the impact of closeted conservative media figures like Shepard Smith, Matt Drudge or especially Jeff Gannon, who's also not mentioned?
We worked on [Gannon]. It's totally within the subject matter and totally legitimate to include in the film. And we did try to. But it seemed like in comparison to the politicians and the power they had, it had more of a gossip feel in a way. Although it does point to the idea of media collusion in a way. It just didn't seem like it was of quite the same import as a David Dreier or a Charlie Crist.
A Bush-sympathizing, gay prostitute planted in the White House press room?
No, its a great story. There are just allegations I can't substantiate. It's somewhat symptomatic, and I see where you're going with this. There's just this sensational quality to it, and I couldn't take it from there to the issue of policy. If he was a major reporter, then yes. But it really is a great story; we just had a limited amount of time. He's on the cutting-room floor.
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, featured in his mugshot following his 2007 arrest on lewd conduct charges
Jim McGreevey gets off sort of easy here. Do you think he really would have come out of the closet if he hadn't been accused of ethical, perhaps even criminal misconduct?
Perhaps not. There was certainly a political calculation to it. It's a complex story, and we do acknowledge it in some of the news clips -- that there was a scandal, and that he was resigning because of that, and he had a relationship with someone on his staff. But he had so many incredible things to say about how he protected the closet that we couldn't even get in as it was. So there was sort of a trade-off: The more we get in about that back story, the less we hear of his insights. Like one of the things he said was that being in the closet helps train you as a politician; you learn to spin and respond immediately. It was those kinds of things that I really wanted to get from him for the film. Anyway, maybe he would have come out eventually. He definitely wouldn't have come out then, there's no question.
How did you persuade Dina Matos McGreevey to cooperate?
She was careful. My producer, Amy Ziering, was the one who interacted with most of the subjects first, and she was really excellent in presenting this as a legitimate film. They established an excellent relationship, and, you know, I think she really wants this story told. She was really hurt by this. So she was very open and she finally said "yes." She was really cooperative all through the production, providing stills and that marriage footage. It was great to interview here. And that's the thing about the closet: The damage spreads out so many ways. That's why I think it's important to have her in the film.
There's a slippery slope here. Some argue that any public figure or celebrity should be subject to outing because of what the closet represents. Do you think that this kind of exposure should be limited to policymakers, or is everyone a policymaker?
It's a good question. In some ways, the brightest line is this line of someone who's voting for policy that hurts gays and lesbians and is gay himself. That's very clear-cut, and in fact, of every single subject I spoke to, not one was opposed to the fact that Larry Craig or Ed Schrock was outed. Not one, from across the political spectrum. From there, I think it's a very fascinating issue, and we talked about going in there. But the political aspect of this was so rich that we had things about that we couldn't even get in there. I think it definitely is another film for another filmmaker. The ethical issues are a little grayer, but there are arguments to be made on both sides. Even on our staff, our co-producer is gay and was clear that it was completely justified to out these politicans. At the same time he took the opposite position about celebrities.
Did you turn up any closeted lesbians in Washington who are also enacting anti-gay policy?
None that I had enough information to report on.
You've split your career between personal docs like Sick and Derrida and, more recently, exposes like Outrage, This Film is Not Yet Rated. Do you think you're likelier to continue with the exposes down the line?
Yeah, and Twist of Faith was sort of half-and-half. But I think so. I don't think of them as "exposes" per se, but I guess you could characterize them as that. There is a personal doc I'm looking at, but I guess I am leaning in that direction for the next film or two, yes.
Any heads-ups or details you can share?
Not yet. [Laughs] I don't want to give anybody a heads-up on anything I'm making! ♦