Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
R1 - America - Virgil Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th December 2015).
The Film

aGLIFF Award: Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (2nd Place) - Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival 2014
Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Award: Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (won) - Cleveland International Film Festival 2014
Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award (Best Film): Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (won) - Cleveland International Film Festival 2014
Festival Prize (Best Documentary): Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (won) - Emerge Film Festival, Maine, US 2015
Audience Award (Best Documentary): Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (2nd Place) - Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival 2014
Jury Award (Best Documentary): Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (won) - Out on Film, Atlanta, US 2014
Audience Award (Best Documentary): Michele Josue and Run Rabbit Run Media (won) - Toronto Inside Out Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival 2014

Growing up in the town of Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard seemed to be the outgoing opposite of his more reserved younger brother Logan, a performer equal parts actor and politician just feeling like he was starting to fit in during his junior high years when his father Dennis took a job in Saudi Arabia. Matthew would attend high school at the TASIS American School in Switzerland where he met Michele Josue and some of the other classmates whose recollections are recorded here. He attracted several friends with his outgoing manner and found an outlet for his insecurities performing on the stage. The school funded educational trips to other countries, and it was Matthew's group who were the first to choose a country outside of Europe. It was in the aftermath of this trip that his family and friends noticed a change in his demeanor, only learning later on from the one friend he confided in that he had been robbed and raped one night when he had gone out on his own to explore the Marrakech nightlife. Broken by his ordeal, Matthew gave up his interest in theater and turned inwards. Returning to the states for college, he left college in North Carolina after a year and moved westward to Denver. His new friends knew a Matthew alternately charismatic and deeply depressed. After a year in Denver, he decided to go back to school and was urged by his former guidance counselor to attend college in Laramie. Although reluctant to attend school in his home town (his parents and brother were still in Saudi Arabia), Matthew nevertheless became involved with the school's gay groups and politically active, forging a friendship with newspaper journalist Jason Marsden as one of the few other gay young men in Laramie interested in what was going on world affairs (notably the US air strikes in Afghanistan). One night after an LGBT club meeting, Matthew went out on his own for drinks and was targeted by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson met him in a bar as a gay guy with money. They planned to pretend to be gay in order to lure him away from the bar and rob him. On October 7, 1998, the lifeless body of twenty-one year old gay college student Matthew Shepard was discovered tied to a fence post after having been brutally beaten eighteen hours earlier. He experienced a total of eighteen blows to the head and four skull fractures, the last of which crushed his brain stem. He lay in the hospital in a coma for six days before passing away. Although the ostensive motive for the attack was robbery his family, friends, and LGBT organizations pressed the police to investigate it as a hate crime so that the true motive for the crime would not be glossed over by the national press who had latched onto the case.

His story has been dramatized before in the TV movies The Matthew Shepard Story and The Laramie Project, but Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine is not another fact-based account or an updated exposť; it is a documentary in which close friend Josue attempts to remind us that, for his family and friends, the memory of Matthew Shepard consists of more than how he died. The sense of loss and the anger over his murder is as fresh as it was seventeen years ago, but the film eloquently argues that there are some things in life you do not get over. Through letters, home movie footage, Matthew's journals, and the words of his family and friends, Josue provides a vivid portrait of a young man who had been through a lot yet was still in the process of becoming. The aftermath of Matthew's death, the funeral (and the attending protests and counter-protests), the investigation and manhunt for his murderers, the trials and sentencing, and his mother Denise's advocacy through The Matthew Shepard Foundation occupies the second half of the film; but what is moving about this part of the film is how his family and friends still sometimes inadvertently speak of him in the present tense and the "what ifs" that haunt them. Towards the end of the film, Josue meets with Father Roger Schmit, the priest who buried Matthew and was called in to offer spiritual council to McKinney before sentencing. Josue expresses her reluctance to think about McKinney and Henderson as "real people." Schmit reluctantly tells her that they and Matthew are equal in God's eyes but, whether they have still have some good in their hearts or not, that she (and the world) should "never lose being angry at that" and that there are some things we should never heal from if it means forgetting.

Video

Virgil Films' single-layer progressive, anamorphic widescreen DVD provides a respectable if unspectacular encode of this HD-lensed film which makes use of plenty of standard definition archival video of varied quality (from home movies to television news footage). Although some of the locations Josue revisits provide some attractive scenery, the documentary is not intended as A/V demonstration material.

Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track gets the job done for this talking head documentary, with only the unobtrusive underscore possessing much directionality. English Closed Captioning is also available.

Extras

There are no extras, start-up material, or even menus.

Overall

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine is not another fact-based account or an updated exposť; it is a documentary in which close friend Josue attempts to remind us that, for his family and friends, the memory of Matthew Shepard consists of more than how he died.

 


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