All the way home on the tram I thought about whether to give this outstanding Australian documentary about the children of same-sex parents 4.5 or 5 stars. For me, it was a perfectly crafted documentary, how docos should be made (and I’m talking to you George Gittoes). Engaging subjects who feel safe enough to be real on camera, a story and a message that slowly unfolds, that we observe and understand without the need for exposition, and no sign of the film maker, we are totally absorbed into the world of the subjects.
Director Maya Newell, herself the daughter of same-sex parents, followed seven or so families with two mums or dads over the course of a year or more, filming their everyday lives. Ultimately only four families appear in the film, to allow you to get to know them better, and I think this was a good decision, as was the choice of children, all aged around 11 or 12, and their families. The children have charisma and you keenly want them to succeed and find their identity and place within their communities.
We meet Gus and his two mums. He loves WWE wrestling and you can see his mums struggling with their own opinions about violence as entertainment and what should be encouraged. Matthew lives with his mum and her partner and he and his brother spend regular time with their dad. Matthew’s mum is a committed Catholic and he grapples with his own belief in a religion that says his mum is a sinner. Ebony lives in the western suburbs of Sydney with her mums and younger siblings, one who is ill. She wants to be a singer and after missing out on selection to a performing arts high school in central Sydney, worries about starting high school in an area where same sex parents are not so accepted. Graham and his brother were fostered by their dads and then adopted. His traumatic childhood is only hinted at, he couldn’t speak until he was seven and now struggles to read. During the course of the film, his family moves to Fiji and they must decide how open they will be about the dads’ relationship.
What really works is that each family is grappling with one of the big issues that seem to rise to the top whenever same-sex parenting is being discussed: the Bible says it’s wrong; boys need fathers; the kids will be bullied; you have to remain hidden. We are not told what is right or wrong, just shown how each family deals with it and what experiencing it actually means. What comes across most strongly is that each of these families is just like every other family. They love their children, they do their best, they sacrifice to give their children opportunities, they wonder whether they are doing it right. I walked into this film thinking it was about same-sex parenting, really it’s about families.
You can find out more about the film here http://thegaybyproject.com/