By Will Dean
Filmmaker Del Shores returns to Palm Springs this week with a new film. He’s opening the Cinema Diverse LGBT film festival on Sept. 19 with “Southern Baptist Sissies,” a tale of four young boys in the South who confront inner and outer struggles with their sexual orientation as a result of anti-gay Christian teachings. It sounds like ample opportunity for drama and the trademark Southern humor Shores presented in “Sordid Lives.”
More than 10 years ago, Shores screened “Sordid Lives” at Camelot Theatres. It gained a huge following, playing at the cinema for more than 90 weeks. Last year, he and a majority of the cast of “Blues for Willadean” were back at the Camelot for a screening and reception.
Shores recently discussed the new film, which is based on an earlier “Sissies” play he wrote, with Desert Outlook.
When I interviewed actor and producer Emerson Collins for the September issue of Desert Outlook magazine, he said “Southern Baptist Sissies” is in many ways your personal story. How difficult was it for you to reconcile anti-gay religious teachings with being an out and outspoken gay artist?
It was an amazing journey for me. “Sissies” was a way that I could process the anger, hurt and pain, the best therapy I ever gave myself. I don’t think honestly it is ever completely reconciled. Every time I hear anti-gay sentiments that are justified by quoting the Bible, I’m reminded of the scars in my own life and others who have been affected by such bigotry.
How does the way you shot the film – capturing actual play performances and adding close-ups and film techniques – enhance the experience for the audience?
It is the best of both worlds. I love this unique little film of ours. The power of film when you need intimacy is in my opinion film at its best. The breakup scene comes to mind and Dale Dickey’s powerful monologue.
Because of your prior work and who you are, there’s an audience for “Sissies” at LGBT film festivals. Assuming you would like other people – specifically straight, Southern churchgoers — to see it, how do you reach them?
We’re working on that. We are reaching out to churches, clergy, asking them to come see the film, have discussions with us on how to change the dogma and what we call spewing hatred in the name of the Lord. One thing already happening though is the gay community is sharing the film with families and friends. The more personal it gets, the more likely for the message to cross over, I believe.
Is there a pivotal moment or scene in “Sissies” which you believe could open the door to LGBT acceptance for even the staunchest homophobe who sees it?
I don’t know how anybody who has a heart and soul cannot be touched by the power of the performances of the entire cast, but mainly, those four boys. Emerson Collins is perfection as Mark, Luke Stratte-McClure captures the push/pull so powerfully, Willam Belli entertains then slays us with his confession of the Rapture fear, and Matthew Scott Montgomery simply breaks every heart in the theater with his raw, emotional angst. I’m in love with my cast. Can you tell?
How much of the financing for the film was raised through your Indiegogo campaign?
Our budget was $185,000 and we raised over $120,000 through crowd-funding. We have a new campaign to raise the money we borrowed to finish the film. Our goal is that it will be 100 percent crowd-funded. We are so grateful to each “Sissies” angel who helped make this possible. It truly took a village and I love that this has a collective feeling of “This is OUR film.” We have just created a finishing funds Indiegogo campaign (http://igg.me/at/SissiesFinishingFunds/x/1624319).
I’ve read that director Paul Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis did crowd-funding to help pay for “The Canyons.” Some believe it could revolutionize the film industry by encouraging more independent filmmaking. Do you agree?
Absolutely. So many amazing projects are coming to fruition because of these new ways of raising funds.
You seem to have assembled your own company of actors you repeatedly work with, such as Ann Walker, Dale Dickey, Leslie Jordan and Beth Grant. Most are from the South, as you are. How did that come about?
Each has a different story of how we found each other. But in that, the same story surfaces with the loyalty from both ends. We enjoy each other’s work. We enjoy working together. And that is something rare and beautiful. I’m grateful to all of them.
IF YOU GO
What: “Southern Baptist Sissies” opens Cinema Diverse with a reception for the cast, followed by the screening, Q&A session, and after-party
When: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19
Where: Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs
Price: $15 for screening, $35 for screening and reception
Info: camelottickets.com, (760) 325-6565