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Family Fundamentals

Docmeister Arthur Dong brings empathetic balance and emotional heft to the discord between fundamentalist Christian parents and their gay children in "Family Fundamentals." More limited in thematic scope than his prior investigations of homophobia, "Licensed to Kill" and "Coming Out Under Fire," pic carries considerable human interest punch.

Docmeister Arthur Dong brings empathetic balance and emotional heft to the discord between fundamentalist Christian parents and their gay children in “Family Fundamentals.” More limited in thematic scope than his prior investigations of homophobia, “Licensed to Kill” and “Coming Out Under Fire,” pic carries considerable human interest punch. Nonfiction broadcast slots rep the best avenue to post-fest exposure.

Intrigued by the public revelations that various high-profile anti-gay-rights politicos (Phyllis Schafly, Dick Cheney, the late Sonny Bono) had gay offspring or close relatives, Dong set out to profile three families in which religious conviction clashed with a younger member’s sexual identity. In one family, San Diego Pentecostal church leader Kathleen Bremner distressed her lesbian daughter and gay grandson by becoming actively aligned with groups that advocate “reparative therapy” for homosexuals.

Another young family member, Brett Matthews, was discharged from the Air Force because of his sexuality and is further pained by his Utah Mormon parents’ insistence that the gay “lifestyle” is a mortal sin leading to eternal damnation.

Young Brian Bennett, after 12 years working for former GOP congressman Bob Dornan — and being treated as an adoptive son by the Dornan clan — came out, which put their close bond on ice.

While Dornan (seen in televised excerpts spewing virulent anti-gay rhetoric) refused to be interviewed here, and Matthews’ folks reneged on an initial promise to participate, Dong manages a poignant air of intimacy that acknowledges good intentions and hurt feelings on all sides.

In Bennett and Matthews’ cases, being ostracized from a familiar familial womb causes great pain. Susan and David Jester harbor more mixed-feeling regrets toward grandma Kathleen B., whose formation of a support group for parents dealing with this “unnatural and destructive” lifestyle “choice” they view as aggressively hurtful. “This sort of thing going out over the Internet gives people permission to murder a Matthew Shepard,” Susan grimaces.

Cutting among the three stories with a strong narrative sense, “Family Fundamentals” makes its salient points sans overt editorializing. Tech aspects are pro.

Family Fundamentals

  • Production: A Deep Focus Prods. presentation. Produced, directed, edited by Arthur Dong.
  • Crew: Camera (color, video), Dong; music, Mark Adler; sound, Bruce Hanifan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 16, 2002. Running time: 75 MIN.
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