When husband-and-wife directing team Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler approached Barney Frank about making a documentary, their pitch sounded lighthearted. In late 2011, Frank was preparing to retire from his Massachusetts seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, after a 40-year career in public office.
“It was going to be a nostalgic look and what it’s like making the transition,” says Frank, 74, on a recent phone call from Maine where he spends a fair portion of his time now. But after collecting more than 100 hours of interviews, Frank recalls, “they decided they wanted to do more of my career.”
The film, “Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank,” premieres on April 27 at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“They filmed me in a whole range of places doing a whole range of things,” Frank says. The prominent Democrat had two rules for the filmmakers: “When my constituents come to see me about some problem, they are entitled to absolute privacy. Secondly, my first obligation was to be an effective legislator.”
The movie follows Frank’s journey as the first congressman to voluntarily come out of the closet in 1987 and it bookends that history with the summer 2012 wedding to Jim Ready (when the cameras trailed along at the tearful reception).
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“I regretted not coming out earlier,” Frank says. “My life was considerably improved when I wasn’t hiding things. Plus, I think it had a good political effect on prejudice.”
He predicts voters could elect an openly gay president, but he’s not sure if it will happen in his lifetime. “That’s at least 20 years or more off,” he says. “James Buchanan was gay, but he was also the worst fucking president, so there’s no point in claiming him.”
Frank says he fielded phone calls, some from Hollywood, after he left Congress in January 2013. “I did get a couple of offers to do hits on situational comedies,” he says. He turned them down and instead spent four hours a day working on his memoirs, which will be released next year. “I started dictating, but it sucked,” says Frank, who just finished a 600-page draft. “I relearned word processor. I’m not very adept with machines.”
He’ll also return to his home state of Massachusetts in the fall to teach a class at Harvard on LGBT rights. Frank says that he doesn’t miss his life as a politician. “The absence of stress is wonderful,” he says. “Look, I’m 74 years old now. I don’t have the energy I had.”
See the exclusive trailer for “Compared to What” below.