The latest player to hit the film-festival circuit may be a bit unexpected: Airbnb, the travel-accommodations booking marketplace, developed, financed and produced documentary film “Gay Chorus Deep South,” set to premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 29.
It’s the company’s very first feature film. Directed by David Charles Rodrigues, “Gay Chorus Deep South” follows the 300-member San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus on a 10-day tour across the Southeastern U.S. with the goal of inspiring conversation around inclusivity and civil rights. The film documents the challenges the singers faced as they brought their music into people’s homes, churches and concert halls.
Why did the Silicon Valley commerce company decide to dive into film production? James Goode, Airbnb’s head of creative, explained that the film aligns with its corporate values that all people should not only be treated with dignity and respect but should be welcomed and celebrated.
“When we first heard about it two yeas ago, the reasons for their tour was very much in line with our values,” Goode told Variety. “Airbnb is in the space of telling stories of belonging and acceptance.”
Of course, it also serves as marketing for Airbnb, although Goode said he and his team never considered it branded content per se. “We wanted to support the chorus and make the highest-quality piece of content we could,” he said.
Airbnb has long been committed to supporting the LGTBQ community, according to Goode. The company was a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign Business Coalition for the Equality Act, which advocates for comprehensive legal protections for LGTBQ people.
“Gay Chorus Deep South” follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, led by conductor Tim Seelig, on their Lavender Pen Tour in 2017, which they embarked on in response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws in Southern states and the divisive 2016 U.S. presidential election. The movie is executive produced by Goode and Tony Högqvist, executive creative director at Airbnb.
The deal came together after Rodrigues reached out to Goode about the prospect of working together on a documentary about the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus tour. Crew members from Airbnb’s creative production team then accompanied Rodrigues and producers Bud Johnston and Jesse Moss as they set out with the chorus on the road trip, which traversed Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Making this film with Airbnb and the chorus has been an experience of a lifetime,” Rodrigues, a Greek-American-Brazilian filmmaker and equal rights activist, said in a statement. “When we learned about the tour, I immediately saw a rare chance of telling an emotional story in divisive times. What we saw up close, was a positive movement of acceptance and belonging.”
Following the 100-minute film’s April 29 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus are scheduled to perform.
“Gay Chorus Deep South” also is currently scheduled to screen at three other fests: Reel Out Charlotte in North Carolina (April 28-May 5); QDoc Queer Documentary Film Festival in Portland, Ore. (May 2-5), and New Jersey’s Montclair Film Festival (May 3-12).
As for what Airbnb’s distribution plans are following its festival run, Goode said that’s still to be determined but he allowed that it might include scoping out a deal with a streaming platform. “We will want as many people as possible to see this film,” he said. “How that happens, we don’t know yet.”
Goode declined to say how much Airbnb spent on “Gay Chorus Deep South.” Right now, the company doesn’t have any other feature-length film projects in the works.
Among its other original content initiatives, Airbnb publishes a six-times-yearly magazine in association with Hearst Magazines and Goode’s team creates content for Airbnb’s website highlighting some of the listed properties. Founded in 2008, the San Francisco-based company provides access to more than 6 million rental locations in more than 81,000 cities and 191 countries.
Watch the trailer for “Gay Chorus Deep South”: