The announcement of filmmaker Joe Wilson’s wedding to another man ignites a firestorm of controversy and a quest for change in the small Pennsylvania hometown he left long ago.
Drawn back by a plea for help from the mother of a gay teen being tormented at school, Wilson takes viewers on an exhilarating journey through love, hate, and understanding in rural America in Out in the Silence, airing Tuesday, June 8 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT 21.1/cable 1011 and 11). Immediately following at 9:30 p.m. WXXI-TV presents the encore broadcast of Everyone and Anyone, a film that connects parents of gay children together to share intimate accounts of how their children revealed their sexual orientation and discuss their responses.
In Out of the Silence filmmaker Joe Wilson shatters the peace and quiet of Oil City, Pennsylvania, a fading industrial town in the heart of the American rustbelt, when he places the announcement of his wedding to another man in the local paper. The announcement catches the eye of Kathy Springer, a local woman whose teenage son, CJ, is being brutally tormented at school because he is gay. Ignored by the school authorities and with no where else to turn, she seeks help from Wilson and they begin a difficult, but ultimately successful struggle to take on the school authorities who made every day “eight hours of pure hell” for CJ.
The announcement has a very different effect on Diane Gramley, head of the local chapter of the ultra-conservative American Family Association. Infuriated by the prospect of the “homosexual agenda” invading her little town, she issues an action alert calling on townspeople to denounce same sex marriage and all other forms of “perversion”.
Over the next four years Wilson navigates the ins and outs of being different in a conservative small town. He makes an unexpected friendship with an evangelical pastor that demonstrates the understanding that can develop when people on different sides of an issue lay down their swords and get to know one another. And he helps a lesbian couple renovate an historic downtown theatre that could catalyze the town’s economic revitalization – if the community will accept them.
The greatest change occurs in Wilson himself as he realizes that while maverick acts such as the publication of his wedding announcement can create a splash, creating lasting change in small towns takes the courage and ongoing commitment of local folks to speak out and live openly.
Out in the Silence breaks the mold of the traditional documentary. It is not solely observational, not a memoir, and not a news piece. As filmmaker, as protagonist, as insider and outsider, Wilson uses the camera to empower, to challenge, to confront, and to look beneath the veneer of the fragile balance of order in his conservative hometown.
A unique element of the film is the inclusion of footage shot by CJ, the tormented gay teen, which provides a painful glimpse into his very private suffering as well as needed comic relief from the antics he and his friends devise to entertain themselves in a quiet little town. This verite footage is juxtaposed with images of beautiful pastoral scenes and abandoned factories, old family pictures and home movies, and the hauntingly raw music of transgender singer/songwriter Namoli Brennet to create a dynamic and compelling audio visual landscape of a small town as it struggles with its own identity.