Get Your VCRs Ready! Jeff Dupre Pushes "Out of The Past"
from the Schoolhouse to the White House
by Aaron Krach
When word spread that a small, unheard of film called “Out of The Past“
won the Best Documentary Prize at Sundance, some people assumed it must
have been a weak year for docs. What doubters didn’t know was that such a
small film about a lesbian teenager who started a gay/straight club had
the emotional depth of an epic. Director Jeff Dupre originally wanted to
make a fairly straight-forward doc about Gay History. Then he decided he
needed a central character to structure the historical characters
around. Kelli Peterson was the perfect choice. Her struggle to start a
gay/straight club resulted in the Utah state legislature trying to ban
all clubs from every high school in the state. The courage of one young
woman inspired not only hundreds of kids to walk out of their high
schools in protest, but an entire state to question the value of it’s
Gay and Lesbian citizens.
Just as interesting as the stories inside the film is Dupre’s plan for
getting “Out of the Past” into high schools across the country. After its
airing on PBS in October, the filmmakers are asking people to tape the
program and donate it to their local high school. In conjunction with a
Gay/Straight teachers organization, there are plans to get the film into
as many hands as possible.
In an age of Sundance deals worth millions, it’s an awesome surprise to
hear about someone giving their film away for free. “Out of The Past”
opens a limited theatrical run this friday at the Screening Room in
New York City.
indieWIRE: Did you plan Sundance to be the premiere for “Out of The
Jeff Dupre: I had no idea it would get into Sundance. We just sent it
off and forgot about it. Then all of sudden we got this call. We
couldn’t believe it. Sundance enabled me to get a theatrical release.
For us Sundance was a huge publicity coup. Winning is winning. In a way
Sundance is the only film festival that really matters. It was important
for us to get mainstream critical success, instead of just taking the
We want the film to be for everyone, so that was an important award. The
audience that gave us the award clearly wasn’t all gay. They’re just
people so that’s great. That’s the kind of thing that has to happen if
your making a film about a marginal group — you’re not trying to reach
the people in your group. You’re trying to reach everyone and change the
way they think.
iW: You already had some television distribution in place. When did you
coordinate a limited theatrical release?
Dupre: I had PBS in place, that was the critical factor. I realized that
getting a theatrical release would be really great. Not from a financial
angle, because as a documentary you don’t get any advance, but it would
be great from a publicity stand point.
iW: Can you explain the plans for educational release?
Dupre: It’s being distributed through high schools in the fall, using
the PBS broadcast as a kick-off. Remember when Ellen aired and the Gay
and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, (GLAAD) sponsored
“houseparties.” We’re going to have houseparties, where people will
record the program and give it to their local high school with the list
of endorsements the film has received.
iW: You’re actually encouraging people to record the film off of PBS?
Dupre: Yes. PBS promotes that as well. The tape will also be for sale
and we are doing a teacher’s guide with it. So teachers can not only
show it in class, but have a lesson plan to make the most of it. October
is Gay and Lesbian History Month, which is why we chose October for the
We’re just asking American History teachers to take one day out of the
year to talk about gay and lesbian history. The words gay and lesbian
aren’t even mentioned in history classes. They did a survey of some 8,000
pages of history textbooks and the words gay and lesbian don’t appear
once. That sort of invisibility in the curriculum has profound
consequences for kids questioning their sexuality.
It’s not about Sundance. It’s not about Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s about
reaching kids that need to know that Gays and Lesbians have always been
apart of the American story.
iW: In addition to using the most recognizable voice in documentary
filmmaking, Linda Hunt. You used some high profile voices like Gwyneth
Paltrow and Edward Norton. Can you talk about the decision to use
Hollywood names in a very un-Hollywood film?
Dupre: Linda Hunt is so good at what she does. She does it twice and
that’s it. It’s perfect. And she’s a lesbian, which doesn’t hurt. I just
got to Gwyneth and Ed through channels and asked. I thought it would be
cool to have hot, young, straight stars reading the film. It would be
like endorsing it, saying, ‘gay and lesbian kids are cool.’
iW: Where did your inspiration to make a film for high school kids come
Dupre: I was totally inspired by Kevin Jennings, who is the Founder and
Executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,
(GLSEN). The film will ultimately be distributed by GLSEN. All the
proceeds from the film will go towards GLSEN’s distribution of the film.
Kevin is this incredibly heroic guy I met five years ago. One of the
things he did as part of GLSEN was [create] a slide show about Gay
History that he showed at high schools around the country. There was a
huge demand for the slide show, mostly because he’s so eloquent. Kevin
really inspired me to do this project. He knows so much about gay
history. He knows what will work with kids. He taught me how to raise
iW: The film started out being only about Gay History. When did you
decide to follow Kelli Peterson?
Dupre: I think about half-way through we shot Kelli Peterson. We knew we
had great material because we got all the news clips from Utah, before
we even started production. We just looked at them and trembled. So we
knew if Kelli was a good narrator, we would have a great film. And she
did just that.
I was out there for four days. The first day, she barely said a word. I
was terrified. I thought I had blown all this money and it wasn’t going
to work. Then the second day, she opened up and just started talking.
Towards the end of that day, she said something and I started crying. I
never cry, not “E.T.“, not anything. I knew then that we would pull it
off. Her parents were great too. I still talk to them on the phone. Now
she’s trying to put it behind her, but people love the story so much.
They keep dragging her around to speak and talk about what she did.
iW: The use of archival footage brings some of the lesser known
characters to life. Where did you find all the footage?
Dupre: It’s not easy to find. It’s just research, we looked through
books and get hints, and called people who tell you to call people, who
tell you to call people, until you find something. Michelle Ferrari,
the writer and co-producer, was in charge, and that was ongoing. In the
case of Barbara Gittings, she had all the photos of herself. She also
had a friend who had filmed her early protests in Philadelphia and
Washington. That’s the sort of fantasy, ‘Oh, I was there in
1960-something with a 16mm camera. Here you can have it.’
iW: I hear you just got back from Washington D.C., but didn’t get to
meet the First Family.
Dupre: “Out of the Past” showed at the White House two weeks ago. That
was incredible. We invited a whole bunch of people in education, who may
not have come if the invitation wasn’t to the White House. They are all
endorsing the film now, so that will really help us. The Denver Broncos
were there that day, so the Clinton’s hung out with them. Supposedly
they watched it that night. I know the Vice-President has seen it and
mentioned it during a press conference in California.