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This Weekend At Outfest: 'Fish Out Of Water'

This Weekend At Outfest: 'Fish Out Of Water'

Coming out of the closet can be a challenging experience, and for Ky Dickens, her experience coming out to friends at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., led to Fish Out of Water, a documentary that explores the “seven most notoriously homophobic Bible passages” used against gays and lesbians, which screens this month at Outfest. With a score by Kaki King...

Coming out of the closet can be a challenging experience, and for Ky Dickens, her experience coming out to friends at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., led to Fish Out of Water, a documentary that explores the “seven most notoriously homophobic Bible passages” which screens this month at Outfest.

“Most of my friends were from Southern, conservative families,” the writer-director says. “I knew coming out wouldn’t go smoothly but I had no idea that they would wail me with an arsenal of Bible-backed condemnation. I didn’t know how to defend myself to the variety of claims they were making so I went and talked to ministers throughout Tennessee about what the Bible says about homosexuality.”

Dickens, who was “shocked to hear that very little was said in the Bible about homosexuality and what was stated was grossly misinterpreted,” knew after the 2004 elections used gay marriage as a “wedge issue” that she had to take the information she gathered and “present it to the country as a way to set the record straight.”

“So many people use the Bible as a way to condemn the gay lifestyle but so few people understand what the Bible actually says on the topic,” she says.

The doc, a “genre-bending, intellectually condensed, power-packed analysis of the religious arguments used to condemn homosexuality and justify marriage discrimination,” is a mixture of animation, interviews and expert analysis from theologians across the country.

“We interviewed a lot of the movers and shakers in this debate,” the first-time director says. “I spent a year researching the most prominent voices on the subject and then started reaching out to them in hopes that they’d participate. In the end, we found a great cast of experts from every region of the nation who offer and exceptional recompense of expertise and insight into the subject.”

The theologians include Dr. Amy Jill Levine, one of the foremost Greek and New Testament scholars in the country; Bishop John Shelby Spong, one of the first Episcopalian Bishops to embrace the gay community; Rev. Dr. Fred Niedne, the head of the Theology Department at Valparaiso University; and ministers from Texas to Missouri “who have risked their lives and careers to embrace the queer community, and even conduct gay marriages,” Dickens says.

As for the “seven most notoriously homophobic passages,” Dickens says there are four in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament and the film shows how each of these verses is “manipulated to bolster various claims against gay people.”

“Two of the verses come from the creation stories in Geneses,” she says. “Then there is the story of Sodom & Gomorrah, also in Geneses. After that is the ‘man shall not lay with another man’ verse found in Leviticus 18:22. In the New Testament, you have the verses that link homosexuality to sinfulness and hell.”

Dickens, meanwhile, says the title of the documentary, Fish Out of Water, is meant as a double entre.

“It represents the feeling of exclusion that many gays feel from religious institutions, society and even family,” Dickens says of the film, her first to bring to fruition. “Secondly, the fish was a 1st century Christian symbol. The symbol represented unity and belonging to members of the early Christian church, which was a radical institution because it sought to embrace the marginalized and outcasts. Today, many Christians who brand their cars and things with the fish symbol are casting stones and dividing communities instead of truly being stewards of that powerful 1st century symbol.”

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As for gathering the subjects interviewed in the film about their personal experiences of homosexuality and the Bible, Dickens says she spent about four months in 2007 looking for participants through social-networking sites like Facebook and through advertising at community centers, health centers and gay bars in five different states.

“In the end, we had over 200 folks show up for interviews,” she says. “It was the most diverse sampling of the queer community I’ve ever seen. We had everyone from homeless gay men to immigrants from South America to hipsters from urban Detroit. It was amazing.”

After securing interview subjects and a wide range of theologians, Dickens says the main obstacles she faced were money and time.

“When I started making the film, it was due to passion and necessity. I went after it despite the fact I didn’t have finances to back me up,” she says. “My inventive producers hosted a variety of fundraisers to keep production rolling, but it was always a struggle to find funding. When Prop. 8 happened (in California), we didn’t have the time or money to wait so I did what so many other filmmakers have had to do: I took out loans liquidated my savings, racked up credit cards and begged a lot of very talented people for favors.”

Among those contributing to Fish Out of Water was lesbian singer-songwriter Kaki King, who, after seeing the trailer for Fish and getting to know the filmmakers, provided the score for the doc.

“Her score for Fish Out of Water is mesmeric,” Dickens says.

Fish Out of Water will host prescreening parties at Here Bar in West Hollywood on July 9 and 10. The documentary screens at Outfest at 7:30 p.m. on July 18 at the Fairfax Cinemas.

Tickets: Outfest.org.

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Lesley Goldberg