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Family Fundamentals

2002 • 35mm & Digital Video • 75 minutes • Color • USA • English

Official Selection
Sundance Film Festival

2002 Top Ten List
New York Press

Top Ten List
Frontiers Magazine

Top Ten List
Windy City Times

“In this summer of lighthearted gay-themed programming, a new PBS documentary is a reminder of how disconnected glossy TV images can be from real life. Family Fundamentals, from filmmaker Arthur Dong, is an intimate look at homosexual children and their devout parents”

– Associated Press

What happens when religiously conservative Christian parents have children who have “become homosexual?” Family Fundamentals is filmmaker Arthur Dong's personal attempt to answer that explosive question. Armed with a digital camera, Dong takes viewers into the private and public lives of three families who have responded to gay offspring by actively opposing homosexuality. “Heartfelt but evenhanded, Family Fundamentals is a battlefield report from America's disquieting culture war over gay issues” – Los Angeles Times.

Family Fundamentals goes to the heart of today's debate over homosexuality, where the personal is inextricably — and dramatically — bound up in the political. In today's contemporary society, sometimes even the most liberal families must find it discomfiting when gay children come out. For fundamentalist Christian families, the event can be polarizing and devastating.

Dong tackles his subject by looking into three divided families. Susan Jester is the lesbian daughter of Kathleen Bremner, a Pentecostal church leader who responded to her daughter's coming out by forming a Christian parents' ministry and organizing the San Diego Christian Trauma and Sexuality Conferences. In collaboration with such groups as Exodus and Focus on the Family, Bremner promotes faith and "reparative therapy" as a cure for homosexuality. She is not shy about expressing her views of homosexuality, and in exhorting her daughter, who is conversely outspoken in support of gay civil rights, to repent.

Brett Mathews, a former Air Force First Lieutenant discharged for his homosexual orientation, is the son of a Mormon bishop in rural Erda, Utah. Mathews' family reacts to his coming out by sending him a steady stream of letters calling on him to change. His grandmother's remarriage brings a challenge and a crisis as Mathews returns to his boyhood home for the first time since declaring his homosexuality.

Brian Bennett's story reveals a different kind of family — and a surprising chain of events. From 1977 to 1989, Bennett served as chief of staff, campaign manager and legislative aide to former California Congressman Bob Dornan — one of the nation's harshest and most vocal opponents to gay rights. So close was Bennett to Dornan, with whom he shared a Catholic upbringing and political views on everything except his closeted homosexuality, that Brian became a virtual member of the Dornan family. He lived with them for six years, calling Dornan by the family nickname, "Poppy." When Bennett came out in 1997, that close relationship was abruptly terminated and he was left to struggle with the contradictions of being a gay Republican and of still loving a father figure who rejected him for his sexual orientation.

Family Fundamentals takes us inside the struggle over homosexuality in the heartland of the American family. The film, which never succumbs to easy answers, manages to convey bittersweet humor as well as deep pain over a seemingly intractable family divide. For the first time since his 1982 Oscar®-nominated film, Sewing Woman, filmmaker Arthur Dong operates the camera to capture intimate scenes with his subjects who bare their emotions over an issue which continues to tear apart families and nation.

A moving soundtrack by Emmy Award-winning composer, Mark Adler (Focus, Rat Pack, Picture Bride), underscores the poignant complexities that explode when opposing forces fail to come to terms with their deep-rooted differences. Adler's score is his second for Dong. He first collaborated with the director on Dong's 1994 Peabody and Sundance award-winning film, Coming Out Under Fire, which documented the World War II origins of the military's policies on gay servicemembers.

Major funding for Family Fundamentals was provided by the Guggenheim Fellowship in Filmmaking and the Theophilus Foundation. Additional support was received from the Soros Documentary Fund, Eastman Kodak Company, Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, National Asian American Telecommunications Association with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Paul Robeson Fund, Unitarian Universalist Funding Program, California Arts Council Visual Arts Fellowship, Columbia Foundation, Lear Family Foundation, Durfee Foundation, Theophilus Fund, Lewy Gay Values Fund, Gill Foundation, and the Jay Cohen Philanthropic Fund of the Horizons Foundation. Community outreach support was provided by the Liberty Hill Foundation’s Gay and Lesbian Community Fund.

Family Fundamentals was produced in association with American Documentary, Inc. and sponsored by the Film Arts Foundation.




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