From Plein Air To Champions Of Freedom
By AMY KATZ
Of The Mendocino Beacon
As plein air painters, Albion residents Carmen
Goodyear and Laurie York have to be attuned to
nature's rhythm as they paint outdoors attempting to
represent natural light and air. They know that when
the conditions are right you have to jump on them.
"If you don't go out there early in the morning on the
first sunny day, the chances are the fog's going to
come in on the third day and you won't finish your
painting. So you just have to get out there and do it
because everything is changing constantly," York
Their keen awareness and ability to mobilize at a
moment's notice inadvertently prepared the two women
for the transition to documentary film-making and
their most recent and essential film FREEDOM TO MARRY.
The artists agree that they might have lost the
opportunity to not only get married, but to capture
moments which would germinate into a full-fledged film
had they not followed their instincts and gone to San
Francisco on that second day, Feb. 13. They actually
thought it likely that an injunction would be filed
and they wanted to be in San Francisco for as long as
the marriages were being performed.
York said, "if we had let ourselves
think about the hundreds of reasons that we shouldnt
have gone down there, then we wouldn't have made it.
But we didn't think. We just leaped."
Lack of film making experience may have led, in part,
to their success.
"People weren't intimated by big boom mikes and complex
camera equipment. We had was our small Sony DVD cameras, York
said, "and I think it seemed like we were making a
small, home movie. They were more relaxed and opened
up to us. I think some of the couples (that were
filmed) were surprised that it was actually made into
Responses to FREEDOM TO MARRY which they previewed
at the Matheson Performing Arts Center to a standing
room only audience on May 7, proved their assumptions
to be right on. The common reaction from the crowd was
how sincere the filmed interviews were; how open and
unselfconscious the participants were, drawing in the
viewer and creating a genuine connection between film
The seed for the idea of a film on same-sex marriages
was planted, however, when they filmed their friends,
Gordie and Astrid's commitment ceremony at the
Botanical Gardens last October. The week prior they
had filmed a wedding for a heterosexual couple. While
editing the straight couple's footage beside Gordie
and Astrid's, they began wondering why one was legal
and the other not. "Then it started getting to us," York said.
"We thought it was awful that so much love could be
denied, and that's when we started taking action."
Goodyear said she always felt Astrid and Gordie's
ceremony to be the heart of the film because of the
beauty and love that overflowed at the event.
The next question was who to interview and how to find
them. Astrid and Gordie sent them to another couple.
The artists attended a rally led by Molly and Davina,
both driving forces in the documentary and in same-sex
rights activism. The artists talked with them about
doing an interview for the film. One couple down.
York and Goodyear were married at San Francisco's City
Hall on Feb. 13, the second day marriages were being
performed. Over a thousand people were there and the
couples in front and behind them were to become four
more interviewees for the film.
"We had all this camera equipment with us because we
were afraid it would get stolen if we left it in the
car," York said. "So every time the line would move we
had to pick up all this stuff and Don and David, who
were ahead of us, and Carla and Diana just behind us,
helped lug everything. They were so willing to help."
The artists were in line for about five hours and they
said the feeling they got from the place was
"The room was tingling," York said. "We walked up the
stairs of City Hall and there were lots of protesters.
Walking through that huge crowd filled with hatred and
ill-will into this rotunda of love was just amazing. I
had my camera and Carmen looked at me and I was
shaking. I felt like I was walking into history. It
was unforgettable, overwhelming."
Goodyear added, "So often something like that would be
filled with hatred, anger and confrontation but this
was the history of love. The people who came that
weekend were people who'd been waiting for this
[same-sex marriages] to happen for 20 years;
long-term, committed couples."
Not only were the couples filled with joy, but so were
the City Hall employees who had been following the
issue for over seven years. "The employees were all on
a first name basis with many of the couples," York
said. "They were warm to the event because they had
tracked the struggle for years and had to turn couples
away over and over, and it broke their hearts, too.
Mabel Tang, the assessor, was so behind the whole
thing. Afterwards she sent us, and all couples that
got married, a beautiful card. How lucky can you get?"
A clip from the documentary shows Davina Kotulski and
Molly McKay going for a marriage license at San Francisco's
City Hall last year, as they did every year on Feb. 12. The
clerk kindly declined their request, as each year in
the past. We then see them each grab one of the two
men behind them and ask, "If I marry him, a total
stranger, it is legal?" The clerk sheepishly nods
Though a great deal of anger and frustration surround
this current civil rights movement, Goodyear and York
made a conscious choice to leave politics by the
wayside and focus on the humanity of the couples
involved; the compassion, love and devotion that they
share with one another. The artists felt if they could
offer anything to the movement a human face would be
"We didn't want to get into the day to day upheavals
of the political scene," Goodyear said. "Those images
can be seen on tv everyday. But what you can't see
are the couples' lives and how normal they are."
One family, which subsequently became part of the
film, brought that to Goodyear and York's attention at
the San Francisco rally where they met Davina and
Molly. Gretchen, one of two mothers and parent to two
young girls, said, "The everyday families deserve
equal attention." In the film her younger daughter
carries a sign that
reads, "Mr. President, why do you hate my family?"
What is often highlighted in the news, York finds, are
the most sensational people and events. Those images
become what people tend to conjure up when they think
of gay people, she said.
"But in truth, we're a broad population, all different, just
like straight people, just as diverse as any other
culture," York said.
Because of the ordinariness of the subject -- love and
humanity -- the artists feared the film would be
boring. Yet, having no choice but to follow their
instincts they went ahead. They thought, "We don't
find it boring, we like these people and we think they
have something to say."
They were also concerned that the film might be 'sappy'
because "it's extremely positive, which some people
think is not an intellectual approach, and it's very
emotional," said York. They did not concern themselves
though with interviewing opponents of gay marriage for
they knew that would be filmed elsewhere and it has,
they said. A film called Tying the Knot, made by a
male couple from New York, "is more about the struggle
and fight of gay marriage", York said. The two films
will be shown in the 28th Annual International Lesbian
and Gay Film Festival in San Francisco on June 19.
"It's interesting that the two films come from such
different places and each contributes in a different
way, but it all tells one story," York said.
The two women worked every waking hour on the film,
they said, at times pushing themselves beyond healthy
limits. But they were compelled to jump on this unique
moment in time.
"We've been a very polite population for a long time,"
York said. "Polite enough to remain invisible. This is
not just about gay marriage. This is about homophobia
and breaking through all the layers that have kept us
in that silent place for so long. It's not just about
married couples, it's about choice. And that society has
no right to exclude us from that choice."
The couple, incidentally, never planned on the move
into film-making. They just started making little, fun
films, as they affectionately called them. The first
was "Hummingbird Rescue." A hummingbird flew into
York's tea house and she said, "I think this is a
movie!" So Goodyear ran over with the camera and the
film basically showed the two women trying to revive
and feed sugar water to a hummingbird that had gone
too long without nutrition. Finally the bird gathered
its strength, flew off and that was the end of the
movie. "It was a short," York said smiling.
After that the artists filmed "Punky's Puppies," which
York, chuckling, said "was a smash hit."
Reflecting on the recent preview showing in Mendocino
of FREEDOM TO MARRY, the women said it was an
incredible evening for them. Their instincts were
validated and they were able to contribute to a
benevolent and historical cause.
"Maybe when you are in a path of energy that is
destined to unfold," York concluded, "there is a
momentum and force that goes behind you and makes it
easier. The work could have taken longer but things
just fell into place."
Amy Katz is a writer for the Mendocino Beacon and Fort Bragg Advocate News