TELLURIDE - “I can’t believe that God would be against love,” said Shane Bitney Crone, whose love story is chronicled in Bridegroom: A Love Story, Unequaled, screening Tuesday, Feb. 25, for Gay Ski Week.
Produced and directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (of Designing Women fame), the film premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in April. Introduced by former President Bill Clinton, it won Audience Award for Best Documentary Film. Bloodworth-Thomason, who met Shane and his lover, Tom (whose life, death and its sad aftermath is chronicled in Bridegroom, “at a mutual friends’ wedding,” contacted Shane after his YouTube video about losing Tom, who died in April 2011, went viral.
“We both felt like it was very important to not make a political film” about gay rights, Shane said of initial conversations with Bloodworth-Thomason. Instead, the duo determined to focus on “the humanity at the core” of this film, highlighting the joy the two young men found in their love for one another, and Shane’s utter despair and heartbreak at being excluded from his longtime lover’s hospital deathbed, and then from his funeral, because, as Tom’s unmarried partner, he had no legal standing.
“I just want to tell your love story,” was Bloodworth-Thomason’s response to Shane’s concerns.
The two young men were a study in opposites. Shane grew up gay in Kalispell, Mont., buffeted from hostilities by his warm, loving family. That buffeting is perhaps best expressed by his grandmother, who tells an interviewer, “That’s right, they’re Romeo and Romeo; get used to it.”
Tom grew up deeply closeted in Indiana and attended military school, in keeping with family tradition.
Bridegroom puts a human face on the issue of gay couples' legal rights, telling how Shane, despite the couple’s longtime committed relationship (complete with visits from Tom’s mother to the couple’s home in Los Angeles), was kept away from Tom as he died, and then prevented by Tom’s family from attending his funeral.
The documentary film, inspired by Shane’s 2012 YouTube video, It Could Happen to You, that went viral, collecting 3.4 million hits, tells the human side of a story that would have ended differently, had the couple been legally married.
“It started out for me as an outlet,” Shane said of It Could Happen to You, “because I didn’t want to burden anyone else” with the misery he felt at being excluded from Tom’s last hours (finally gaining entry to his hospital room, thanks to the kindness of nurses) and burial, his previously warm relationship with Tom’s religious mother notwithstanding. Shane found himself completely ostracized by his lover’s family, and his presence in Tom’s life effectively erased.
When Shane and Bloodworth-Thomason went through the vast collection of photographs and videos amassed by the two men in their time together, said Shane, the writer/producer/director “joked that Tom and I had more footage than President Clinton did, when she did a couple of documentaries for him.
“I’m so grateful that we do document as much as we do,” he said, “because now I have that forever. I don’t know if this is corny, or whatever, but I can’t help but think sometimes that maybe we filmed as much as we did because this was part of some bigger plan.”
Shane’s entire family is interviewed for the documentary; Tom’s family is conspicuously absent. The couple’s sheer joy in their life together takes center stage throughout the film, most especially in its final moments, when Shane talks about making his final farewell to his dead lover via their secret code of tapping to express their love for one another, when out in public.
“One of the main reasons why I decided to share my story,” Shane said, “is that a lot of people use religion to justify hate. Most often, they just don’t know anyone who is gay, and that’s why I feel we have to share our lives and share our stories.”
The film closes with an extended shot of the U.S. Supreme Court building, suggesting that the illegality of gay marriage is enroute to being corrected.
“Some people, no matter what you say, or how many stories they hear, won’t change their views,” Shane allowed. “But I think for the most part people, will allow themselves to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and see, at the end of the day, that regardless of sexual orientation, we all just want to be happy and to experience love.”
Check watchnewspapers.com or visit the Gay Ski Week Hospitality Tent in Mountain Village for information about Bridegroom’s screening time and venue, and save your ticket stub for complimentary admission to a private, open-bar cocktail reception with special guest Shane Bitney Crone on Saturday, March 1.