Over the past few years, LGBTQ teen suicide rates have skyrocketed, inspiring projects such as It Gets Better to help struggling teens all over the country cope with harassment and ostracization. While these nationwide (now) televised events are undoubtedly reassuring, filmmaker Tony Osso decided to go for a slightly simpler approach with The Devotion Project, and has, in the past year, released four short documentaries on YouTube that explore the lives of LGBTQ couples--each couple getting their own video and time to truly share their story. In preparation for a screening of all four films in NYC (followed by a Q&A) on Monday, June 25, Tony Osso talks to us about his work.
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JP: How did this project begin? Did you know one couple that you found inspiring and then want to find more?
TO: I've always wondered why functioning, happy LGBTQ couples and families were in such short supply in the media, and I finally reached a level of fatigue, always seeing LGBTQ people represented as struggling, second class citizens, conflicted and troubled - I thought, "that can't be all there is." So I went out and made it my mission to find the inspiring stories that I'd been wanting to see since I realized I was gay myself in the late 80s. I didn't know the first couple; I was introduced to them by a friend after I mentioned my idea to him. One of the reasons I'm making the films is precisely that: to build role models for myself that I didn't have.
JP: What is the selection process for the couples? Do people submit their stories and then get filmed, or are these all people you already know? What's the criteria for picking one story over another (if you have to do that)?
TO: I simply told all my colleagues and friends about my intentions and sent out an email - that's how I met John and Bill - and since then it's been very organic, friends of friends suggesting people and reaching out. I Skyped with the Oakland families to do pre-interviews, then flew out to shoot them. It's a very intimate, yet casual process - all word of mouth, no formal casting. No actors, just real people. I didn't know any of the couples beforehand.
JP: It's interesting that most of these are filmed in the couples' homes and focus primarily on their family life. While their struggles as a couple are discussed, the main focus seems to be on their families. What do you think is the impact of this approach?
TO: I wanted to demystify the LGBTQ "alternative lifestyle" - I find that term problematic and I wanted to show the ins and outs of these families' everyday lives - I really believe that the quotidian stuff, the minutiae, can be universal, so when John talks about doing laundry or Jaime and Laura talk about date night, these concepts resonate across the board.
JP: Why did you choose to do individual vignettes rather than a feature documentary?
TO: I'm thinking about teens across the world who desperately need to see these stories - that's why I am making short films, under 10 minutes, and posting them to YouTube - they're immediately available, free, and shareable. That's the purpose for me; to give young people access, to expand their thinking about what is possible for their own futures. To make them feel less alone. I literally got a YouTube comment this morning from someone called FourteenInTheMaking that said: "Thank you for the time and efforts you put into making these videos. They give hope and let me dream of love and happiness." That, to me, sums it up.
JP: What's the main thing you hope viewers to take away from the Devotion series?
TO: I hope that the films affirm to people that love, intimacy and commitment are sacred and should be valued and deeply respected by our governments, our lawmakers, and our communities. I hope that viewers who don't know LGBTQ families are happy to have gotten to know them a bit and realize how much we all have in common. And I hope LGBTQ people take pride in seeing more examples of happy LGBTQ lives being represented.
JP: Lastly, is there anything you'd like to say about the upcoming screening?
TO: The upcoming screening will feature all four completed films. The series is called "The Devotion Project"; the first four films are called "More Than Ever", "Say Only Yes", "Listen from the Heart", and "My Person". The subjects and the title of the fifth film will be announced at the screening. I'm looking forward to seeing all four films in a row on the big screen - there'll be refreshments and a Q&A with me and the men from the first two films - it should be an eye-opening, feel-good event in a beautiful venue!
The screening will be at Core: club (66 East 55th Street) at 6:30 on Monday, June 25, sponsored by LOGO.
For more information on The Devotion Project, check out these links: