"Bridegroom," an award-winning documentary chronicling the star-crossed relationship between two gay men, had been planned by the Westport Cinema Initiative for a local screening long before the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark rulings on same-sex marriage this week.
But many attending WCI's presentation of the documentary Thursday night was serendipitously appropriate -- and poignant.
The documentary tells the story of Shane Crone and his late partner Tom Bridegroom, who died accidentally after the young couple had been together six years. Following Bridegroom's death, however, because he had no marital rights, Crone not only was treated with indifference by the hospital staff during the hardest time of his life, but was shunned by Bridegroom's family and banned from his partner's funeral service.
"We chose the film because it's a brilliant film," said Sandy Lefkowitz, director of the WCI, a group advocating the establishment of a movie theater downtown. "The Supreme Court did not enter into our decision to show it."
She said, however, that the screening was clearly timely. More importantly, she said, "Bridegroom" is a good example of the power of film -- documentaries, in particular -- to make a difference in people's lives.
"It really speaks to all issues that you want people to have a feeling about," she said, "that you want people to understand."
"People have to be aware of how important it really is to bring societal issues out in all sorts of media," she said, commending Westport for its long history of being an open-minded community where important topics can be addressed.
"I think things have moved faster than anyone imagined," he said. "We've gotten to a point where gay marriage is legal in 13 states, so clearly the time is here and the time is right for this film."
"It changes this documentary," Ron Gregg, a Yale University film professor and lecturer, said of the court decision, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and let stand a lower court decision that overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage. Gregg also spoke at the forum after the documentary.
"This was a documentary that was made at a time when this gay couple couldn't get married," he said.
Gregg noted that the film began as a personal, cathartic video prepared by Crone that he posted on YouTube. He subsequently approached by filmmakers who wanted to present his story as a full documentary, and the project went forward after $380,000 was raised through the fundraising website, kickstarter.com.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring, where it received the Audience Award.
"It's a perfect followup to what happened yesterday," said Janet Davis, a volunteer with WCI, who hopes that other films the WCI presents will prompt more discussions on important subjects.
"It was weird how it was going to be one day after that decision," said Bill Pisani of Bridgeport, who was planning to attend the film anyway because he knew of another gay couple whose experiences were similar when one of the men died.
"I thought that was an isolated situation," he said, "until I heard about this."
"It made me realize there are other people across the country who are suffering," he said. "Hopefully, this opens some people's eyes when they see it."
However, one gay Westport man, who didn't want his name used, said it was unsettling that the Supreme Court rulings on both same-sex marriage cases were approved only by slim 5-4 margins.
"We're still not out of the woods," he said.