Vivian Kleiman. Welcome to Queer.
We are happy to be here.
Vivian, it’s thrilling to have you here. And when this show releases, it will be less than one week from
when your documentary, No Straight Lines: The Rise in Queer Comics, will premiere on most PBS
stations. And you produced and directed. No Straight Lines. And I’m a little excited, actually, very excited,
actually, because the documentary covers the lives of five queer comic artists from the believe.
Early 70s, early seventy s. And the reason it excites me is I was an aspiring cartoonist when I was much
younger. I drew quite a few comic strips that I thought were excellent. I never sent them off. I got
distracted and went on to a different area of my life. So I’m very excited and I’m fascinated to hear all
about this. We have a lot to cover. So what do you say we get started?
All right. Well, I’m your host, Brad Shreve.
And I’m Vivian Kleiman.
And Queer We Are
Welcome to Queer we Are, where you’ll hear inspirational and motivational yet entertaining stories by
LGBTQ entertainers, athletes, politicians, activists, or maybe even someone right there in your
neighborhood. I’m Brad, and I’ll discuss with Queer individuals about their successes, their challenges,
and what they learned along the way.
My guest. Vivian Kleiman is a Peabody Award winning filmmaker whose work is noted for its challenging
subjects and edgy film approaches. She’s received a national Emmy award nomination, a Eureka
Fellowship for artists, and support from the MacArthur and Ford Foundation. As I mentioned earlier, next
week on January 23, No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics makes it to PBS premiere and it will
continue running. And let’s start there, since that’s the big thing that’s coming up. And then we’ll work
backwards from there. How does that sound?
It’s a deal.
All right, first thing I want to ask, actually, what was the most surprising thing you found getting into the
Oh, that’s an interesting question because think about that for a moment. What I found most interesting
was how engaging and dynamic process it is to meet strangers, ask them some stories about their lives
or their ideas, and how incredibly compelling and generative that is and how generous people are of
their time, their thoughts and their hearts. And I thought it was a gift. People were giving you a gift, and
one that doesn’t happen very often in our daily lives. So I thought that documentary filmmaking was just
miraculous in that regard.
That’s not too surprising to me. I joke all the time that I am my favorite subject, and I’ve really found that
to be true of most people when start letting them go. And, boy, they love to talk about themselves,
which I think is fantastic.
It’s entirely true because there’s a thing people say, oh, it’s not authentic because there’s a camera and
there’s a crew. And the truth is, the minute that people start thinking about the stories of their lives, I
can’t say they ignore the people around them. I would actually say it kind of makes it even more precious
having a crew of people focused on a person’s story. So it’s really a delightful way to live one’s life early.
When I said your accolades, I didn’t include one. In the summer of 2022. Last summer, No Straight Lines
received the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association award for excellence in journalism for
documentary. Excellent job.
You know, I was completely stunned just right now. I just got shivers once again, because it’s a
documentary that’s not done in a journalistic style. It’s not a balanced presentation, it’s not an
investigative report. It’s much more impressionistic and experiential. But I think it’s a testament to strong
storytelling that rises above any kind of particular narrative approach that one expects, let’s say, of
journalism. So I was just thrilled to get that award. And plus, the organization is comprised largely of
queer journalists working in mainstream media. There were folks there from ESPN and CNN, and it was
just an honor and delight to get that recognition.
And it’s a nice stroke to the ego to be recognized.
No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics is about underground comics, and I want to know about the
catalyst for the film. Where did you get the idea? Have you always been a fan, or how did that come to
Well, let me just tweak your opening statement there. It’s not so much that queer comics, it’s about
underground comics. The origin story of queer comics is in the underground comics movement, but the
underground comics movement with Robert Crumb and some of the other mostly guys, was not
including the full spectrum of queer lives, shall we say gently, and one day, and I’ll just jump right into
the content for just one moment, one day. In the early 70s, Mary Wings, a San Francisco artist, decided
to sit down and rectify that situation, and she created the first comic book about a queer subject by and
out lesbian. And from there evolved this whole four or five decades of work by queer artists that really is
a document of queer life in the US. From the early seventy s to today. And I personally, of course, like
most kids growing up, adored comic books and did the usual thing from Mad magazine to Superman and
Spiderman and all that wonderful stuff. But for me, really, the seminal work was Alison Bechdel’s Dykes
to Watch Out For, a series that ran mostly in women’s publications, women newspapers for some over
20 years, by Alison Bechdel. And for me, it was so affirming and so amazing to see stories of my life
presented in those comic strips. We all just sat with bated breath waiting for the next issue to arrive at
our door or go to the bookstore and buy it. However, I did not start this project. The project was actually
started by Justin Hall, a producer on the film. Justin himself is an expert in queer comics and teaches
queer comics at an art school in the Bay Area and also does his own amazing artwork. And Justin had the
idea to do a documentary based on the anthology that he had edited, the first anthology of career comic
books called No Straight Lines. And he and a friend of his, Greg Sirota, started to work on a documentary,
but neither of them really had the experience or expertise of producing this kind of a film. Greg came to
me and asked me if I wanted to get involved. I went, I don’t know. And they both encouraged me to
attend the world’s first in gathering of queer comic book artists. I think it was in 2016 in New York. And I
walked into that conference room and I was so impressed. Standing in the middle of the room was this
young person with chartreuse dyed hair, speaking to an older southern gentleman with balding head and
paunch stomach, an Ivy League collar shirt. And they were surrounded by the whole panoply of our
queer community and from the gender nonbinary person on one side to the other side, Mr. GQ
magazine himself, and they were all so connected and engaged with one another, went, oh, my
goodness. This is really, first of all, counter to the stereotype of a comic book artist surly and more
introvert kind of a personality. Then over the next few days, when I got to hear their stories, I went, this
is an incredible opportunity to present the truth of our lives to audiences that may be less familiar with
the experience over the five decades of our lives in this country and the vernacular of young people
comic books. So it was a challenge because I’m trying to braid many different stories into one
documentary film. But if I managed to succeed, I knew that it would be the kind of film that I wish I had
had when I was growing up. One that was affirming and presenting affirming of who I am and telling
stories that I could relate to.
Well, you’re making me smile thinking of this room, because much to my surprise, when I learned about
comic strip artists is they were pretty conservative bunch. I’m going to show my age here. There was the
Wizard of ID and BC, which was about the cave people, and even Charles Schultz with Peanuts. They
were all pretty conservative folks.
Well, I don’t know if I would call Schultz in particular conservative, but I would actually go over to the
other side of the room and look at people like Stan Lee and the kind of stories being told at Marvel
Comics. Stories that involved superheroes who were fighting the just fight and often represented in a
very affirming way and positive way concerning justice and fairness and helping the little person get a leg
up in the world.
And one of the individuals, Howard Cruse, that you talk about in the film, he actually did a division of DC
Comics. I think it was called Stuck Rubber Baby.
And it had a queer theme, didn’t it? Now, it wasn’t under DC. It was a different division, but it was still
part of a mainstream, well Stuck Rubber Baby.
The actual fascinating aspect of that is Howard Cruse, who’s considered the godfather of queer comics,
hailed from Birmingham, Alabama. He himself had been there at the time of the famous bombing of the
church and four little girls got killed. Horrible, horrible racial violence and colorism at the time. And he
decided he wanted to do something. He wanted to add to the volumes of stories about the civil rights
movement by including the perspective of a gay man. So he really did something. He was trying to tell a
narrative that had not yet been told. And he dedicated several years of his life to making it as and
accurate as he possibly could and ended up getting comics world top prize, an Eisner award for it.
Comics. We tend to think They’re funny. There are graphic novels more now that are tend to be more
serious. But my understanding is most of the ones that you discuss on here, if not all of them, tend to
have been more funny comics.
My original idea was to compare the general comics with queer comics and see how the parallel paths
overlapped and diverged. But at a certain point early on, I decided, nah, that really wasn’t as interesting
filmic approach for me. And instead, I found the stories of the artist’s lives themselves to be really
compelling and really resonating with audiences in a way that the other, more cerebral, didactic
approach would. No Straight Lines focuses on the story of five individuals, five artists, and telling their
personal lives, as well as speaking about describing the evolution of their art at the same time. So I did
not try to be as expansive in the end as I was in the beginning. I narrowed the focus..
If you don’t mind, I would like to talk just briefly about each of the individuals. Obviously we don’t have
as much time as you will in the documentary, but I have one question before then. I believe it’s the
website for the actual documentary itself and it talks about things that come up in the comics are the
AIDS crisis, coming out, Same sex marriage, race, gender, disability. And I know there are individuals that
would look at that list and say there’s nothing funny about AIDS. What would you say to them?
Well, one of the things that my filmmaking style is known for is having any one film that I do usually has
many different emotional moments from the somber to the humorous. And as all the artists themselves
say, and as I have always said, even in the darkest of moments, we still can find humor. Maybe not
always, maybe not each moment, of course, but part of being human is having a range of emotional
experiences and moments. You have David Wojnarowicz violently, violently fighting the medical
establishment, leading sit-ins and die-ins and throwing blood at the wall of the CDC. And his work is
fierce, fierce, fierce anger. And yet on the other side, you have artists who are still hanging out doing
stories of dealing with HIV while at the bathhouse or dealing with ageism in our community. So, yeah, I
love the fact that there is a range of emotional notes that gives me much pleasure
I agree with you 100%. I was chatting with a friend of mine that has a different podcast in which he goes
over film and television and novels and that sort of thing from the past. He did a show just recently
about movies that dealt with the AIDS crisis, and one of them was a musical and one was a comedy. And
we talked about the fact that most of the movies during the AIDS crisis and afterwards were really
depressing and just dismal. And it was so nice to see people that there were some during that time
period that said, let’s laugh.
Grief isn’t just a moment, it’s a process at its best. One is not stuck in the same emotional note for
forever and ever after a terrible loss. That’s one of the fascinating things about being human is that we
have such rich emotional lives.
Of the five in the film, two are lesbians. And this was an area when it was a man’s game. Of course,
everything was a man’s game back in the 70s. So it’s really interesting that there to be highlighted. I’d
like to start with you mentioned Mary Wings because I think she’s the earliest one that you talked about.
It could be incorrect.
Mary was the first to as I said earlier, I was describing, there was the first queer comic done by an out
gay person, and that was Mary Wings. So that’s why we like to list her first in line. Mary was a brave soul.
Mary still is a brave soul. Mary mary is living still in San Francisco and is working on a piece about I think
it’s a graphic novel, actually, about aging, about queer aging that will have a growing audience. Actually,
there’s three lesbians in the film. There’s Mary, there’s Alison Bechdel, and there’s Jen Camper.
Oh, you are correct.
I don’t know new math. I do old math.
Well, you certainly are better math than me, because it’s right in front of me. I should have known that.
One of the things I found interesting with Mary Wings, if I read correctly, is her comic was in response to
a straight woman’s comic dealing with lesbians and she didn’t like the way it was handled.
Exactly. That is exactly correct. She wanted to correct the presentation of lesbian life. And out came the
comic book called Come Out Comics. Very rudimentary, very elementary, and yet completely DIY, do it
yourself art form and completely inspiring for anybody today who has any kind of a glimmer of a thought
of picking up a pen or picking up their computer mouse and drawing.
And you led me to something that I wanted to ask earlier because you said, she did come up. Comics.
These are all referred to as, or at least most of them, as underground. What specifically that mean?
Actually, underground comics references a very particular period, and it’s spelt comix. And that refers to
the work that was really popular in the 60s, most famously led by Robert Crumb, and was really in
reaction to what was known as the Comic Code Authority, which was a system that was set up to so
called protect and quotation marks young people from being exposed to comics that were too adult. And
so in reaction to that, these artists kind of, like, stake their claim by creating comics that were totally
uncensored and were not intended to be sold on the magazine racks at newsstands or bookstores, but
were just sold at the underground head shops and other kinds of alternative stores. So that was very
particular. And queer comics grew out of there, but ended up going on into a different path.
Are you familiar with Orson Scott Card?
No, I’m not.
He’s a science fiction writer, and I sometimes kind of dance around him a little bit because he’s not
known to be too gay friendly, but he’s very well known in his genre. And I lived in the same town as he
did, and he wrote an editorial from the newspaper, and it was excellent. It basically said, parents, if your
kids are reading comics, shut up and let them read comics. Just be grateful they’re reading. And I said,
Exactly. That’s what I said. With the whole Harry Potter craze. Young people were going around with this
big fat tome under their arms and sitting in the corner. Just reading is, like, fantastic.
Exactly. And I think we’re seeing that with the large number of LGBTQ young adult books that are in
schools now. Some people are trying to get rid of them, but it’s not just queer kids that are reading
them. Either it wasn’t as noticeable before, or I’m just seeing this renaissance of kids reading. And it’s
very exciting to me.
I do think what’s interesting is, if I can speak for a moment, about the notion of reading in comics, which
actually presented a challenge as a filmmaker, because comics are based in both images and words, and
a lot of comics have a lot of words in them. And I’m doing a documentary film, and I didn’t want my
audience to be stuck reading while the film is moving forward. I wanted the audience to actually enjoy
visuals as well. So I experimented by trial and error, and eventually I figured out that I had to make a
selection of comics. The selection of comics that I was going to include was the first sorting of comics
was those that had less text were in. Those that had more text were generally out. And within that, at
times, I had to learn about. I had to pay attention to pacing. I had to sometimes zoom in tighter into a
section of the comic book page so that the eye was really looking at one particular area that I was
interested in, and that you weren’t distracted by all the stuff going on in the page. Some people might
get upset that I’m not showing the whole page. Some people might say that’s a form of censorship, even,
or altering the artist’s work. And I look forward to those conversations, because it’s complicated stuff.
And you are correct. I thinking about some of the panels. An entire panel would be a word bubble, and
you could just barely see the person’s face.
Some of the comic artists are just incredible artists.
Yeah. One of the things that really impressed me in particular, which shouldn’t, because Alison Bechdel
has received the highest of accolade. Alison is MacArthur fellow and has just been appropriately
showered with accolade and of words. But the joy of working on the film and spending time carefully
studying her comics was to see, with an absolute minimum of brushstroke, a little dot, a slight little line
going this way, a slight little line going that way. And this character has enormous expression. It’s
unbelievable the restraint that she showed and was able to render, nonetheless, really complicated
emotions and give those seemingly simple characters a lot of life and a lot of vitality. I was thrilled by
As an author, if I read a book and a person gives me two sentences and I can picture the town
beautifully, I’m amazed. And that’s exactly what you just mentioned when it came to art.
Yeah. That’s why I like the Irish novelist, because they spend so much time just writing exactly what the
room looks like, what the path to the house looks like, and they do it with a modicum of verbiage and yet
full, full sense of where the reader is.
That’s a skill I’m trying to learn.
I want to also add that while I was singing the praises to Alison’s, artistic accomplishment, at the same
time, what’s amazing about comics is that it is a DIY art firm, as I’ve said. And you can have chickens
scratch kind of creations and also have it infused with emotions and meaning and expression. And I love
that there’s that range from the one extreme to the other.
So we talked about Allison, and we talked about Mary and Howard.
We talked about Howard. So let’s talk about Rupert.
So Rupert Kinnard is also one of the artists profiled in No Straight Lines. Rupert is the person I’ve known
the longest of the five artists in the film. Rupert I met in the 80s because he was a friend of my film
partner and good buddy Marlon Riggs Marlin, being a landmark experimental documentary filmmaker,
most noted for his work, Tongues and Tide, about being a black gay man in America. So Rupert is most
known for having done the first ongoing comics trip done by an out African American gay man. His
series, he’s known for several, but the Brown Bomber was ongoing. The actual figure for The Brown
Bomber started when he was in college. Even now, Rupert story resonates on so many levels because
first of all, he’s a really great storyteller. They all are. Great storytellers. That was one of the gifts of doing
this film. Everybody has such a great ability to express themselves and has so many great stories to tell. It
was a joy. Yeah. Rupert ended up I’ll save some of the stories for our listeners. See the film on PBS
starting January 23. But Rupert is quite a storyteller and has a lot to say about growing up black in
Oh, yeah. We’re not going to give away too much. We certainly want them to watch the documentary.
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One person we haven’t mentioned is Jen Camper.
And Jen Camper always introduces herself as an out Lebanese American and from a mixed ancestry. He
likes to describe her background as really being like the American experience. One parent hailing from
Lebanon, I think it is, and the other Caucasian American. And Jen is most noted for, as she would say,
having an opinion about everything. No, Jen would say that she has a strong opinion about everything
and is prepared to let you know what that is at the top of a hat.
I’m not going to ask you go into detail, but I will say I’m fascinated by her. I think it was on her website
that I read that the things she’s covered include gender, race, class and politics. No surprise. But then it
said sexuality, mermaids, and robots. Okay, she’s got my attention.
Jen has a very particular voice and a very particular what’s really actually fascinating. Of all the artists
that were included in the straight lines, each has such a different style, each has such a different
approach to drawing and storytelling in addition to the kinds of stories that are telling. It’s quite
remarkable. And as Jen says nowadays, with web comics being so amazing and available and
international, that there are so many thousands and thousands of queer comic book artists now and
people doing scenes and web comics, that there are so many artists whose work she doesn’t even know.
And that that’s a wonderful thing because for so many years it was a small group of people and they all
knew each other and supported each other and appreciated each other and collaborated on works. And
now the field has expanded so much, it gives them a lot of joy and gratification.
If you look at mainstream I know growing up, I never would have expected to see someone gay in Archie
comics. Who thought that would ever happen?
Yeah. Live long enough. Then we come full circle with don’t say gay and the ridiculous situation we’re
facing now of banning books. One of the things we haven’t talked about that I’d like to mention is I did
an experiment. I did a filmmak experiment after watching the first rough cut of the film. I felt like it was
interesting, it was engaging, but it felt old, it felt like it was just about the past and didn’t really have
much to say about the present. And I knew I couldn’t tell, I couldn’t profile any more people because
there was only a limited amount of time I didn’t have funding for a series that would have been great. So
I did these quicky mini interviews with young artists who I met at the following conference of queer
comic book artists that took place two years after the first in San Francisco. And that ended up being so
generative of wonderful thoughts and energy and stuff that I figured out. It took a while, trial and error,
but eventually I found a way to include little comments from young artists today and a little bit of their
work. You don’t get to learn much about them but you get to be introduced to them and you certainly
are encouraged to go on and learn more about them on your own. But that was really exciting and I’m so
grateful that they gave me their time and their thoughts because it really changed the film, made it
much more dynamic.
It’s so good to hear, I’ll say that for sure. In fact, one thing I did notice, it really jumped out at me. I was
looking at the film festivals that this has gone through over the past one year in I guess there were over
80 film festivals.
Yeah, we’re up to 100 now, can you believe it? That’s unheard of. And not just all like small little backyard
festivals, I love those. I love reaching all communities but also reached mainstream highbrow festivals
like Tribeca and others. So really quite a thrill.
It was an impressive list, I’ll say that’s for sure. And I think recently was in Switzerland. But one that
jumped out at me there is a Fresno Real Pride Film Festival and I live in the California desert which is
pretty red and I know running all the way up through the San Joaquin Valley. I used to live at the north
end of the San Joaquin Valley where Fresno is in. It’s not known as the most open minded part of the
country, much less California. So I was absolutely shocked that film festival was going on in Fresno. I
presume you don’t get to attend each of these showings or do you?
Well, certainly not each, but typically, but for COVID I would have attended a lot of them. However, due
to COVID I only had the opportunity to attend a handful. And it’s amazing how communities come
together around film and film festivals and it really is a way to bring people together, have the
experience of watching a film together and then having a discussion because really the point of coming
together is to create connection and community and conversation, using the films as a jumping point for
that. And sometimes these people are brave. I have had invitations from many countries, even in Turkey
and India, and it’s just really moving. Even in places where being queer is illegal. I applaud the people
who are brave and putting together these festivals. There was one thing I’d like to add I started to
mention, and I got sidetracked by the excitement of talking about the young people, one of those young
people that I was able to film. And we included a voice presence in the film Maia Kobabe. The graphic
novel that Maia wrote called Gender Queer came under fire because they wanted to ban it from the
libraries in North Carolina and Texas also, I think. And the ACLU and the American Libraries Association
rallied behind Maia initiated a lawsuit and they were successful in their stopping of that banning of the
book from the libraries. So unfortunate that Maia had to go through that experience so wonderful that
Maia then got a full two page spread in the New York Times. It starts on the front page, continues to a
full two page what press. What a boost to Maia’s career. And I’m so horrified that Maia had to go
through that experience and also so proud that it has become recognized and known by so many more
than it would have.
I agree. That is great. Now, let’s talk about how you got started. I know at one point you worked with
Marlon Riggs, a black filmmaker, but start where you think you should.
My background is that I graduated from college with a degree in art history and history. And I was
working in the world of museums, waiting for people to come in to see what we had in the museum.
One day had the opportunity to be invited to get involved in the film project. And I found that, oh, this is
going to reach a lot more people than those who are coming to the museum. So that’s how I got bit by
the bug. And I found it to be a very good match. Subsequently working in documentary film as an
independent filmmaker in Berkeley, California, Marlon had graduated from the journalism program at
University of California at Berkeley, came to be a little techie for a small video company that did
corporate, industrials like things about duck hunting and stuff like that. And he’s a very quiet guy and
didn’t say much, and I’m very curious about people and ask a lot of questions. And in short order, we
were good buddies, rolling on the floor, laughing. And he kept talking about an idea he had for a film
about how African Americans were represented in advertising and in early radio. And I thought, that
sounds like a challenging idea for a film. But I said to him, Stop talking about it, please, and start.
Working on it. And I invited him to use an extra desk in my office, share what was then state of the art
technology, my IBM Selectric typewriter. And out of that came his first documentary film, Ethnic Notions,
which still outsells all of his films.
By the way, you’ve had so much success. Give an example of when a project didn’t succeed and failed to
make its goal.
I actually think that it’s very important for artists to start talking more about projects that failed because
so many of us have had that experience. It’s part of especially it’s especially challenging for filmmakers
because we have so many incredible costs involved and so much at stake. If you’re a poet and you write
a bad poem, you just delete it from your computer, or you tear it out of your notebook and pop it into
the trash can. If you’re a filmmaker, you’ve possibly announced it to the world on social media. You’ve
possibly created a website. You’ve probably applied for some kind of funding, be it small or large. You
may have gotten some initial funding, which, by the way, is the hardest to get. And then when the
project doesn’t work out, oh my God, there’s so much egg on your face and there’s so much sense of
disappointment that you’ve disappointed the funders and the supporters and the Kickstarter supporters.
So one example for me was one that I started with a friend, Sharon Wood, a colleague. And Sharon had
heard about an experimental public high school that was starting in San Francisco that was based on
experience. And each session was a six week project. And the first project, for example, was building a
Native American canoe in the traditional way. In order to do that, you had to know math and you had to
know about materials, you had to know biology, and you had to go to research history and all kinds of
stuff. So there was all those different classes, as it were, were integrated into one project, and it was
hands on. So that’s fun. Well, we got a grant from the National Science Foundation to get started, and
after a few months, the experimental high school itself failed, and so went our project. Our film project
went down the tank with it. The National Science Foundation completely understood that we hadn’t
done anything wrong. We were doing our stuff. We suggested that we use the remainder of the budget
to go hunt for an alternative experimental high school. They thought that was a great idea. And the truth
was, we went and looked at a couple, but they didn’t have the zazz and the vitality that the first one had.
So we just dropped the project at that point. And it was heartbreaking, but it was a very educational
experience, and we had some great footage.
So documentary and especially shorts, which I believe you’ve done some, as you’ve brought up already, a
little bit. They are hard to get financing, and you’re constantly seeking grants. Why do you do it? That’s a
lot of work.
Documentary filmmaking has two different schools. I would say there’s one stream of documentary
filmmaking that is in pursuit of entertainment, telling funny stories about curious people, telling stories
about famous people, and little animal stories, and those are great. But the world that I inhabit is a
different one. And the world that I inhabit is the world that’s using the art of documentary filmmaking.
Not just documenting, but documentary filmmaking is a huge difference for a greater good. And my goal
is to use my voice and my storytelling skills towards making the world a slightly better place than it had
been. And the more I can infuse my stories with high production value, not always, but most of the time,
it will then give the subject more gravitas and more meaning and a longer shelf life. But if you’re trying
to have high production value, then you have two routes. We have three routes. One, you have a trust
fund or a wealthy family member. Two, you have friends who have the skills and the chops and are eager
to work for free, and everybody takes turns helping each other on their projects. And that’s a very
effective way of doing your filmmaking. And three, would be seeking donations either from individuals or
from foundations. And that’s been the route that I’ve walked down for most of my career.
It makes me think of nonprofits that are a full-time job.
It is a full-time job. And in fact, I have spent far more time fundraising than filmmaking. That is for sure.
That doesn’t surprise me. One thing I’m really happy that I heard you say is that you want to make the
world a better place, and you believe you’re making the world a better place because there are so many
different ways to do that. I will say, looking at the list of films that you’ve done, I agree with you 100%
that you have done so.
Thank you. Can I name one in particular that your audience might care about?
Sometimes they get commissioned by either individuals wanting their family history told, a corporation
wanting the history of the company, or a profile of the CEO. The Smithsonian has hired me to do videos,
short videos for exhibits. And sometimes nonprofits, usually mid-level nonprofits, hire me to tell stories
about the work they’re doing. One such organization is called the Family Acceptance Project. The
executive director is a wonderful dynamo named Caitlin Ryan in San Francisco. And Caitlin has done
many things, but one of the projects that she has done, The Family Acceptance project, has focused on
communities of faith that have been going through the map, dealing with this conflict, dealing with the
tug of war between their loyalty to their faith, their church, their mosque, whatever, synagogue, and
their love of their kid. When the kid comes out as queer and the family freaks out and turns to their
leader, their spiritual leader, It can be a disaster for the kid. And one of the stories that I’ve done a few
films for the Family Acceptance Project, and one of them profiled a Mormon family in Central California
where, when their son was 13 years old, they learned that he was gay and they sent him to various
conversion therapies to try to change him and bring him back to the faith and be a good Mormon. And
they did change him. He went from just being isolated and feeling alone and struggling to becoming
suicidal. And at that point, they yanked him away from the conversion therapy process and they found
other parents like themselves, other Mormon families that also had teenagers who were identifying as
LGBTQ youth. They started being a support group. And eventually we filmed this one family. And the film
itself was a short film. It was, I think, 20 minutes, maybe maybe 25 minutes. It was shown to elders in
the church who cried when they saw it. And afterwards the church changed its policy about queer kids.
It went not perfect. It went to being love the sinner hate the sin from rejecting everybody. It was a
perfect example of how a film can have more immediate impact and social change.
What was the name of that? Or what is the name of that?
Families are Dorever. I don’t know if she’s still releasing it on the website, but it’s the Family Acceptance
Project. From the executive director is Caitlin Ryan. R-Y-A-N. It’s a really good film. I have to say. I’m very
proud of it. And I did two other films on that same theme for them. One about a Latino family where the
dad was a former Marine and his son little kid is starting to play with Barbie dolls. And you can
understand the rest after that.
The reason it’s exciting to me, and this is a blanket statement, but I’d say about 20 years ago or so,
everyone I knew that was Mormon and queer struggled more than probably any other religion that I was
aware of. There was a lot of angst, and I have noticed that has changed dramatically over the years. Well,
Seattle is actually very not Seattle. Salt Lake is a very gay friendly city. I’m sure not everybody there is
thrilled with that idea. So I’m not Mormon, but I’ll say thank you for that film.
Yeah, we all benefit from having families being more accepting of their kids, because what’s the
alternative? The alternative is that their son would have been kicked out and landed in San Francisco,
possibly, or LA. In the gutter, drugs, impoverished, isolated. It would not have been a pretty picture. He
would have had no support system, most likely. So, yeah, there’s so many stories of documentary film.
Not all, but so many have had a direct impact on changing people’s lives. It’s very gratifying.
So before I let you go, I have one question. Based on your career in the film industry, what is your
definition of success?
Well, I think the story I just told is probably a perfect example of success for me. I would say for me
personally, I’ve never aspired to definition of success. That’s about accrual of money in the bank or fancy
objects. I live a very frugal life. And at the same time, as a filmmaker, you get invited to film festivals all
around the world. So I get to stay at five star hotels in Davos and also at something even lower than
Motel Six in the boonies of South Carolina at the whole range. Success for me is being gratified by my
work and like I said before, feeling like I have done something to help make the world a better place.
That’s one area of my success. Another area of success for me is personal success. I’ve been in a very
long term relationship, so long I forget it. It’s a 38, 39 years, something like that, run out of fingers to
count. And we still enormously love one another and have a lot of fun together and never run out of
conversation, which is completely remarkable and also completely respect and value independence and
our own separate selves and opinions. And I pinch myself that I have that because it requires a lot of
flexibility and compromise, at least for me. It’s knowing how to balance the big picture, the little picture.
What you need now, what maybe you don’t need. So success for me is learning to navigate a relationship
that allows for a difference.
Vivian, I love hearing that because I really appreciate when people understand there is more than one
definition of success. And I got to say, 39 years, it sounds like this relationship may work out.
Maybe what do you think? We’ll give you another few and then we’ll count the votes.
Yeah, maybe. Once again, the film is No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics. It makes its premiere
this upcoming Sunday, January 23. But if you miss it, it’s not a one time run. For you, future people, this
show released in 2023. My guest has been Vivian Kleiman. And Vivian, I understand the documentary
will not be on all PBS stations. What can people do if it’s not available in their local market?
It would be great for folks to contact their local station and ask them to schedule No Straight Lines on
You’ve heard her. Those are good instructions. Vivian, it has been the delight talking with you and thank
you so much for being my guest.
So nice talking with you. Brad, thank you for what you’re doing.