'Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine': Film Review

Courtesy of Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Long-in-coming doc offers an intensely personal look behind the headlines.

Friends depict the ebullient boy whose 1998 murder shocked America.

The horrific killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old whose death became a rallying point for hate-crime legislation, has hardly been unexplored by the media. But first-time filmmaker Michele Josue, who went to school with him, argues that she and others know a Matt the world never really saw. Gathering intimate recollections from family, teachers and best friends, Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine introduces a boy who suffered from social attitudes toward homosexuality long before his death, coming to terms with trauma at a moment that makes the crime even more devastating. The doc will find some sympathetic viewers on video, especially among those who've watched loved ones have difficulty coming out and have been unsure how to support them.

Poignant family interviews and home movies introduce a boy who seemed boundlessly social, "the guy that could be in any group" and always wanted to entertain. He remained outgoing at boarding school in Switzerland while his father worked in Saudi Arabia (where Josue befriended him). But classmates describe a life-changing trip to Morocco, where Shepard was raped and robbed. A drastic change in his personality followed, as did a period of aimless depression he was only starting to emerge from at the time of his murder.

The uneven film travels to some locations it doesn't need to and can't always decide on a balance between recounting well-known facts and dwelling on Josue's own grieving process. But it becomes compelling on the latter front in its final third, as the director interviews a priest who very gently questions her assumptions. "I don't know what you mean by healing," he says, arguing that "there's a right kind of hurt" that shouldn't fade in the wake of atrocities.

 

Production company: Run Rabbit Run Media

Director-producer: Michele Josue

Executive producers: Liam McNiff, Arleen McGlade, Linda Karn

Director of photography: Craig Trudeau

Editors: Michele Josue, Liam McNiff

Music: Nicholas Jacobson-Larson

 

No rating, 88 minutes

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