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With: Achebe "Betty" Powell, Ann Samsell, Bernice "Whitey" Fladden, Cynthia Gair, David Gillon, Dennis Chiu, Donald Hackett, Elsa Gidlow, Freddy Gray, George Mendenhall, Harry Hay, John Burnside, Linda Marco, Michael Mintz, Mark Pinney, Nadine Armijo, Nick Dorsky, Pam Jackson, Pat Bond, Rick Stokes, Roger Harkenrider (Tom Fitzpatrick), Rusty Millington, Sally M. Gearhart, Tede Mathews
Written by:
Directed by: Peter Adair, Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown, Rob Epstein, Lucy Massie Phenix, Veronica Selver
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 133
Date: 11/01/1977
IMDB

Word Is Out (1977)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gay Matters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's amazing to watch the documentary Word Is Out and enjoy the seemingly haphazard, ramshackle way it's put together. It doesn't have that ultra-polished look of most of today's documentaries, with every piece snapped precisely into place. Instead, it has the grainy, homemade look of 1970s-era 16mm film (it was blown up to 35mm for release). What's more, it doesn't have any narrator, or title cards, or facts and figures that tell us about how horrible things are, and how guilty we should feel about all this.

Rather, it's very simply 26 gay men and women of all ages and origins talking about their lives. Most of them have lived through hard times, but many of them look forward to a brighter future (even though there was more trouble yet to come), and all of them come across as warmly, heartbreakingly human. There's the farm boy who secretly met with a neighbor boy every night for ten years before being shipped off to a hospital for shock treatment, and the shy boy whose first, belated love was so powerful that he didn't even mind that there was no sex.

Some of the subjects struggle with the notion of "fitting into" society or retaining a queer identity, and it's a question that, in 1977, only began to be addressed.

Of course, a lot of this stuff may seem naïve, and the major importance of the documentary is historical. Yet it still carries a powerful emotional punch, and could still wield the power to convince the sternest holdouts that, indeed, these people have feelings too.

The film was made by the Mariposa Film Group, consisting of Andrew Brown, Peter Adair, Nancy Adair, Lucy Massie Phenix, Veronica Selver, and Rob Epstein, the latter of whom went on to win two Oscars for The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989). Milestone Film & Video has restored the film for a new DVD release, which comes with some new documentaries and featurettes, and a trailer.

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