OSCARS: Why A Documentary Nomination Could Be Game-Changer For Gay Love Story 'Bridegroom'

There are officially 151 films vying for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year. For that huge number of entries, a deadline looms this Friday: That is the last day of voting by the Academy’s docu branch for the lucky 15 that will make the shortlist of finalists, which will be announced in early December. That list will then be whittled to the five nominees. But for many docu filmmakers, just receiving early shortlist recognition would be a huge boost not just to their films but could do even more for the movies’ real-life subjects.

The steady, emotional journey of award-winning documentary Bridegroom continues with its availability for sale beginning today on iTunes and Amazon. But it is an Academy Award nomination — or even just making that shortlist – that filmmakers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and husband Harry Thomason really want in order to carry their message of love and tolerance for gay couples worldwide. It demonstrates the importance of Oscar for many filmmakers who recognize its worth as a worldwide symbol. “We’ve done the research, and that would be so huge in getting it overseas,” said the film’s writer-director-producer Bloodworth-Thomason, a multiple Emmy nominee who created Designing Women. “Our goal now is to get it into as many countries we can. Even if it is underground, I want to get the film into places like Russia and the Middle East. I think we do have Oscar buzz. We are getting on these lists, but not ever having had it before, I am not sure I recognize it.”  

Bloodworth-Thomason has directed documentaries before but mostly in a political vein connected to her and her husband’s long-term friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton (the former president has endorsed Bridegroom and attended its Tribeca premiere in the spring). This time, however, it was different, and keeping the torch that Bridegroom has started alive is a driving force for the pair. The movie, which won the audience award at Tribeca, tells the love story of Shane and Tom, whose six-year relationship was cut short when Tom died after a freak fall off a roof. But it was what happened afterward — when Shane experienced the ramifications of how people without the protections of marriage can find themselves completely shut out — that shows the importance of marriage equality in its most human form.

Virgil Films has been distributing the movie theatrically — and tell me it is “doing great” — and the docu also has appeared on the OWN network (against the World Series) and Netflix. Bloodworth-Thomason became involved with the project almost by accident: She had been seated next to Shane and Tom at a wedding in Palm Springs and was taken by the couple. A year later, she heard Tom had died in an accident and had seen the YouTube video Shane made as a  tribute to the “love of his life”. That video went viral and has more than 4 million views to date. But the filmmaker decided a more in-depth documentary, placing it on a larger stage, could really put a focus on the issue.

Fortunately, like many young people, Shane had documented his life extensively in photos and video. It also was an ironic plus that Tom’s real last name is Bridegroom. It seemed like kismet, the perfect title. So a Kickstarter campaign was started to raise financing, and more than 6,000 people contributed. The film ends with a long crawl listing every single one of the contributors and serves as its own kind of statement, Bloodworth-Thomason thinks. “I think this really is kind of a ‘people film’ now,”  she said. “I feel most of those people have probably been discriminated against themselves in some way, and this was a chance to have their voice heard. Some had only spent a couple of dollars, but their name is up there. And it’s funny, but in every screening people have been so respectful that they stay until the last name rolls.”

She said that among the most satisfying things about the film has been positive reaction from unexpected places that proves a movie like this can make a difference. “My favorite was an email Shane got after the video went viral,” Bloodworth-Thomason said. “It was from a man who was shirtless, waving an AK-47 in the air, and he said, ‘I am a gun-toting redneck from Arkansas, but I just saw your video and I cried all day and I will never oppose this kind of love again’. If you can make rednecks cry, you’ve got something.

“I am really aiming this film at the millions of people who have just really never seen what it is they think they are opposing,” she continued. “I think this is a love story for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. I’ve had so many heterosexual people come up to me at screenings and say, ‘I would kill if I could have that kind of love, find that kind of relationship.’ The gay community did not really have a film showing the quintessential kind of love story I wanted to show. That was another goal — to give them their love story that heterosexual people would envy and wish they had. I think that’s the beginning of accepting something, if you envy it.”

With 150 other entries trying to get to second base at the Oscars, Bloodworth-Thomason is just hoping the relatively small pool of voters, overwhelmed by the sheer number of entries, will at least take a serious look at Bridegroom so that this remarkable story can continue to make a difference.

  1. This is one of the most important films of the year. But the true power of it will only reveal itself once it’s seen by the type of people and the number of people that need to see it. An Oscar nomination would certainly give it the push it needs to up the viewership. One leaves the film not only understanding the special relationship that Shane and Tom had, but having seen an honest and rare portrayal of absolute, undeniable soulmates.

    1. I’ve watched a lot of movies (documentaries) over the years and some I have cried during and at the end but never have I cried through a whole movie. This story draws you in and doesn’t let you go until the very end. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions. Nothing has moved me like this in a long, long time. It is a sad story but then it is a story of hope. It is a story of how love conquers over hate. From it’s humble beginnings it has circled the world and spread a message that life does go on and life is worth living. If any documentary movie wins the Oscar for documentary then this is the one that should. It is a story no matter what your lifestyle you are able to relate to it. But most of all it is a story of courage, a story of love, a story of the human journey, and a story of that needs to be told. Thank you for this incredible experience through film. It has changed my outlook on being human forever.

  2. You really think any type of award is going to make the “people who need to see it” sit and watch a feature length doc on marriage equality staring a gay couple? Not a chance.

    For many, the only way they’ll change their views on gay marriage is when someone in their family comes out, like Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). A feature length doc made by a friend of the Clintons ain’t gonna do it.

  3. This is such a moving story and was portrayed eloquently.
    Really conveys a message that is so relevant in light of todays’ religious issues, political endeavors, and the goal of equality and respect for all. By the way, at the end of this movie is a gorgeous song by Adam Lambert-”Outlaws of Love “that sums up everything in a heart-rending way.

  4. Having to judge 151 docs is an impossible task. I have always been in favor of the Academy opening up the submissions so we will have the best films possible. But not splitting up the large number like we have done in the past makes it a burden and a chore. This will be the first year I won’t vote in the first round.

  5. As a gay man I consider BRIDEGROOM the worst film of the year. Great message, but *terrible* filmmaking. So amateur. And, my god, the central guy is annoying beyond belief. Beyond awful. People are being blinded by the message and not seeing the terribly saccharine, manipulative filmmaking behind it.

    1. Unfortunately, I disagree. Shane grew up in my community and while his film may or may not live up to your idea of film perfection, the story puts the perfect light on a topic that needs to reach much further than it has. He nailed that with love and all due respect for many. Shane is a man with heart and soul who has overcome conflict and fear to show us truth. Real! Artistic perfection, who cares?

    2. I’m with you. I saw it as a member of the programming committee for a small LGBT film festival. No one on the committee liked it. My partner didn’t like it. It’s got the pathos of Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” YouTube video. It was so unpleasant that I can’t help but wonder whether the positive feedback was orchestrated. Ugh.

    3. I disagree too. Shane was not annoying – he was being who he is and telling his story. To question the film or its quality are one thing but to call it the worst film of the year or claim the feedback was orchestrated is I think uncalled for. Unfortunately, there are many who may throw stones at this film because they have not figured out how to be happy and have what Tom and Shane had.

    4. Bridegroom is overwhelmingly powerful for the very reason you dislike it. It’s raw, it’s real, and it gets the point across without any kind of special effects or actors portraying someone else. Also, the whole point of the film was to get their message across, and if that’s what everyone sees, regardless of “manipulative film making,” then clearly the movie was done well.

  6. Seek out the movie before you draw those type of conclusions by association. I didn’t know about the Thomason association until I saw it, and the story (better told than *I* thought) kinda spoke for itself.

  7. A much better documentary film about gay marriage is the embracing indie “Married and Counting.” I could watch it over and over again.

  8. The only way out is in. Until people in general can see films like this there is no way to spread the knowledge that people are people gay or straight. Until that message is heard loud and clear there will be no equality

  9. Such an amazingly tragic story in so many ways. I wish Shane the best and I hope he can be strong while continuing to spread his story. Forget about naysayers. Just awesome!

  10. Shanes intentions when he made this film was to tell his story of his experiences of growing up in a community that was and open close on not being open minded to people that were gay. He was then telling his story on how he could of given up on himself and he didn’t. He wanted this film to hopefully keep someone thatbhqsnt came out the courage and strength to come out and he proud of who they me. Shane has made that comment numerous times. He didn’t write this story to become a million are, celebrity or anything other then to hope to change one persons life to come out with whatever it is that they were scared to reveal about themselces !!! Shane has become who he is because of us. He didn’t lose his partner to become famous !! I am sure he would greatly Trade his fame to have Tom back!!

  11. This documentary is raw with few manipulations, perhaps. Being a liberal promoting equal rights, I like it from a straight guy point of view. I have not fully understood the fight gays are fighting for until I see this documentary – straight to the fact with real events documented. Still can’t get over it!

  12. Glenn your comments are dull and unproductive
    You sound like a sad bitter person
    Shane’s message was clear and so important

  13. I have a 18yr old son who is Gay. He watched the movie & set it up for me to watch The Bridegroom 1 day. That same day he came out publicly on FB! He had the courage to do that because of this incredible documentary. I am so proud of my Son. I had the pleasure to go to Dallas Tx to watch the premier of The Bridegroom & meet Shane this past weekend. I brought my Son & his very best friend. We had the honor to meet Shane & talk with him & snap a few pics. It was so wonderful to meet Shane & express to him how THANKFUL I was as a Mother of a gay son!!!! I told him ” you are changing lives & saving lives”. I am so passionate about this movie & the awareness it is bringing on gay rights. I am so grateful for this movie & Shane’ s courage to open his heart to the public. I had to give Shane a hug & let him know that he is loved by many!!!! I hope that 1 day my Son will be able to marry his 1 true love. I hope for my Son to find that True LOVE that Tom & Shane shared. I can not imagine anyone watching this movie & not feel the love & pain Shane endured. I am so moved by this movie & can’t stop thinking of this movie. I will continue to spread the wonderful documentary The Bridegroom. This movie of all movies deserves an Oscar!!!! Great Job!!!!!!! Lots of Love this Mother from Tx!!!!!

  14. This film is awesome and brave and beats any classical film because it’s real love. I love my partner and always tell him I love him and will squeeze just a bit more next time for Shane and Tom. May Norman and Martha Bridegroom burn in hell and Knox, Indiana become a wasteland except for Tom’s grave.

  15. I thought I was going to watch a sad depressing movie that has been played out time and time again. WOW! I can’t even put into words how much this movie conjured my thoughts as a gay man and what it means to love unconditionally. I feel truly blessed for having seen this film. My heart goes out to all the people who made this film possible. I now understand why I was reluctant to watch this film, it was because I was afraid to see it for what it really is…a reflection of myself and my fears. THANK YOU FOR EMPOWERING ME!!!!

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