Behind the Doc Lens

Season 1: Blog 3– “Love Free or Die” Q&A w/ Filmmaker Macky Alston by Lauren Brody

Trailer of “Love Free or Die”

“Love Free or Die” follows openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson from his home in New Hampshire to London’s famed Anglican Communion conference where he is barred from attending all of the events with the other Bishops because of his open sexuality. Gene’s prominence as the first openly gay Bishop provides hope and support in the fight for LGBT marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.

Q1: What was your goal when you started this project and did you anticipate that the scope of the film would grow to the level that it did?
A1: I think my goal for the film was to explore how a human being bears the level of scrutiny that someone like Bishop Gene Robinson has borne for the last decade. We saw a tipping point during the four years in which we were filming as was evidenced by Barack Obama’s [second] inauguration speech when he stitched together Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. There has been a change in both church and state systemically.

Q2: There is a shift during the movie when the main focus drifts from Bishop Gene Robinson to the struggles of the gay community and their faith being “unfaithful” to them. How did starting with Gene affect who you chose to interview?
A2: The subject of Love Free of Die started with a portrait of Bishop Gene Robinson but what became evident was that the kind of change taking place was historic and systemic. Early on, civil unions were not legal in New Hampshire and the Church had put a freeze on consecrating gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions. By the end of the film, we see Bishop Gene Robinson legally marrying the Rev. Dr. Ellie McLaughlin and her partner of decades, Betsy Hess in a small north country New Hampshire church – in the four years we filmed, both church and state had moved because of the courageous leadership of Bishop Robinson and countless others.

Q3: My favorite moment of the film was at the end of the Anaheim conference when Bishop Gene Robinson asked members of the LGBT community to come to the stage and get the church’s blessing. The number of people was astounding to me—as Gene said in the wedding montage, once people can put a face and a name to the movement, it’s harder to ignore. As a filmmaker, what was it like to watch all of this happen?
A3: It gave me great hope. I’m not an impartial viewer—nobody is. Religion is my family business. My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather were all Presbyterian ministers in the American South. And I’m gay, I have two children and I’m now legally married. And so, I was cheering on the folks who were fighting for LGBT equality.

The most painful scene to watch though was early, in the first act. It was when all the churches in England had been forbidden to allow Gene to preach when all of the Bishops were gathering for their once every ten years global gathering of bishops, the Lambeth Conference. One of the pastors had the courage to allow Gene to preach anyway and he did. I knew the volume of death threats Bishop Robinson was receiving. But when a man stood up in the middle of his sermon and started screaming, “Repent! Repent” and he had his hand stuffed inside his motorcycle helmet. I didn’t know whether or not he had been one of the people threatening Gene’s life. Bishop Robinson has made the commitment to pay the price at any cost to stand for what he believes is right. I am just utterly grateful that he hasn’t been killed.

Q4: How did you get permission to shoot in Washington and in London? Walk me through the struggles you encountered to get the movie made.
A4: Getting a press pass for the Conference for Bishops wasn’t that hard. It took some generosity on the part of the communications arm of the Anglican Communion and persistence on our part and some good fortune, but the press corp. was invited to the Lambeth Conference as well as to the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

Having intimate conversations with the bishops was a challenge. What was shocking to me was that people wanted to talk from both sides to me. It wasn’t difficult for them to see based on how I look and act where I would stand on this issue. And yet, pretty much everyone stepped forward to talk – this is the issue that has the 80 million church divided and people really want to be understood on both sides.

For people who are living in the closet, they want to come out. There were multiple situations when people came out to me on camera and told me that I couldn’t use that. And that was painful, very painful because I felt for them. They were afraid they would lose their jobs, lose their ministry, lose their capacity to serve under God in countries all over the world. They had a lot to lose including the ability to do a lot of good work to which they felt called. I believe the bishops who did come out were brave for the cost to come out – the courage required is a big deal.

Washington similarly was crazy luck and stubborn will on the part of me and my crew to get a pass for the inauguration. A lot of politicking. But these were public events and they are in many way established for the public to see and document. For so many of my colleagues our success and strength is that we do not take no for an answer – from the funding community and the people who hold the keys to the gates where we need to go.

There was a scene from the film where Gene’s sign was hung up in the gatehouse of the Canterbury Cathedral – really, the Vatican of the Anglican Communion – and the guards were told: Do not allow him onto the grounds—as a Bishop in the church they weren’t going to allow him in, regardless of the fact that he was legitimately elected by the American Church. When all of the Bishops were in London one day, they allowed him in. We wanted to go and show them allowing him in but instead they wouldn’t allow us access. They said they wanted the church to appear as if to be open to all people, as if to say that if people saw a gay person entering, they might not feel comfortable going. It’s crazy, heart-breaking logic.

Q5: How did Bishop Gene Robinson respond to the film? How did he react to how Love Free Or Die was received at Sundance?
A5: Life can be crazy. The weekend Gene was supposed to fly to Sundance, his mother died. His mother was in the film. At the time that we were premiering the film, Gene was burying his mother in Kentucky and the next day, he got on a plane and was at Sundance for the second screening. It was a profound experience for Gene to be present and to see his mother’s footage right after she died and to recognize that not only will his testimony and story live forever but so will that of the people he loves.

I think to get the standing ovation that Gene got at Sundance and then as the film has toured is a beautiful, well-deserved thing. Still, I think that it’s one more thing Gene is going to have to integrate into how he’s going to understand his life. His job is to recognize that he’s going to go down in the history books not unlike how Joan of Arc did. He’s going down as a historical figure. We tell history person by person, whether its Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks or Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls or whether it’s Gene who was the first openly gay person to be elected Bishop in these traditional churches.

I think that he has to do a lot of work to separate the myth and the sort of symbolic life that he’s led from the human and I think he does that with extraordinary grace and humility. I couldn’t be more grateful that history cast him in this role because some would take it as a big old ego trip. Others would take it in different ways and I think he’s really got the capacity and the circle of friends and love ones to make sense of this and remember why he’s doing it, which is to make the world a better place.

Q6: There was a clear shift in how the residents of New Hampshire received Bishop Gene Robinson in the film which coincided with gay marriage being legalized. Can you discuss the impact Bishop Gene Robinson had in New Hampshire?
A6: What we’ve seen and what we know is that change has happened because people have come to know us–to know LGBT people. And that’s what Gene says at the end of the film. You see that At Ellie and Betsy’s weddings. We are no longer faceless nameless “others,” but we are Sally and Sue or Johnny and Jeff down the street or in the next pew, and that’s exactly how Bishop Robinson has affected change in the State of New Hampshire. People have come to know and love him and see him as a great guy and a great Bishop. That is the method of change that has led to our liberation. You see it happen. Absolutely.

For more information on director Macky Alston and his work, visit:

© 2013 Behind the Doc Lens. (Lauren Brody, Blogger & Isabel Garcia, Producer). To contact the blogger/producer email


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