October 22, 2002

Sundance Selection Viewed at C.U.

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“What if your most controversial act turned out to be the most traditional thing in the world?” reads the poster to Sundance film-festival official selection, Daddy & Papa, a documentary about gay fathers in America by filmmaker Johnny Symons shown to around 500 members of the Cornell community during a screening and panel yesterday that discussed both the plights of gay men adopting children to the joys of being a parent.

Filling the David L. Call Alumni Auditorium in Kennedy Hall, attendees viewed the almost one-and-a-half hour long film and listened to the insights from a forum of University faculty and Symons himself, but directly preceding was a greeting from Christopher Dial ’04, co-president of OUTreach, a campus gay support group, and organizer of the screening.

“I hate it when presenters give a list of the people they want to thank, so I’m not going to do that,” Dial joked. “I’m going to tell a story.”

That story was of Dial’s own coming-out experience to his mother and how some misconceptions led him to experience Daddy & Papa in a much different light.

“The only thing she was worried about was that I would not be able to enjoy … having a family. I was worried too because I wanted a family. Being gay seemed [opposite] to that,” Dial stated, at the lecture.

After Dial viewed the movie earlier in the year, he believed it was the right vehicle to bring to Cornell and inform others about the specific concerns of gay fathers raising children in the U.S.

Daddy & Papa, looks at the lives of six gay men and their myriad experiences raising children, together and alone. From building playrooms to signing adoption forms, Symons documented many amusing and poignant moments creating an in-depth look at the journey of gay adoption.

Symons knew about this topic first-hand since he turned the camera on himself and his partner’s process of adopting a child as well. “I didn’t intend for this to be a personal film,” Symons remarked, during the panel discussion. Yet, it was this personality that caused many in the audience to laugh and sigh during many parts of the film. After the lights rose, the crowd greeted Symons with a standing ovation which he warmly accepted.

In order to facilitate discussion about the film, a panel of five University professors joined Symons to describe their impressions on the effects of the documentary. Profs. Martha Fineman, law, Ritch Savin-Williams, human development and Amy Villarejo, theatre, film and dance joined Brenda Marston, the curator for the Human Sexuality Collection of Kroch Library to talk about the film.

Prof. Joan Jacobs Brumberg, human development and feminist, gender and sexuality studies, opened the presentation and acted as the panel moderator. “I think it was well received by a wide variety of students and faculty,” Brumberg said, after the screening.

Fineman, who retold the legal aspects surrounding gay people adopting children in certain states, said how pleased she was with participation during the forum. “Students directed most of their questions to the filmmaker which was entirely appropriate.

Although a number of students in human development courses were obligated to attend for mid-term questions or extra-credit, many noted they enjoyed the film and the panel which presented views detailing the problems and strides gay people have made in regard to obtaining and raising children.

“I thought it was really awesome especially for anyone who doesn’t know any gay parents. [The film] really lived up to all the advertisements,” said Erica Kagan ’05, LGBT liaison to the Student Assembly.

Overall, Dial found that his intended goal, to bring the film to Cornell, went off better than he expected. “I honestly didn’t expect it to go over as well as it did,” Dial said, adding that while the panel’s purpose was to derive topics from the film which might be more “dry,” the sentiment from the film helped make the evening a success. “Film has a way of showing the emotion. It did well.”

In addition to its viewing at Sundance, the film has won many documentary honors across the country which add to Symons already long list of credits including working as a co-producer of the Academy Award-nominated Long Night’s Journey Into Day from 2000.

The Ithaca/Cornell debut of Daddy & Papa was presented by several University departments as well as Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, Hillel’s Ga’avah, the LGBT Resource Center, Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts and OUTreach.

— Staff writer Freda Ready contributed to this story.

Archived article by Carlos Perkins