Talent On Tap – Paul Émile d’Entremont is Standing on the Line

As a filmmaker, there is an unspoken policy that the film needs to tell a story, evoke emotion and create conversation after the credits have finished rolling.  Whether you’re a documentary filmmaker or create movies, you know who your audience is and how to maintain their attention. Films have the ability to inspire, to make you laugh/cry and to teach. Documentaries serve to shine a light on a subject/issue that requires our attention and possible action. Whenever I watch a documentary, that

little voice in my head always blurts out, ‘it’s about time somebody documented that!’

 

Documentaries can take us on an educational journey and transform us into advocates by the time the credits begin to roll. The documentary Standing on the Line does just that. Filmmaker Paul Émile d’Entremont’s film deals with LGBTQ issues with a twist. The subjects in his film are gay professional athletes and some high school jocks.  He admits that he was never a great athlete but thought to use them as a vehicle to bring more attention to the issue of social acceptance for gays and the LGBTQ community. I’ve watched the film and I felt like I was given a front seat into the bullying, the indifference, the prejudice and the heartache and pain of rejection because of your sexual preference. Last time I checked, it was none of my damn business who you fall in love with. I really thought we had made huge strides but the film shows us that we can do so much better.

 

This is Paul’s sixth documentary. We discussed Standing on the Line over lunch in downtown Vancouver. He was extremely generous with his time and we were very grateful for it.     

 

“In this documentary, you focus on 3 elite professional athletes as well as a high school. What was the purpose for the contrast of athletes?”

“It wasn’t enough to show the stories of the three elite athletes and the hell they had all gone through. In the case of David Testo (pro soccer player), drugs and alcohol landed him in the hospital. Brock McGillis (pro hockey player) talks about suicide attempts and Anastasia Bucsis (Olympic speed skater) talks about deep depression. All three were related to coming out of the closet and I wanted to offer a different perspective with the school and what can be done at a school level to help create change.”

 

“I was quite impressed with the high school program Indigo, which addresses the LGBTQ’s needs for acceptance while in school.”

“Yes, the Indigo Committee. It’s also referred to as a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance). There’s a big controversy in Alberta, where the students require parents permission to have GSA’s in the schools.”

 

“What if the parents don’t know their child is gay?”

“That’s part of the issue that gay kids deal with. 90% are still in the closet and have to deal with the pain of acceptance from family and friends. In Moncton, New Brunswick there’s a school with a principal that was bullied as a kid. 25 -30 years later the bullying is still going on, so he decided to take some measures to change that and to also see what happens when you create an environment where students are allowed to flourish. It’s a sort of antidote to the horror that happens to many athletes.”

 

Paul adds, “The Indigo committee is open to everyone. It’s a committee open in the school that’s not specific to athletes. It exists to help eliminate bullying and offer inclusiveness.”

 

“Did you find that any of the high school athletes had been attending committee meetings?”

“There was only one football player, Jean Christophe that was bi and would attend the committee meetings.”

 

“Are there other schools that have an Indigo Committee?”

“Well yes and no. It’s something the principal had thought up himself. One of the ways he tried to combat bullying was to hand out a survey asking if they’d been bullied in the last several months and by whom? He would then tally up all the answers to see if the same name kept popping up. Once a pattern began to emerge, he would then bring that said person into his office to acknowledge that their name had been brought up multiple times and discuss the issue to best resolve it. As time went on the number of incidents went down and down. Another thing we learn from the film is that their football coach tells the team a story about his gay brother and how he was bullied in school and that ten years later, he killed himself. When you make it personal, it’s no longer this abstract thing.”

 

“When you started capturing your footage, where did you start first?”

“I started with the school first. I knew from the beginning that the school was going to be part of it. It was the most challenging to do because it was harder to integrate in editing. I had a wonderful editor and looking at it now, it feels seamless. It was difficult though in the sense that you have three characters and then you have school, which is comprised of several characters. My biggest fear was that people would watch it and understand the three main characters but they might wonder why the school is there. Finding the right way to link one scene to the other was also very important.”

 

I personally thought it was very important that Paul did include the high school because it’s probably one of the toughest times in an LGBTQ person’s life.

“Do you prefer making documentaries to making dramas?”

“People ask me that a lot. I still feel like I have so much more to learn and right now I don’t have the desire to. I do think I’d be good at directing actors because I’ve done some acting myself. I get the sense however that it’s a totally different world. This is my sixth film and with every one I try to surpass myself and have personal goals. At this point, I pretty much know I can tell a story in a compelling way. I wanted to push my skills of visual storytelling further. It’s a language of its own and you have to learn the language.”

 

“Was it difficult to make this film when you’re also working full time?”

“Yes and it’s probably the reason it takes so long to make. On average, it’s about six years for a film. People often ask me where I find the time. It’s definitely a passion otherwise you just couldn’t do it. I feel lucky having the NFB (National Film Board) on board, they’ve been a wonderful producer.”

 

“How did you manage to find all your subjects in the film?”

“In this film, each case has been through ‘the coming out process’. David Testo, the former soccer pro for the Montreal Impact and ex Vancouver Whitecap took a little convincing because he’d just come out in 2011. He’s now teaching yoga in Victoria. After I explained what I wanted o do, remarkably he said yes. In terms of the high school students, I interviewed two football players that were bisexual. I had explained to them that this wasn’t going to be shot on an iPhone and that it would have a life. The day before shooting they backed out.  It took some convincing to bring them back. There were a few sleepless nights but I knew how important they were to tell the story.”

 

Paul adds that in making documentaries, you sometimes get lucky and sometimes you don’t. He says when you don’t you try to create the conditions to get what you want but you can’t force it. If he sees someone’s going to get emotional in an interview and they don’t, that’s okay. He might get another scene with someone else that will blow his mind that he didn’t expect. That’s the magic of documentaries.

 

“Is there any one specific person that was integral in helping you to get this film made?”

“I would say there were three key players in the film. One was Nancy Marcotte, she was my co-researcher and right arm on the project. She was also my production coordinator, so she went to all the shoots, helped with logistics and setting things up. She has a vast experience in documentary so she was also a great sounding board for ideas, strategy and what to film next. I really feel like she was a total ally throughout the filming. Even to this day she’s giving me advice on distribution.  Another person I’d like to mention is Dominique Sicotte, the editor. Wow…wow! It was not an easy film to edit… around 40-50 hours which is not uncommon. There were so many stories to tell with different themes, as well as integrating the school. She was amazingly organized, a masterful editor and really amazing at understanding the material with a deep understanding of documentary.  The Director of Photography, Mario Paulin is wonderful and very very talented. It’s the first time we’ve worked together. It’s been a really great go.”

 

“What is the biggest message you want people to take away from this documentary?”

“Let’s not forget that despite all the advances in gay rights, gay marriage and gay emancipation, in Canadian society there are still a lot of dark corners. Sport is one of them and we still have a lot of work to do but I did want to offer hope and that was a big reason for making this film.”

“For all the people that came out in this documentary, were they happier afterward or were there still unresolved issues?”

David Testo came out publicly in 2011 at the end of the soccer season. At that point he was without a contract… he never played again even though he wanted to. Did his coming out ruin his chances to continue to play? We’ll never know. I think if you ask David, he would say it played a role. Rob McGillis, who lives in Sudbury, Ontario was coaching a couple teams and was dropped shortly after he came out without any given reason.  Conversely, with Brock, he mentors and coaches young athletes for future OHL hockey and there’s not been one complaint from any parents. It’s been very encouraging.”

 

Paul continues, “When you’re coming out, in a sense it becomes a life long process. Family is usually the most difficult, then there’s work and friends. Then there’s media, which is another level I never had to think about. When you meet someone new, you’d tell them you’re gay.  If you’re meeting a straight man for example and he starts talking about his wife and kids, do I just nod or do I start talking about my boyfriend? It’s always a choice you have to make, as well you have to evaluate; is it safe?”

 

“Why did you choose to focus on athletes?”

“A lot of people ask me that. Obviously I’m not an elite athlete, I go to the gym but that’s about it. Even when I was a kid, I was only okay at sports, I wasn’t great. For me, it was really important to make it because when you think of the people that bully in high school, it was usually the athletes/jocks and this is kind of a way to stand up to them. It felt good. Also, if you’re going to spend six years on a project, you have to be passionate about the filmmaking as well as the subject. My sexuality has coloured every aspect of my life and it’s how I live and I’m very proud of it, I’m happy, I’m serene but it still makes you an outsider in many ways. I really hope it can make the world a little better place for some people.”           

 

Standing on the Line premieres at the Vancouver Doxa Documentary Film Festival on May 12. There are 2 screenings, May 8 at noon and the May 12th screening. David Testo will be in attendance. If you want to hear some personal stories of struggle and triumph from gay athletes in the spotlight, this film will give you hope and a better understanding. Please take a look at the venues and full schedule at www. doxafestival.ca

 

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