Joe Wilson’s documentary “Out in the Silence” concentrates on small-town American attitudes towards gays and lesbians seesaws between insightful non-fiction filmmaking and dilettante cinema.
Centered in the filmmaker’s hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania, the film kicks off when Wilson’s decision to publish news of his same-sex marriage in the local newspaper triggers a wave of angry responses from the community. Just why Wilson decided to do this is unclear, since he left Oil City years earlier and resides in Washington, D.C.
However, Wilson received a letter from the mother of C.J. Springer, a gay teenager in Oil City that was being harassed in high school. Wilson’s film focuses on C.J.’s social isolation – he was forced to leave school and complete his education in an online program – and then it expands into a secondary story involving a lesbian couple whose attempts to renovate an old theater are damaged by the intrusion of a right wing busybody who rails against the “gay agenda” on a Christian radio station.
When Wilson keeps his aim on the struggles of young C.J. and the women at the theater, “Out in the Silence” provides a disturbing view of modern-day intolerance and the challenge of decent people to maintain their dignity in the face of virulent homophobia.
However, Wilson unwisely involves himself as an on-screen narrator whose continually perplexed observations on unkind behavior suggests he is far too naïve for his own good. A parallel story with Wilson and a pastor who protested the newspaper’s running of the same-sex marriage announcement fast-tracks to a “Kumbaya”-worthy camaraderie that never truly addresses the role that organized religion plays in contributing to anti-gay sentiments that often lead to hate crime violence. (Wilson’s partner Dean Hamer shares co-directing credits, but he wisely stays off camera for most of the film.)
Despite its flawed structure, “Out in the Silence” deserves to be seen for anyone concerned with the plight of today’s LGBT youth in a society that is still not all-accepting of diverse lifestyles.