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Movie Review: Outrage at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2009

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When a documentary about any subject raises controversy, you have to think there's some truth within the production for all the fuss to be kicked up about it. If it was untrue, why would anyone bother? Outrage is undoubtedly controversial, mainly because it pulls no punches in saying what it wants to say, naming whoever needs to be named in the process. Although it takes some pages out of Michael Moore's rulebook of documentary filmmaking, it nevertheless is an interesting and strangely fun watch.

Outrage is a documentary which focuses on closeted homosexual politicians who are part of political parties that stand against gay people and their rights. It covers a broad range of angles surrounding the main issue, sometimes focusing explicitly on specific people in political power.

Kirby Dick – the documentary filmmaker behind such works as This Film Is Not Yet Rated and Twist of Faith – asks with the Outrage the fascinating question, "Why are closeted gay politicians the ones who end up standing the most against gay rights?" It seems an obvious question to ask, but Dick realises it's an important issue and question to raise. In trying to get to the root of the issue, Dick explicitly outs some quite high powered politicians, from Florida Governor Charlie Crist to Senator Larry Craig, who to this day still (publicly) deny their sexuality. The evidence provided within the documentary is compelling, even if it's quite tactfully used – Michael Moore I'm sure would be proud.

Maybe that isn't fair – to compare any documentary with the work of Mr. Moore would be to accuse it of concealing a lot of the truth through skillful editing, and being purposefully and carefully patched together to make its point. Outrage never really goes that far, although I suspect from a closeted gay Republican's point of view, there isn't enough concentration given to the opposing side of the argument. The compelling evidence Dick gives here probably overshadows any need for that for those who are with him in what he's saying, though.

Where the real similarity between Moore's work and Outrage is in just how much of a fun watch it is. It's not something you can say very often about a documentary – trying watching Hearts and Minds or The Fog of War and tell me you had fun – but there's a certain spark and energy about the whole thing. It's a serious issue, undoubtedly, but Dick makes sure it isn't all doom and gloom. A set of on-screen text (design) that reoccurs throughout the movie – showing such things as the barrage of "no" votes from these politicians on homosexual's right to marriage or HIV/AIDS support – appear at just the right moments to give it the feel of a joke's punchline. You can add an "ny" to the end of that word "fun," too.

To balance things somewhat, on top of having footage of these closeted gay politicians who are in denial, Dick also includes real interviews with examples of those men who are now openly gay. Even if they're still very much siding with Dick on the issue (I'm sure years prior they would be strongly opposing), it's nonetheless a great addition to the proceedings. It makes it so that the whole thing doesn't just feel like a slew of accusations against people who aren't given the chance to make an appearance themselves as a "talking head" interviewee.

What Outrage importantly does it precisely state the point it's getting at; this is not in any way against homosexuals or even these closeted homosexual politicians. If these men want to live in denial there whole lives (or at least until retirement, when I sense they'll have little problem outing themselves) that's their right. But the point is – the one that Outrage focuses on – is that it becomes a problem when these in-denial politicians start dig themselves so far into their situation that they deem it fit to make harsh laws against gay people, hurting them in every way but physically. My guess would be that they do this to focus the attention off of them as gay men, but I can't say for sure, I'm not a politician. It was crucial for Outrage to make that kind of distinction – just think of the controversies that would have arisen if it hadn't.

Unlike a lot of documentaries, Outrage seems built for the big-screen. It's one to be enjoyed in a room full of people instead of on your own. It's structured almost like a normal narrative, with different sections throughout dealing with different issues, one at a time. This is just one of the many things that makes it so very enjoyable. But in its enjoyability it's also a documentary with something to say, bringing up a central concern that anyone who's curiosity sometimes gets the better of them should find fascinating. And whether you agree or disagree with the questions it raises – which probably comes down to your political views and how strongly you push them – you have to admit, it's important to ask them.

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About Ross Miller