by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
The 20th annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (SLGFF) is closing this weekend with a plethora of screenings taking place at downtown Seattle's AMC Pacific Place Cinema (600 Pine St., fourth floor). Highlights include the local debut of acclaimed director Sebastia´n Silva's Nasty Baby starring Kristen Wiig, the gender-bending old school Hollywood horror parody Hush Up Sweet Charlotte with director Billy Clift in attendance and the acclaimed Aussie documentary Gaby Baby that recently found itself at the center of controversy when this sweet, captivating chronicling of children of Gay parents found itself banned by an Australian school board.
Rounding things out is the sports-themed documentary Out to Win directed by Small Town Gay Bar filmmaker Malcolm Ingram. Not so much an analysis of the effect Gay athletes are having on professional sports leagues or a discussion of the reaction of the NFL to Michael Sam's coming out right before the 2014 draft, the film instead is a life-affirming, remarkably positive celebration of sports stars who have lived their life openly and honestly, more often than not after their pro careers had come to an end. Featuring interviews with a number of notable and familiar faces, including Billy Bean, Brittney Griner, Jason Collins and tennis icons Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, the film doesn't dig particularly deep, yet still maintains an air of hopeful positivity that's truly inspiring.
At the heart of the conversation is former University of Washington legend and NFL great Dave Kopay, Ingram spending a lot of time focusing on his coming out during the mid-1970s and the response to his biography The David Kopay Story co-written by Perry Deane Young and published in 1977.
Talking with him via phone while he was at the airport waiting to fly to Seattle for the film's Closing Night presentation, the LGBT icon and former professional running back for the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins (amongst other teams) had no trouble expressing just how proud he was of the film and how touched he was by Ingram's handling of the subject matter.
'I thought he [director Malcolm Ingram] would only want me for a quick sound bite, maybe something a bit longer,' says Kopay with a chuckle. 'Then he showed up at my house with this big crew, was really prepared, and I thought, gosh, this is going to be something. He kept talking and asking questions and I kept answering them, but I had no idea he was going to make me almost the center point of the thing [Out to Win]. I was so surprised, so touched.'
As for what it was like to watch the finished film for the first time, the athletic star doesn't mince words, 'It was fabulous,' he says without hesitation. 'Just fabulous.'
'You know,' Kopay continues, noticeably choking up a little as he puts his thoughts together, 'I did something. All of this, it really changed my life. Let me give you a little story. Coach [Vince] Lombardi always used to stand on the sidelines, and I only played for him one [season] before he died, in 1969 playing for Washington, but he always used to stand on the sidelines and scream, 'What the hell is going on out there? Do something! Do something!' and those words always stuck with me.'
'When I was with the 49ers, I used to always have great game against his teams, and he remembered that when he picked me up off of waivers before the '69 season. I'd had a knee injury in Detroit the previous year, the team doctor coming to me years later to tell me I'd played the entire season on torn ligaments, but Coach Lombardi tested me out and I made the team, and I think a large part of the reason for that was he knew from past experiences I was a competitor, someone who wouldn't quit. So I made the team.'
'Now, people ask me all the time if Coach Lombardi knew about me and I always say I can never be sure. I mean, I don't think so, but maybe he did. Who knows? He was always so protective of Jerry Smith, so compassionate towards him while also nurturing his talent, making him a better player, so maybe Coach Lombardi knew more than I think he did. But he was always there, and such a great person, always urging me on, telling me to 'do something' at every opportunity.'
'Now, I'm not sure I remembered any of Coach Lombardi's words when I saw the articles about Jerry in the paper years later. More, I just happened to be in Washington, DC via happenstance at the time. And I thought, you know, I could have been in Idaho and would never have seen this article about Jerry, would never have known anything. I need to do something. Coach Lombardi's words came flooding back. I needed to do something.'
That 'doing something' was to confirm in the wake of the all-pro tight end's death in 1985 from AIDS that the two of them were indeed romantically involved during their playing days. Kopay also reconfirmed the rumors about Coach Lombardi's locker rooms being homophobia free zones where the focus was on playing the game and not on any individual players sexual proclivities.
'There was a lot of fate involved with that,' he says plainly. 'I wasn't being heroic, speaking the truth, it was just the right thing to do. The timing was finally right. We'd [Jerry and I had] talked about it so much, considered writing a book together, and when I wrote my book he was so supportive, unlike what some had put out there at the time. Jerry never criticized me about writing the book. So, when he died, it was time to set the record straight. To do something. You never know what you have inside of you until the time comes. When it does, do something.'
'To do this film,' Kopay reflects, 'to see how Malcolm put it all together, to see the reaction people have when watching it. It's very gratifying.'
Our conversation continued on for another few minutes, speaking about his continued love for the University of Washington and his pledged $1-million endowment to the UW's Q Center ('I guarantee you that's where it is going'), how many concussions he suffered as an NFL pro (over '40 or 50'), how he keeps fit ('I swim a mile every other day'), and his thoughts on Pope Francis ('he might be the first real Pope I've ever seen since I've been on this planet').
He ends our conversation by recounting a story of a day in 1967 where he was walking down a California beach, a moment in time that means a great deal to the football star.
'I came across this young man sitting on the beach,' recalls Kopay. 'He was scarred and disfigured, and was writing on a paper bag. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was writing a poem but that it wasn't any good. He then crumpled up the paper and threw it at me saying I could have it.'
'I picked it up, and I couldn't believe what I was reading. I looked at this kid, looked back at the poem, and said to him, what do you mean it's no good? This is incredible. And he smiled. Still told me to take the poem, but he smiled.'
At that point, Kopay recited the poem to me, each word burned into his memory, as if he'd only been given the paper it has been written on yesterday. 'It's been with me ever since that day,' he states proudly. 'I'll never forget a single word. It's an inspiration to me.'
Out to Win is the SLGFF's Closing Night film playing Sunday, 10/18, 6:30 pm at AMC Pacific Place. Former NFL great and UW Husky All-American Dave Kopay will be in attendance. Make sure you say hello.
SLGFF closing weekend capsule reviews
As for some of the other films closing out the festival, here are some brief capsule reviews written by myself, Paul Torres and Gary Kramer.
The Glamour and the Squaler (10/17, 3:00 pm, AMC Pacific Place)
Terrific, locally produced music documentary about heavyweight 107.7 TheEnd DJ Marco Collins and how he helped transform radio in the Pacific Northwest forever while also making stars out of the likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Beck (amongst others). Insightful, funny, moving and emotional, this is a fine film filled with sensational music directed with a confidently firm touch by Marq Evans. *** (Sara Michelle Fetters)
Hush Up Sweet Charlotte (10/16, 9:45 pm, AMC Pacific Place)
Billy Clift's fitfully amusing follow-up to his cult favorite Baby Jane, Hush Up Sweet Charlotte takes on another Bette Davis horror classic (Hush&Hush, Sweet Charlotte) doing so with the type of loving absurdist brio that also helped make his last flick such an endearing treat. More fun than it has any right to be. *** (Sara Michelle Fetters)
Stuff (10/17, 7:30 pm, AMC Pacific Place)
After a family death, Trisha and Deb's long-term and seemingly idyllic relationship begins to show signs of strain. A scuffle between their daughter Samantha and a boy from daycare brings his world-wise and wild mother into their fractured family fold. Sparks fly, feelings get hurt, and new revelations raise to the surface. Stuff, directed by Suzanne Guacci, is a supremely acted and engaging film about connection and emotional acceptance. *** (Paul Torres)
Upstairs Inferno (10/17, 12:00 pm, AMC Pacific Place)
This poignant historical documentary chronicles the 1973 fire (determined to be arson) that killed 32 people at the Up Stairs Lounge, a New Orleans Gay bar. Although stiffly narrated by Gay writer Christopher Rice, the survivors provide emotional testimonies of the homophobia and bigotry they encountered after the fire. The event is vividly rendered, and the tragedy is palpable, but at times this micro-history feels both over-emphasized and underdeveloped. **1/2 (Gary Kramer)
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