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Revisiting a landmark film in the wake of DOMA defeat

Stephanie Higgins

Waltham resident Stephanie Higgins, who earned a master’s degree in visual media arts from Emerson College in 2000, was at her desk job back in November 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. “I burst into tears. It was an atypical emotional reaction,” she recalls. With a camera and a crew made up of friends from Emerson, Higgins headed to the State House to chronicle the ensuing protests and political drama, set against the personal story of Massachusetts couple Gayle Green and Lorre Fritchy as they approached May 17, 2004 — the first date same-sex couples could file for marriage licenses in the Bay State.

Higgins’s 50-minute film, “The Gay Marriage Thing,” released in 2005, was the first film about the battle for equal marriage in Massachusetts. (The first feature-length documentary, “Saving Marriage” from LA-based filmmakers Mike Roth and John Henning, was released a year later.) “The Gay Marriage Thing” (inset) played the festival circuit around New England. The DVD was reissued in 2009 with extras, including an update on Green and Fritchy, who’d become parents.

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Reacting to the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage since 1996, Higgins said she hoped “The Gay Marriage Thing” had helped to change a few hearts and minds. “It’s harder to be against [gay marriage] when you know people, so my intent was to introduce a couple and let viewers get to know them,” said Higgins, who married her partner in 2008 and now has a 5-month-old daughter. “I remember saying in 2004, ‘In 10 years, [gay marriage] will be legal.’ But I never expected public opinion would change this quickly. It took courage from people on both sides.”

Watch the trailer at www.thegaymarriagething.com

Maine honors Altman, Demme

The late legendary director Robert Altman and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme will be celebrated at the 16th annual Maine International Film Festival, running July 12-22 in Waterville. One of Altman’s favorite actors, Keith Carradine, will be on hand July 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House to receive the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award. Other members of Altman’s circle — actors Michael Murphy, Allan Nicholls, and Mike Kaplan — and Altman’s widow, Kathryn, will introduce and discuss several Altman films that will screen during the festival, including “Short Cuts,” “Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “Nashville,” “Kansas City,” “A Prairie Home Companion,” and “Thieves Like Us.” Annie Ross, star of “Short Cuts” and creator of the film’s soundtrack, will perform a live concert on July 17 at 8 p.m. at the Waterville Opera House.

Past MIFF awardee Demme returns for the opening night on July 12 at the Waterville Opera House. He’ll introduce the premiere of his new film, “Enzo Avitabile Music Life,” about the Neapolitan musician. The festival showcases other Demme music films in a special program, “Demme Does Music,” which includes the director’s classic Talking Heads documentary “Stop Making Sense,” Robin Hitchcock in “Storefront Hitchcock,” “Neil Young Trunk Show,” and his little-seen film about Kenny Chesney.

Other festival highlights include the latest cut of a documentary-in-progress by Ryan Cook and Derek Desmond, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” (July 17, 6:30 p.m.), about a Maine mountain boy in the 1930s, whose survival story inspired a book. There’s also the state premiere of “Bluebird” (July 20, 7 p.m., Railroad Square Cinema), Maine native Lance Edmands’s debut drama, shot on location in Millinocket in mid-winter, about a bus driver’s tragic mistake and its effects on this isolated American town.

For a complete schedule and more information, go towww.miff.org

Oscar winners at home

The public is invited free of charge to the 2013 Avenue of the Arts Film Festival, including its opening reception at the West End branch (Cambridge Street near Government Center) of the Boston Public Library on July 18 at 4:30 p.m. A screening of the 2012 James Bond thriller “Skyfall” follows the reception. There will be music performed by the Patrice Monahan Trio, featuring a medley of Bond film music sung by festival director L.B. Gratun, and refreshments. Running through July 26, the cultural festival also presents last year’s Oscar-winning films “Argo,” “Les Miserables,” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” all at the West End Library. A “Wrap Party” follows the screening of “Les Miserables” on July 26 at 4 p.m.

For more information, go towww.LBGratun.com/avenueartsfilm or www.BPL.org

Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.
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