“Breaking Through,” a documentary focused on LGBT politicians, makes its Atlanta debut at the Atlanta Film Festival, screening March 20 at the Plaza Theatre.
While the Atlanta Film Festival is not the world premiere of “Breaking Through” — that happens March 16 at the Sun Valley Film Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho — director, writer and producer Cindy Abel hails from Atlanta and will share her completed project with her hometown for the first time.
Abel, whose LGBT political activism includes stints as co-chair of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and executive director of Georgia Equality, says she came up with the idea with Allen Thornell, a well-known Atlanta LGBT leader who passed away in 2009. The pair discussed ideas including a documentary on U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), but someone was already working on that project.
So Abel decided on a documentary about out politicians.
“Early on I thought the story was going to be specifically focused on the challenges of running an openly LGBT campaign,” Abel tells GA Voice.
But as she began to put together the project, Abel says the idea evolved to look beyond the challenges of running a campaign to personal stories that transcend politics. In short, the film became about the people.
“These folks had learned how to deal with anti-gay attacks when they were growing up long before they had to deal with gender identity or sexual orientation in politics,” Abel says.
In total, some 26 elected officials are profiled in “Breaking Through,” including many of the country’s most well-known openly gay and lesbian politicians.
“We interviewed then-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who shares her story from growing up basically raised by her grandparents, to state Rep. Kathy Webb who was the first openly LGBT person ever elected in Arkansas. We interviewed folks from small places to large places like Houston where the mayor is openly lesbian to the first transgender judge in the country and probably the world.
“We interviewed people at all different levels who come from all different kinds of backgrounds,” Abel says. “With each of them, what came through wasn’t as much a sense of awe from the position, but awe from them being willing to participate and to be open with their experiences and how they wanted to be a part of people’s lives.”
Openly gay politicians from Georgia who are interviewed include state Reps. Karla Drenner and Simone Bell, Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan, Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, Doraville City Councilmember Brian Bates, and Decatur City Commissioner — and now mayor pro tem — Kecia Cunningham.
The filmmakers also call the Atlanta area home, including Abel; Michael Bruno, director of photography/editor; Michael McAllister, assistant director of photography/gaffer; Kenneth Britt, executive producer; and Barbara Rubin, producer.
The cost of telling these stories
Bringing “Breaking Through” to the big screen caps more than two years of interviews, filming and fundraising.
“The thing that is sometimes overlooked when making films is there is very little time spent with the person we’re interviewing and the camera rolling,” Abel says.
The film’s budget was exactly $276,084. “We are down to only needing to raise less than ten percent of our budget,” Abel adds. “That feels really good.”
About half of the donations to the project were cash, while the other half included in-kind items, like airline miles and hotel rewards points.
“We worked on it, but it really belongs to everyone who contributed their time and talent and treasure to make it happen,” she says.
Abel says “Breaking Through” will move through the independent film festival circuit while she and the film’s producers continue to look for ways to distribute the film to a wider audience.
“We want to have it achieve the broadest distribution possible,” she says. “This is about bringing hope to people and changing lives in a positive way. Part of going to a film festival is to share the experience and to connect with folks.”
The film has been invited to apply for entry to several festivals, but Abel is tight-lipped about where it will screen next.
“We would love to see it on television. Definitely DVD, streaming on demand,” she says.
Top photo: Cindy Abel, director of ‘Breaking Through’ (right), interviews Houston’s openly lesbian Mayor Anise Parker.