Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine @ The Ross

Matthew Shepard

Matthew Shepard

I was in graduate school when I heard of Matthew Shepard. What struck me about his murder was that it occurred in isolation. I could imagine, only imagine, in between a swath of stars that dotted a midnight sky and the wide-open space of the Wyoming frontier, the dogged sounds of a pistol being whipped across Shepard’s skull by the perpetrators Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson; the sounds of Shepard crying out in that wilderness with no one to hear him but his murderers; and, the echoes and hums of living things only heard in a rough country as they tied him to a fence and left him to die. When I saw his image in the newspaper, I shook my head and murmured, “Tch. He was but a boy … just a boy … who was he? Why?” His death galvanized the LGBTQ community given than he was gay. Later, Matthew Shepard became the symbol for hate crimes committed against those who are different.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine answered those questions. Directed by Michelle Josue, this documentary delves into the story of Matthew Shepard, his life, his parents, and the town of Laramie, Wyoming. Josue and Shepard became friends while both were students at a Swiss boarding school. In her debut, Josue features Shepard’s family and friends who loved him and the teachers who believed in him. She says, “As his story became an international news event, my heartbreak and sense of loss only grew as my friend Matt was replaced by ‘Matthew Shepard,’ an historic figure and icon that will forever be associated with unspeakable violence and hate.” Every testimony, as well as the documentary, serves as post-eulogies for Shepard, and will leave you feeling as if his life has been given its just due outside of the bright lights of the media.

Josue, also, uncovers more than expected; at times, she moves us past our comfort zones. The fence where Shepard was tied up still stands, and its visual is haunting. She brings to the forefront the violent rape by a gang of men Shepard suffered while on a high school trip to Morocco. More poignant, and uncomfortable, is an interview with a Catholic Priest who counselled McKinney and Henderson; he challenges her to think about forgiveness and to consider that McKinney and Henderson are our brothers. Josue begins to sob because she cannot fathom that these men who beat and tortured her friend are worthy of forgiveness. Can you? Would you … forgive? Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s parents, might will generate some insight into forgiveness in this very personal and intimately raw documentary of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine plays through April 23 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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The Hunting Ground @ The Ross

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Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick could not have been more provocative nor insightful nor incisive in his documentary The Hunting Ground. I’ll just get to the point: The Hunting Ground explores the epidemic of on-campus rape, and colleges and universities should make this film a requirement for every student who enters their hallowed halls. What is heart-wrenching about The Hunting Ground is that Dick gives over his film to the young women who have experienced the trauma of rape, and the humiliation that attends the crime when administrators, students, and even the police dismiss the allegations and blame the victim. These young women are brave as the camera closes in on their every emotion.

Erica Kinsman, a Florida State student, for example, tells her story of rape by the college’s star quarterback Jameis Winston, who went on to become the youngest player to win the Heismann trophy in 2013. No charges were brought against him even though the DNA matched Kinsman’s rape kit. The net of protection around the athlete absolutely will floor you! Dick, however, cuts through that net, and each and every player responsible for this protective shield drops out framed by the copious footage of Winston on the field, post-game, and all of the celebrations around his victories on the field and his Heismann win.

The young women in this movie survived their trauma; however, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a St. Mary’s College Student, committed suicide after receiving a text “messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea” when she reported her rape by an unnamed Notre Dame football player.

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Students Advocate for a Rape Free Campus

What is incisive about The Hunting Ground is that indicts the college and university administrator who turns a blind eye; Dick’s exposes their almost “hands off” response to the young women who come to them, and the University President, especially is exposed as a pretender of concern. But Kirby goes for the jugular when in a denouncement of on-campus fraternities whose members are accused of being the predators of female flesh at frat parties. Specifically, he attacks with a vengeance, and I mean with a vengeance–the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, better known as “Sexual Assault Expected.”— you know, that same fraternity who just has been expelled from the University of Oklahoma for its racist rant during an alcohol saturated party.

Go and see this documentary. It is necessary. You will feel so outraged that you will hard pressed not to draw up a placard and take to the streets the injustices that these young women have to endure once they drum up the courage to tell their stories.

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The Hunting Ground Plays through April 16 at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also The Hunt for General Tso opens today and plays through April 9th at The Ross.

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