Raising Gayby Baby – Charlotte Mars
It's a special time in the history of documentary. As media outlets around the world become increasingly homogenised, it is the independent documentary that holds us to account for the world we live in.
These films divulge the stories the mainstream media cannot, or will not, tell. Audiences trust documentaries. Outside the realm of the 24-hour press cycle, they alone bring longitudinal stories and great secrets into the light; recording and shaping the narratives we tell about our world.
In the case of Gayby Baby, we are taken into the private homes of four kids who are given authority rarely bestowed upon them, to reflect their views on something every human has in common: the unavoidable experience of family.
In making this film, I felt an immense duty to those four kids, but also to the vast community of LGBTI families past, present and future. If this was to be the first time we took viewers into the deepest and most personal spaces of a burgeoning community – a community who had already faced considerable threat from the outside – we would have to do it with great care.
Hearing the threats against same-sex families and marriage equality has always made me frustrated. Aside from anything else, how on earth can the straight community hold up this ideal of family, when those same family units are breaking down more than ever before?
But with Gayby Baby we did not want to enter the realm of political rhetoric, of debates about what is "right" and "wrong" – we wanted to transcend all that, touching viewers with stories that might reflect back at their own experiences. A filmmaker I greatly admire, Victoria Midwinter Pitt, once told me that if you want people to listen to an uncomfortable truth, you had better tell them a nice story in the process. I believe the stories of children with same-sex parents have exactly this effect: skewering the water-cooler issues faced by modern families – gender, sexuality, parenting, youth – with intimacy and charm, rather than the hypocrisy of politics.
As an outsider to the Gayby community – the child of divorced, straight parents – there have been times where I've felt out of place making this film. But gradually, over the years, that feeling has almost entirely disappeared. Through making Gayby Baby, it's almost as if, inspired by the love, tolerance and spirit of the families we have met, I have taken on the sensitivities and concerns of being a Gayby, without actually being one.
Far from seeing this as a threat, the Gayby world has welcomed me with open arms – if only all communities could be so. In my "Gayby education" I have learnt from Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham that it is far too easy for someone like me to take the concept of family for granted. Even though it may be my right to have a family, it is not my right – or anyone else's – to define it for another.
In 2011, I watched a You Tube video of a teenager, Zach Wahls, who stood in the Iowan House of Representatives and spoke about the strength of his family – most particularly his two lesbian mothers. The video went viral. Today it has been viewed more than 3 million times and Zach has become a spokesman for an entire generation of kids raised by same-sex parents. Zach's speech hit the headlines just two weeks after Maya and I had begun developing Gayby Baby. We were so excited by the video – it validated everything we had been feeling about making the film. The stories of kids with gay parents really could demystify the gay family unit, offer a new perspective in the marriage equality debate, and perhaps even help the wider community re-evaluate what really matters when it comes to family. We suddenly knew the film had to be made. Of course there were a couple of small issues for our two-woman band. Namely: we had no money, and no kids.
So we did what any passionate but under-resourced person would do – we looked to friends and families for advice, we borrowed cars, we asked LGBTI community groups for introductions. It was the beginning of what has become the defining feature of the film's production: the spirit of grassroots people-power.
To find the kids, we approached almost every LGBTI organisation in Australia and invited parents and kids to be interviewed. We did it the old fashioned way: phone calls, flyers and newsletters. Responses started coming in, a trickle at first, then a whole lot. We still had no money, but suddenly we had families and kids – lots of them – willing to help. It struck me then (and has many times since), that the gay community is an incredible mobiliser. When there is a cause that matters to them, they don't just get behind it, they spring into action and pull everyone around them into the vortex.
In the end there were around 60 kids interviewed from all around Australia. It was a slightly mad time, but also an exciting one. Audiences watching the finished film will have no idea just how much time was spent with various families before we decided on the four kids you see in the film.
To those families I extend much gratitude. They were willing to share their lives with us – an incredibly brave act – and like with any documentary, there were more wonderful stories than we could have ever included. It was not easy to choose which kids we would focus on, but choose we did.
One of them was Ebony, who we met at an LGBTI family event. Another was Matt, whose mothers had just been chosen to have dinner with Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Finally, there was Gus and Graham who were both introduced to us through family and friends. Once we had decided upon them, Maya sprang into action with a homemade camera rig, spending days, weeks and months, in their homes. She developed an intimacy with the families, which in my mind, is one of the great strengths of the film.
Part way through filming we heard about crowdfunding. As emerging filmmakers it was always going to be difficult to finance the film traditionally, so we decided to give this new model a go. Once again the community around us delivered: we launched the campaign at a friend's gallery space, editing and music for our video was supplied by other filmmakers, we received in-kind publicity support from LGBTI press, and beautiful advertising postcards were designed and printed free of charge; the generosity was incredible.
For weeks Maya and I lived and breathed that campaign – it was gruelling. We did crazy things like waiting outside a prominent morning show's background set with huge signs, hoping to be seen.
About this time, Mitzi Goldman of Documentary Australia Foundation took Gayby Baby under her wing and began planting in Maya and me the seeds of what an outreach campaign for the film could look like. Mitzi encouraged us to think outside the box and be inventive about how the film might reach its audience.
She introduced us to the concept of Good Pitch, which the film was later selected for, in the first ever Good Pitch Australia, held in October 2014.
Through the Good Pitch process, guided by Malinda Wink, Ian Darling, Beadie Finzi, Ruth Johnstone and the rest of the Good Pitch team, we came full circle.
Right as we were in the midst of finishing the film we were taken back to where it all started: dreaming about what the film could achieve, how it could shake up out-dated systems, and remembering what it felt like to watch the Zach Wahls video for the first time.
This reflection and the partnerships that came from Good Pitch have given rise to our outreach program: The Gayby Project. It's an ambitious program that extends the film from a strictly screen experience, to a viable resource for some of the key issue areas we came into contact with in the making of the film.
The program targets: discriminatory legislation, awareness-raising, the up-resourcing of schools in the area of family diversity, and the building of an online hub that supports diverse families.
I have big hopes for what this film could do, but at the end of the day, it really belongs to the kids. Along with their families, Gus, Ebony, Matt, and Graham have given the world an incredible gift in sharing their stories. We have been sensitive to their views and careful to ensure they are all happy and comfortable with the finished film and its release, acknowledging too, that this time in their lives is now forever recorded for posterity.
I hope that in some way their gift – the film – can echo in the lives of other Gayby kids and in the communities we all share, informing the dialogue around family for the next generation.
Maya is an Australian filmmaker with a focus on directing for documentary.
After winning a scholarship for Sydney Film School and completing a BA Media & Communications, Maya made a mid-length documentary, Richard: The Most Interestingest Person I've Ever Met. Her award-winning short, Two, screened at festivals internationally and she was awarded Best New Documentary Talent of Australia at AIDC, Adelaide Film Festival. Her recent film Growing Up Gayby, made in collaboration with Charlotte Mars, broadcast on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 2013.
Maya has spent the last four years filming in the homes of children being raised by gay and lesbian parents. Gayby Baby raised more than $100,000 via crowdfunding, a record at the time for any Australian documentary, and was selected for Good Pitch Australia. The Gayby Baby team is now rolling out the first stages of a social impact campaign to promote family diversity in schools and communities. Gayby Baby is Maya's debut feature.