LOVE FREE OR DIE is about a man whose two defining passions are in direct conflict: his love for God and for his partner Mark. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the historic traditions of Christendom. His consecration in 2003, to which he wore a bullet-proof vest, caused an international stir, and he has lived with death threats every day since.
The film follows Robinson’s personal story as American churches debate whether or not lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of God while our nation debates whether LGBT people are equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of the law.
In LOVE FREE OR DIE, Bishop Gene steps onto the world stage as he travels from small-town churches to Washington’s Lincoln Memorial to London’s Lambeth Palace calling for all to stand for equality – inspiring bishops, priests and ordinary folk to come out from the shadows and change history.
LOVE FREE OR DIE reunites the filmmaking team of Macky Alston and Sandra Itkoff who collaborated on The Killer Within. Alston also directed Family Name which premiered at Sundance and prior production credits for Itkoff include Defamation, Cadillac Desert.
When Gene Robinson became a bishop of the Episcopal Church’s New Hampshire diocese in 2003, it was a watershed moment for organized religion, to be sure. Yet to merely deem the election of the first openly gay non-celibate priest in the history of major Christian denominations a “watershed” is to understate the rather extraordinary significance of a single act that overturned a millennia-old tradition of intolerance.
Macky Alston’s documentary Love Free or Die is a film worthy of that momentous event. It follows the courageous Bishop Gene as he faces a wealth of hatred and distrust. He is excluded from the Anglican Church’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, and he faces death threats, cruel hecklers, and more while fighting for full-fledged equality in his church and a newfound understanding of the Bible’s most controversial elements.
Robinson, a folksy native Southerner with charm to spare, is a relentless advocate for LGBT rights, adept at interpreting scripture from that vantage point in a positive and forward-thinking way. Beneath his good-humored exterior, though, is the steel-eyed focus and unbending will of a man who knows he’s on an essential crusade for justice and won’t stop until he gets it.
Sure, we meet the bishop’s husband and his daughters and learn small blips of biographical details. We watch as he wins over skeptical parishioners. But the movie is not some quirky piece about an unlikely clergyman. It’s a story rooted to the here-and-now, an exploration of the most-essential front in what remains the last great civil rights issue. A certain understanding of religion, of course, is at the heart of homophobia. Change that paradigm and you’re on to something massive.
Love Free or Die is also an effective chronicle of a church in crisis. Alston incorporates conflicting, passionate testimony from Robinson’s colleagues to starkly illustrate the enormous schism facing the Episcopal communion. From a dramatic standpoint, the filmmaker has the good fortune of capturing the seminal 2009 Anaheim convention, at which the questions of ordaining gay bishops and officiating at gay marriages were conclusively addressed amid heartfelt public testimonies and a heated debate.
At the center of it all is Robinson, leading the charge that must be led and fighting the fight that must be fought. He’s put a great amount of trust in Alston here, in a sense signing over custody of the cause to the filmmaker. The best thing that can be said about this fine enterprise is that it befits the unsung American hero at its heart. (http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/)
V. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, having served as Canon to the Ordinary (Assistant to the Bishop) for nearly 18 years. He was consecrated a Bishop on All Saints Sunday, November 2, 2003, and was invested as the Ninth Bishop of New Hampshire on March 7, 2004.
A 1969 graduate of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, he has a B.A. in American Studies/History. In 1973, he completed the M.Div. degree at the General Theological Seminary in New York, was ordained deacon, and then priest, serving as Curate at Christ Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey. Much of his ministry has focused on helping congregations and clergy, especially in times of conflict, utilizing his skills in congregational dynamics, conflict resolution and mediation.
He holds two honorary doctorates and has received numerous awards from national civil rights organizations. His story is featured in the 2007 feature-length documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” In 2008 Gene’s book “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God” (Seabury Books, New York) was released.Bishop Robinson has been active particularly in the area of full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people. Working at the state, national and international levels, he has spoken and lobbied for equal protection under the law and full civil marriage rights. He has been honored by many LGBT organizations for this work, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, GLAD, NH Civil Liberties Union, GLAAD, and the Equality Forum.
Bishop Robinson was invited by Barack Obama to give the invocation at the opening inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18, 2009. The Bishop’s next book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, will be published by Alfred Knopf in the fall of 2012.