This Is What Love In Action Looks Like

This Is What Love In Action Looks Like


Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

Negotiating the journey from adolescence to adulthood is a perilous enough task for most of us. When you're gay and your parents are hardcore practising Christians that journey must be all the more arduous. That's the starting point for film-maker Morgan Jon Fox's richly rewarding documentary, This Is What Love In Action Looks Like.

Fox, named in 2009 as one of the '25 new faces of Independent Film' by Filmmaker magazine, has spent six years bringing this emotionally fraught but ultimately uplifting tale to the public at large. In 2005, 16-year-old Zach Stark came out to his parents and found himself signed up against his will to a controversial anti-gay therapy programme run by the 'ex-gay' Love in Action ministry based in Memphis, Tennessee.

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Love in Action has somehow been around since the early Seventies, promoting its abhorrent, wrong-headed belief that being gay is akin to being an alcoholic or drug addict; an affliction, a disease, and one that can be cured. The course included laughably stereotypical rules, such as the banning of 'camp' behaviour and CDs of musicals as well as the teaching of basic car mechanics. The assumption that avoiding listening to the original soundtrack of Cabaret and pursuing more 'manly' activities would turn gay men straight is almost as bizarre as the fact that some men entered the programme voluntarily.

Sent to be 'fixed' at 'straight camp', as he, his friends and others familiar with the course call it, Stark posted his dismay at his situation on his MySpace page. His heartfelt thoughts went viral, leading to a grass-roots protest movement to have him released from the programme, and the programme itself shut down. Fox's traditionally structured documentary, featuring talking head interviews, archive and contemporary footage and onscreen graphics, details the events that unfolded over the next two years as the programme came under increasing scrutiny.

With the likes of CNN, the Montel Williams Show and the New York Times putting the ministry, its programme and its larger, founding organisation, Exodus, under the spotlight, Love in Action and its members were faced with public opprobrium and eventually the possibility of legal action. Its attempts to inoculate minors, who had been forced or coerced to attend the course, against the gay lifestyle was judged to be illegal, and Love in Action's 'Refuge' course was finally shut down in 2007.

Interviewees include members of the protest group, including Fox himself, various people who have been through the course – both voluntarily and by parental force – and, most intriguingly, the programme's director, John Smid. Although irritatingly, and needlessly, soundtracked by emotionally manipulative 'uplifting', 'inspirational' music, This Is What Love In Action Looks Like is an endearing testament to the power of grass-roots activism and social networking, the durability of the human spirit and the vital role that documentary film itself plays in recording, analysing and preserving the complex, often tumultuous, lives that we lead. That Smid would undergo his own Damascene conversion and offer a full, public apology is a credit to him and also highlights the ability, of some at least, to 'see the light' over their once passionately held beliefs.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2012
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This Is What Love In Action Looks Like packshot
Documentary profiling a controversial anti-gay therapy program run by Love in Action.

Director: Morgan Jon Fox

Year: 2011

Runtime: 74 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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