When five fathers of trans kids join Dennis Shepard, the father of slain gay college student Matthew Shepard, for a weekend fishing trip in rural Oklahoma, they find common purpose across races, generations and experiences.
THE DADS had its World Premiere screening at SXSW in the Documentary Shorts Competition strand. Directed by Luchina Fisher, whose documentary Mama Gloria screened at BFI Flare in 2021, THE DADS screened at this year’s BFI Flare. We sat down for a chat with the Films Director.
Please can you tell us about the premise of ‘The Dads’ – How did this film come about?
I was at a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) event for LGBTQ youth called Time to Thrive and overheard Dennis Shepard, Wayne Maines and Frank Gonzales talking about going hunting or fishing in Texas or Wyoming, and I thought about the juxtaposition between these men doing typical masculine things and their pride and outspoken support for their LGBTQ children. I thought that would be an interesting film. And I invited myself along. Ultimately, HRC partnered with me and we brought three more dads into the mix.
How do you think your upbringing has influenced your storytelling vision as a whole?
Great question. I was raised an Army brat, so I lived in different parts of the U.S. and Germany. Living outside of the U.S. as a kid allowed me to see myself as more than just a Black person in America, but it also meant I didn’t fit in any one box when I returned to the U.S. I also grew up with an older brother (the writer and artist Gary Fisher) who was gay, and he and my father had a very difficult relationship. When my brother told me he had AIDS in 1993, he implored me to use my storytelling skills to do something about it. So I made my first short film – The Black Faces of AIDS.
What made you pursue filmmaking?
I’ve loved movies since I was little, watching them in the movie theater with my siblings, at the drive-in with my parents, and on the military base in Germany. I would be both transported into the story and curious about the process of creating it. But I came up at a time when there were very few Black female directors, so I didn’t even know that was an option for me. I studied journalism instead and became a journalist. But when I received a Rotary scholarship to study abroad a few years later, I chose the film and television program at the University of Bristol in England. And that was the beginning of my long filmmaking journey.
What roadblocks did you face when you were starting out, if any?
I think the biggest roadblock was not seeing examples of what I wanted to be and how to achieve it. Without a path to the industry, I sort of created my own – which I think a lot of creatives do anyway. I gave myself my own greenlight and wrote grants or crowdfunded my first short films. I made films on the side, while keeping my day job as a journalist. Then in 2018, I decided to go for it, and began making my first documentary feature, Mama Gloria, which came out in 2020 and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award in 2022. I’ve been a full-time filmmaker ever since.
We loved the chemistry between the Dads in the film – can you tell us a bit about the filming process and how you captured that?
All of my projects start with trust. I knew most of these dads already, through our work for HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council. We had several conversations before we began filming and I explained to them my vision of the film, so they would understand how we would be capturing their images and conversations. Some of them already had established friendships with one or two or more of the guys. We all stayed in one large house together and I kept our crew small — mainly my regular DP Eric Miclette and his partner, my producer Shan Shan Tam.
What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of this film, at any stage in production?
I think the hardest choice was sticking with my decision to shoot all of the interior dialogue using slow motion and voice over only. Having just worked on a film that was shot mostly verite, I found myself second-guessing at times. And I worried once we got into edit if we would have enough visuals to make it work. I’m glad I stuck to it – because I think it’s really powerful how it turned out.
What other directors, films or TV programs influenced this film?
I love the work my fellow sister in cinema Crystal Kayiza is doing. She just won the Sundance jury award for her short film Rest Stop. I love her visuals and her work with characters within a landscape. I really want to push myself more visually.
How different was what you originally envisioned the film being like and how it eventually turned out?
With documentary, you always end up finding a different story in the edit than the one you originally envisioned. Such is the case here. I think the elder, Dennis, takes a backseat to the other fathers and represents the past, while Stephen takes center stage and represents the future.
Which film has inspired you the most?
That’s a tough question! I am inspired by so many films and each one is so different. I look to different films for inspiration depending on what I’m working on, because I think each of my films is so different and deserve their own treatment based on the story I’m telling.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers out there ?Keep going, don’t stop! Filmmaking is all about encountering roadblocks and figuring out how to get around them. That’s where real creativity comes in. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and want to help you achieve your dream. Don’t give up your day job until you can. And keep on pushing!
Finally what’s next for you?
Is there anything else in the works we need to know about? Can you tell us more about your upcoming project(s)?
My other short on the circuit, Team Dream, will premiere on BET on Mar. 24. A film I co-directed with Kate Davis on the barriers to Black homeownership called Locked Out will premiere next month on the festival circuit. I have a project on Black queer representation in music that I’ll be pitching at Black Public Media’s PitchBlack competition next month. And I am continuing to work on the project I started years ago about my brother, Gary Fisher, who continues to be an influence and guiding light on my work.