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The Reeler Blog

Bible, Kid New All Over Again

Bishop Gene Robinson (second from left), one of the subjects of Daniel Karslake's documentary For the Bible Tells Me So (Photo: First Run Films)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

I'm a firm believer in Reeler Karma, which dictates that any outreach to this site by filmmakers, distributors and other industrygoers comes back as a lifetime (or at least a few months) of brilliant luck and golden karma. And while, sure, the new documentaries For the Bible Tells Me So and My Kid Could Paint That are terrific films that both premiered at one of the world's most prestigious festival markets, directors Daniel Karslake and Amir Bar-Lev were Reeler alums before they were Sundance success stories. The lesson is clear, is it not?

Take Karslake for example, a first-time filmmaker whose Bible illuminates a handful of Christian families struggles to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural teachings. We spoke in January about the film's genesis, which included a trial run on PBS's In the Life and a bit of fan mail that spurred Karslake to further action:

I got an e-mail from a gay kid in Iowa who had seen the story the night before. It was something like five lines: "Last week I bought the gun. Yesterday I wrote the note. Last night I happened to see your show, and just knowing that some day, somewhere, I might be able to go back into my church with my head held high, I threw the gun in the river. My mom never has to know." It was the first of many e-mails like that I got over the next three years because I started doing a lot of religion reporting for In the Life. They realized how many gay people -- especially in the middle of the country -- were not even aware that religious people of all types were really starting to understand the Bible differently. So that e-mail for me was really what fueled all of my work.

And as I produced more and more for In the Life, I got frustrated because In the Life is really hard to find on PBS; it's not part of the feed, so it's on at different times in all different markets, and it was also kind of preaching to the choir a little bit. It's really only watched by gay and lesbian people, and I really wanted straight people to at least start to consider this. That's why I decided to make the film. I wanted to make a film that really appealed to a more mainstream audience, that told stories of non-gay people who were struggling with this. This is not a movie about the gay people and gay kids; it's really about the parents, because I really want straight audiences to see themselves on-screen and see what that struggle is -- and also see where these couple have come from, and where they've arrived.

There's lots more where that came from last January, just as there is with My Kid Could Paint That, the story of supposed 4-year-old art prodigy Marla Olmstead and the controversy behind her paintings' authorship. Bar-Lev joined us for an interview before his own Park City run, and we caught up with him at his film's stunning premiere as well:

Bar-Lev [had] made note of both a Park City installation of Marla Olmstead's work during the Sundance Film Festival as well as the expected attendance of [Marla's parents Mark and Laura Olmstead. But Press & Sun-Bulletin reporter Elizabeth Cohen, who wrote the original news story about Marla Olmstead and was featured as a subject in My Kid Could Paint That, arrived onstage with a statement from Laura Olmstead, whom she said decided against a Sundance trip at the last minute.

"When we met Amir Bar-Lev three years ago and he expressed interest in our daughter's work, we accepted him into our home and lives," Cohen said, reading from the statement. "But we are heartbroken by some of the choices he made in his portrayal of our family in the editing of this film. We feel the question of the authenticity of our daughter's paintings has been answered. ... In her innocence, she feels complimented by the idea that people think she could not compose her paintings alone. We also felt dismayed by this, and it's our hope that the media will lay the issue to rest at last. The controversy over her authorship has been painful and humiliating for our family."

Bar-Lev responds here, while Reeler critic Vadim Rizov weighs in on the film this week in his review. All's well that ends well, I suppose, and for that which ends with a little more complexity, you can bet it came through these pages at some point along the way.

**For the Bible Tells Me So opens today at the Quad Cinema; My Kid Could Paint That opens today at the Angelika and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.**

Posted at October 5, 2007 12:10 AM

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