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13th Annual Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival

By Amy Smith, August 25, 2000, Screens

That's a Family: Kids Say the Darnedest Things

The stars of That's a Family are regular kids who hail from refreshingly nontraditional households. They speak with candor about growing up with two moms or two dads ("My parents are lesbians -- that means they only like men for friends"), mixed-race and mixed-ethnicity parents ("You don't have to be a rat to marry a rat. You can be a rat and marry a mouse"), adoptive parents ("They don't rent you -- they keep you until you're really big, and really old!"); grandparents as guardians ("My grandma came and saw what we were going through and took us"), divorced parents ("I think they were fighting, like going, 'blah, blah, blah'"), and single-parent homes. ("If you have two parents, they share the money. My mom has to work really hard.") The common thread running through these vignettes is, of course, love. "It doesn't matter who's in the family," Fernando, the son of a single mother, tells us, "but it matters that you love each other and take care of each other."

Director Debra Chasnoff and executive producer Helen Cohen scouted the Bay area for more than 50 families of every make and model for their documentary. "It was a long, arduous process that took us to schools, school districts, and various social service agencies," Cohen says in a telephone interview from her office at Women's Educational Media in San Francisco. "It's really pounding-the-pavement kind of work." It was work that also spanned more than six years, with delays due in part to the 1996 release of Chasnoff and Cohen's It's Elementary, a kid-friendly documentary about gay education in public schools that was so successful it, in Cohen's words, "really blew us away." When the fanfare finally died down, the two got back to the business of making That's a Family. The film made its debut last June in San Francisco, where actor Robin Williams introduced That's a Family, calling it "an extraordinary film that teaches a poignant lesson about love and family."

The film hops along merrily and effortlessly; Chasnoff and Cohen clearly had their target audience in mind -- elementary and middle-school kids -- when they trimmed the huge undertaking down to a respectable 35 minutes. "We did not want to make just another boring educational film," Cohen explains.

Incidentally, the film is one of several family-oriented features and shorts included in this year's festival program. That makes sense when you consider today's statistics showing between six and 10 million children living in gay- or lesbian-headed households. (See related Politics story "The New Nuclear Family" on p.32.) AGLIFF pays tribute to those stats with a lineup including Our House (see sidebar) and "Baby Steps," a charmer featuring Kathy Bates, screening as part of "We're Having a Baby," a series of short films devoted to the gay baby boom (Sunday, Sept. 3, noon, Arbor).

Following the screening of That's a Family is the animated tale of "The Sissy Duckling," written by modern-day icon Harvey Fierstein, who plays the voice of -- you guessed it -- the sissy duckling.

That's a Family screens Sunday, Aug. 27, 12:30pm, Arbor

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