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Talking Doc 'Valentine Road': Shedding Light on a Gay Teen's Murder and its Troubling Legal Aftermath

Interviews
by Beth Hanna
October 7, 2013 6:30 AM
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In a striking scene, Cunningham takes a fly-on-the-wall approach as she films three jurors in Brandon’s case discussing their views. The upshot of their conversation is that Larry’s homosexuality and cross-dressing made Brandon so uncomfortable that he essentially forced Brandon to shoot him. (It’s a sentiment that’s echoed, shockingly, by one of the teachers at Larry and Brandon’s middle school, too.) Cunningham said she would shout out questions and topics to the jurors occasionally, but generally just let them talk. Anyone who sees the scene will realize the restraint that would have taken.

The process of making the documentary was enlightening for Cunningham, too. “A huge piece of my research was discovering the organizations that were behind Brandon,” she says. This included the ACLU and even LGBT organizations. “I realized this was bigger than his ideology. This was something that is happening in the state of California, that is not getting recognized as a real issue. Our children are being sentenced with life terms, at 14 years old.”

Brandon ultimately was not given the life sentence. He will serve twenty years, to be released when he’s 39. Larry is buried at a cemetery in Ventura, located on Valentine Road.

The documentary premiered this year at Sundance, where it scored a Grand Jury Prize nomination. Cunningham describes the experience as “incredible,” and relayed a story of three Mormon teens approaching her after the screening, saying it had changed their views. “One thing I’ve noticed about these screenings is that for virtually every one people stay for the Q&A,” says Alpert. “They need to talk about the film after.”

Both Cunningham and Alpert stress that dialogue is what’s needed in order to avoid a tragedy like this happening again.

In Cunningham’s words, we need to be “getting out there, and getting into schools.”

“It needs to be a discussion between teachers, administrators and students,” adds Alpert. “About what they hope for, what went wrong in this case, and how to make things better in the future.”

"Valentine Road" airs October 7 on HBO.

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