The Daedalus Project concluded its three-day film festival portion Sunday night with the documentary “Broken Heart Land,” which viewers said they found deeply moving, heart breaking and inspiring. “I'm blown away,” said audience member Tim Davies, from Portland. “This movie makes me want to work harder for my kids, for this country. We're doing them a disservice not talking about sex and sex ed,” he added.
“Broken Heart Land” portrays the aftermath of what happened when Zack Harrington, a gay teen, commits suicide at his parent’s home in Norman, Okla. Many linked the young man's actions with a local city council meeting regarding a proposal for a local LGBTQ History Month. During the public comment portion of the meeting, some prominent community members made hurtful anti-gay statements and quoted erroneous statistics to equate homosexuality with the spread of diseases such as HIV. Only after his death do Zack's parents learn of his HIV-positive diagnosis, something he'd kept a secret for over a year. As politically conservative, military veterans, they must reconcile their beliefs with their son’s tragic death. As they come to understand his anguish and see the world through their son's eyes, they also start to work for the rights and education of all gay teens.
In addition to the emotional fallout from Zack tragic death, the film examines the struggles of the LGBT Community in America's conservative bible belt and calls for greater awareness regarding HIV/AIDS and the importance of comprehensive sex education programs. Many states, including Oklahoma, don't allow any mention of homosexuality in public education or severely restrict discussion of homosexuality and HIV.
The film's directors, siblings Jeremy and Randy Stulberg, met the Harringtons during a candlelit vigil and spent nearly three years working on “Broken Heart Land.” Zack's parents, Van and Nancy Harrington, were in attendance and spoke to the audience after the screening. “We want to be at all the screenings we can of this film,” said Nancy Harrington. “We want to put a face to this struggle so no other family goes through this, so no parent loses a child.” Her husband Van agreed. “We dream that people in Oklahoma have the same attitude as here. I wish I'd known about Ashland four years ago. I would have brought Zack out here,” said Van Harrington. “He would have loved it.”
After the presentation, audience member Gina DuQuenne embraced Nancy Harrington. “Thank you for coming out and speaking, for doing such important work for gay teens and for their parents,” she said. “I'm proud of these people. What a gift they are,” added DuQuenne.
“They are so brave to take all their vulnerability and pain, and to use it as a force for good,” said audience member Mark Bedard. “The film made me cry.”
For more than 20 years, people from the Rogue Valley and beyond have come together for the Daedalus Project to raise money and awareness to end the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to honor its victims. So far, the Daedalus Project has raised over $1.4 million. This is the second year the OSF company has partnered with the Ashland Independent Film Festival and Coming Attractions Theatres to add films to the program. In addition to “Broken Heart Land,” the festival screened six other films, including the new HBO film, “The Normal Heart.” The program also included an afternoon play reading, a variety show, a craft sale and a 5-K run. “The whole week is one big party,” said visitor Francine Martin, “I've come a few times over the years from Reno, and it's always great, but I'm glad there is a film component now.”
For information about the Daedalus Project, visit osfashland.org/daedalus. To see a trailer for “Broken Heart Land,” visit brokenheartland.com.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.