"I'm not getting much sleep these days," says Lawrence-based filmmaker Tim DePaepe. "I'm to the point where I have to make an appointment to take myself out to dinner." With one project in the works and his documentary "Shades of Gray" making its international debut, the director has reason to be tired.
The film, about gay life in Kansas and the successful 1994 proposal to add the words "sexual orientation" to Lawrence's discrimination policies, will be featured as part of this year's Festival du Film Independant in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 7-12. DePaepe recalls that it is the first time his movie will play at a major festival.
"When I got the e-mail from Brussels, I literally cried for 10 minutes," he recalls. "I had, in the last nine months, pretty much given up on getting into a festival outside of the area. We couldn't even get into FilmFest Kansas City. We had been rejected from every place in the world: Sundance, Slamdance. There was no one going to 'dance' with us. There's just so much product out, and there's not enough space to accommodate the films."
DePaepe credits the American Film Institute's Steve Montal, who attended the documentary's first showing at the most recent Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee, for why the Brussels festival was so receptive. The virulently homophobic minister Fred Phelps, who is interviewed in "Shades of Gray," led a picket of the screening.
"(Montal) had come to Kansas City to be a judge, and he had talked with Edward Stencel, the producer, and me," DePaepe explains. "It was insane: a protest, a police helicopter and four cop cars. That's really not a bad opening for a documentary about Kansas.
"One thing that has caught their eye, and with people everywhere, is how appalled people are with Fred Phelps and with the absurdity of that kind of hatred. I think it does stir something in the European consciousness to see that kind of hatred," he says.
Before he leaves for Europe, DePaepe will attend three screenings of "Shades of Gray" at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Nov. 5, and 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union at Kansas University.
'True Colors' shining through
The Lawrence screenings of "Shades of Gray" occur shortly after the filmmaker's next project, "True Colors." It premieres on Sunday at the Arvin Gottlieb City Dome Theater at Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Road in Kansas City, Mo. Using the high-tech features of the City Dome (lasers, video projection, 360-degree presentation), "True Colors" combines historical footage and contemporary interviews to recall bigotry in the last century. The presentation features commentary from baseball legend Buck O'Neill, former Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Emanuel Cleaver and educator-musician Cornell Pewewardy from Lawrence. DePaepe's latest is a companion piece to "Remember the Children, Daniel's Story," a touring exhibition for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"In 26 minutes, we have to create a history of intolerance in the 20th century and tell people how they can combat it," DePaepe says. "There's no real narrative structure. It's more of a way to assault the audience in the first 10 minutes with the horror and atrocities of hate. For the next 17, I slowly bring them out of it and show them what they can do."
Working on "True Colors" allowed DePaepe to indulge in one of his fascinations: local music. "Shades of Gray" features tunes by Kansas City's The Rainmakers, while Tawni Freeland, the former guitarist/vocalist of Lawrence bands The Glitter Kicks and Frogpond, sings the title song for "True Colors."
"I don't know if it should be an obligation to include (local tunes), but it's a passion of mine to pool together as many of the artists I can, especially in the music scene," DePaepe says. "It gives me a chance to meet these people who I admire, and it gives me a chance to collaborate with them."
In both projects, he adds that local history contributed to the subject matter he explored. "In terms of Kansas, extending civil rights for sexual identity is very much in keeping with its philosophy at least within the northeast corner of the state," he says laughing.