Many of us had challenging upbringings, but few of them could compare to Taylor Greeson's experiences during the summer of 1993. Greeson, who was then twelve years old, was ordained with the Mormon priesthood, lost his virginity to an older man and suffered the murder of his older brother, Charlie, during that fateful season.
Greeson has more recently made an eloquent, autobiographical documentary entitled Meadowlark, which has been playing the film festival circuit. The director returned to his home state of Montana (he now lives in Los Angeles) and confronted unresolved issues related to his faith, sexuality and loss. It climaxes with Greeson meeting the man who was convicted of killing his brother.
Shot in a straightforward, non-sensational manner, Meadowlark has a quiet power. I felt privileged to see it as well as speak with Greeson about his experience making it.
CC: What inspired you to commit your recollections and journey on film?
TG: I was always amazed when my mom talked about my brother Charlie because she was never afraid to mention his death to complete strangers, even when it was a little uncomfortable to do so. By sharing our difficult stories with one another I think we all start to understand each other more profoundly, and we prevent ourselves from simply forgetting the past.
I decided to make this film because it was a way for me to better understand events that I had never really confronted as an adult. The film required me to ponder questions I had never before asked myself, and the camera allowed me to focus my search for answers because it functioned as a filter. I would show the footage I shot to friends and colleagues and tell stories as the images played silently on screen. The more I did this, the more I found recurring themes and motifs that presented themselves as I continued the cycle of filming, printing the footage, and screening it silently for friends.
CC: What have been viewers' reactions to Meadowlark?
TG: People have responded very warmly. I think people are somewhat amazed or perplexed that anyone would choose to delve into the past like this and then record the journey for others, but after watching the film, most of the viewers I have talked to are moved by the story and express their gratitude that they were given the chance to witness something so personal. I've talked to many, many people who were touched by this film because they had also lost loved ones who died earlier than they should have. But you don't have to have had a family member die to understand loss, and I think for that reason Meadowlark really resonates with audiences.
CC: What were your mother's and other family members' reactions to the film?
TG: My mother is very proud of me and of what I have done. I think my mom is far more moved by what the film could mean to others than what it means to her. I thought my family would be uncomfortable seeing themselves on the big screen in front of so many other people, but they weren't. In fact, they were pretty much un-phased by what I thought would be a very vulnerable situation. Nothing in my family is taboo and everything is right on the surface, no matter how uncomfortable or private! I discovered that we are not a shy bunch.
CC: Are you currently in a relationship or partnership? If so, how have your experiences of 1993 impacted your relationships and life today?
TG: Tough question! I have been with my boyfriend, Seth, for nine years now. Mike was really my first boyfriend and I think that, no matter who you are, your first love (or what you think is your first love) has a life-long effect on you. I don't know if I could enumerate all of the ways in which my relationship with Mike has shaped who I am. I can say that I have definitely learned a lesson or two about emotional blackmail and also about forgiveness.
My brother's death has certainly shaped who I am and how I interact with others. I think I have a high level of anxiety about farewells and I tend to come off as disinterested or unemotional when saying good-bye. I think generally that the intensity of emotions I felt upon my brother's death has blunted the level of emotion that I now show in a number of situations. I also have a sensitivity to violence of any kind and am unnerved by yelling. That's hard for Seth because he grew up in a family with six children -- you had to yell just to be heard!
On the bright side, I think I have a sense of compassion and understanding that people intuitively feel from me.
CC: How did you feel sitting down with and talking to the man who murdered your brother? Have you had any further communication with him since you finished Meadowlark?
TG: Once I decided that I was going to speak with Frank Fuhrmann, I didn't really feel anything until the day of our dialogue. I was so overwhelmed by what I was about to do that it's hard to describe any one particular emotion. I am very glad that I decided to speak with him though. My preparation for our dialogue forced me to question my fundamental beliefs about forgiveness and justice. I think I found humanity in Frank, and ultimately I don't want Charlie's death to cause anyone more suffering, even for his killer.
CC: Do you have any church (Latter Day Saints or otherwise) or religious involvement currently?
TG: I am fascinated by many religions and I have a deep, deep love of LDS history, but I am really not a spiritual person, and I have no desire to be. Right now, I am very displeased with the Mormon faith because of the church's general support of Prop 8. I still have LDS friends, though, and I hope they are among the many LDS who are in opposition to the church's stance!
CC: What are your future plans/hopes for Meadowlark? Do you have any new projects in the works?
TG: Meadowlark was just nominated for a Gotham Independent Film Award for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You." It will be screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in November, and the award winner will be announced on December 2. I'm not sure of any other screenings at the moment, but I believe there will be others. I'm also hoping that it will be released on DVD in some form within the next year.
I'm currently working on a film about Mormon Fundamentalists and the practice of polygamy. I think it's an incredibly interesting topic to explore, especially from the point of view of a gay man.
UPDATE: Meadowlark is now available for free streaming via the online documentary website SnagFilms.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.