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Frameline is Back: Showcasing the Naval Academy
by Mara Math
Sub Commander Hall takes his baby out under the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: courtesy S. C. Hall
When Steve Clark Hall bought his first camera two years ago, he had never attended a film class, had no filmmaking experience, and didn’t know how to use an Apple computer. He’s still never taken a film class, but Saturday, June 26, his well-crafted and groundbreaking full-length documentary “Out of Annapolis” will premiere at the Castro Theatre as part of Frameline 34. The doc details the experiences of lesbians and gays at the elite U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, from the days of the witchhunts four decades ago to the alleged liberalism of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Hall is well versed on the subject. He graduated from Annapolis, served on dozens of ships, eventually commanded the nuclear submarines USS Greenling and USS Drum, and he is gay. Fifty-something and a native San Franciscan, he currently resides in the Castro.
“I went to the Frameline school of film,” Hall explains, “beginning eleven years ago this closing night, when a friend dragged me to my very first Frameline.” He became an enthusiastic supporter – indeed, eventually an obsessive viewer. “One year I saw 50 screenings, with the intention of learning how to do this.”
Six years ago, Hall decided he wanted to make a film for Frameline. “The film that I made is not the film that I wanted to make,” he says, recalling the “fun, sexy, dirty, men-in-uniform narrative short” – although it was “not porn,” he adds and a good learning experience. Instead, Hall made his first serious film as the outgrowth of usnaout.com, a Website for students at Annapolis who were queer.
Some submariner boys catch some rays far out at sea circa 1985. Photo: courtesy S. C. Hall
“The Website is about who we are,” says Hall. USNA Out first went up in 2007, to encourage the then-hundred or so out lesbians and gays who had attended Annapolis to tell their stories. In loaning personal artifacts to the LGBT Historical Society’s exhibit on queers in the military that June – including snapshots of his uniform, and a model of the nuclear submarine he commanded – Hall came to realize how much interest there was in the topic. Consequently, he took over the original, single-page site, started by John Sewell, and expanded it significantly.
“A year later, I was watching a silly documentary about Project Runway, and I thought, why don’t we take our Website and turn it into a film?” He began by asking people associated with Frameline about the idea. “Make sure the sound is good!” was the one piece of advice from Linda Harrison, then the chair of the Frameline board.
In between the Web site and the film was the Out of Annapolis Project, which focused on “finding out who we were as a group,” a task for which Hall interviewed approximately 200 post-Annapolis queers, including old classmates. “As soon as any of our straight classmates or teammates finds out that someone they know is gay,” Hall relays, “It changes their concept of who gays are.”
“Out from Annapolis” itself is also not the film Hall intended it to be a year ago. The first of two audiences he had in mind were straight peers who do not realize they’ve already been working and living with real live homosexuals. But another audience grew in importance along the way: the queer kids at the Academy.
“I had only met one gay midshipman [Acad- emy cadet] in my life when I started the film,” Hall recalls. That midshipman gathered all the queer cadets he knew, minus one, for an evening with the director, and talking with those 18 students changed Hall’s focus. “Meeting these kids, I decided, this project is not good enough for them. I needed the film to do them a service – that’s why I ended up spending another full year on the film.”
Having mapped out nine months to make “Out in Annapolis,” Hall and his crew, now at Month 22, are just completing the final HD cut for Frameline’s screening. Expenditures increased in tandem. Asked about the total cost, Hall laughs. “I don’t know the answer, I’m afraid to add it all up! I had an initial budget of $25K – I’m over three times that now, of course.”
Unusually for a first-time director, Hall not only decided against applying for a completion grant, feeling that others needed it more, but also turned down several proffered grants. ”I thought, omigod, if I took someone’s money, I’d have to guarantee the product was good, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.” Less surprisingly, perhaps, the former nuclear submarine commander adds, “And I didn’t want to be accountable to be someone else.” A DYIer, he financed the film himself via a home equity loan.
The crew was all volunteer, at least half of them USNA Out participants, with director/producer Hall filling multiple other roles: “I was the camera guy and the audio guy because I can read a technical manual.” He credits his naval and Academy background as contributing to his technical proficiency and the successful teamwork. Indeed, none of the crew had film experience, although the professional photographer Paul Culver was of great assistance in restoring the stills, many of which were so damaged they required three hours of work apiece.
Although the eleven people interviewed are unusually articulate, Hall says he did not choose them with that in mind. “What is a shame is the number of people who gave absolutely wonderful interviews, but whom I couldn’t include because their stories would overlap. I wanted to show the most accurate cross-section of the 300 of us [queer former cadets] that I could: [including] age, gender, those who stayed in versus those who left [expelled or self-outed].” Nor did he exclude anyone to achieve the surprisingly positive viewpoint of the Academy. Despite sometimes harsh treatment and truncated careers, only one person felt going to the Academy had been a mistake, he says, and all value their Academy experience.
Those who appear in the film will attend the Castro screening and Q&A. “Since five of the eleven are from New York, we decided it was OK to do one small screening there as part of NewFest,” Hall says, “but we feel the Castro showing is our real worldwide premiere.” Indeed, it is, especially since Hall himself is a long-term resident, though much of his time there was closeted, due to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Other local entries in this year’s festival include “Transfrancisco,” a look at trans lives in the Bay Area; “The Chorus”, an examination of AIDS through the lens of the decimated Gay Men’s Chorus; and “The Stranger Inside,” a debut narrative set in San Francisco.
Posted on Jun 03, 2010 - 02:42 PM