In Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, filmmaker Michele Josue states she’s not exactly looking for closure, but for more of an understanding of Shepard’s life and unfair demise. However, as we watch her trace through Shepard’s life and interview those who were brightened by Matt’s personality, it’s fairly clear that in order for her to comprehend the tragedy, she feels the need to provide a final word. Maybe not from herself, but by those who also loved Matt.
Josue’s heartfelt documentary is kept in the present tense. Even though Matt is not physically living, his spirit is alive. The film doesn’t start with the past. It doesn’t tour his influential life up until his cruel withdrawal from the world where two men savagely beat the young man to death and left him die on the outskirts of Wyoming. Instead, the documentary is a reunion without crossing into being a full-blown feature-length eulogy.
People speak about their fond memories of Matt. There’s that time Matt sparked up an intellectual conversation, that other time Shepard made others feel like they belonged no matter how different they appeared to be, and so on. Shepard could perhaps empathize with insecurities since he had been keeping secretive about his own homosexuality.
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is a project that’s been made by love. It’s a touching experience to watch Josue piece together the ultimate affection collection. Since Josue was a close friend of Matt’s, she has no interest in dissecting what made the unjust killers tick. In an unexpected, unscripted sequence with a priest, she’s tearfully passionate in explaining her frustration with the priest’s views expressing how Matt and his murderers are seen as equal under the eyes of God.
The bias isn’t a problem. Josue makes it perfectly clear that her film is not a political one. If the audience is interested in that sort of documentary, I wholeheartedly recommend Valentine Road, a doc that’s not afraid to look at a hate crime from both perspectives. Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine’s purpose is to honour a friend, a relative, and an outspoken individual. And, it does so with professionalism and sophistication.
For a first-time filmmaker, Michele Josue’s gives her film an invigorating style, using various ways to show the rapid change in Shepard’s life. Through his travels to different destinations, to the range from Matt’s lighthearted outlook to his darker moments.
The subject matter has an understandably sombre ambience as the film approaches the unfortunate inevitable. This doesn’t mean the film is constantly sad though. The film’s final third shows how this turmoil influenced people to push forward and make a change. While the film deals with heartbreak, it encourages movie goers to find inner strength.
Keeping up with Michele Josue’s amazing doc, I’ll also keep matters in the present tense. Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine will be one of the best documentaries you will see this year.