As Robert Eads puts it in one of the first scenes of this remarkable documentary, he lives in "Bubba-land"--which wouldn't be unusual if Robert weren't a female-to-male transsexual. Southern Comfort
chronicles the last year of Robert's life, as he succumbed to, ironically, cervical cancer; over that year, documentarian Kate Davis developed an amazing intimacy with Robert and his adopted family of other transsexuals living in the depths of Georgia, including his vivacious male-to-female transsexual girlfriend Lola. The film's title comes from an annual gathering that Robert describes as "the cotillion of the trans community, the coming-out party"--an event part convention, part high school prom. Every scene testifies to both the enormous difficulties they face and the grace, humor, and sheer will with which they take it all on. It's not surprising Southern Comfort
has won numerous awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. --Bret Fetzer
Special Message from Kate Davis, Director of Southern Comfort.
This June marks the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots. In June of 1969, for the first time, transgendered and gay youth fought back against the police because they were fed up with oppression, and many felt they had nothing to lose by risking their lives and throwing bricks at the establishment. To the amazement of many during those violent nights, they found they had a collective voice. This grew into the annual Gay Pride parades which continue across the world, all testaments to the power of speaking out.
These themes of courage and stepping out of the closet were also the backbone of Southern Comfort. When I met Robert Eads at a conference for transgendered men, I found myself living with a very hidden minority, hidden because they pass so well as men, and hidden to protect themselves against the daily perils of living as a transperson in a world which still persecutes them and makes every day a dangerous prospect.
The men in Southern Comfort were fine living their regular lives, and hardly jumped at the chance to be part of a documentary. In fact, Robert himself resisted for months, and one day called to tell me that he was up for it. That he would be dead by the time the film would be finished. And so we all started to help tell Robert's extraordinary tale of being a transman, a parent, a shotgun-toting guy who can pass for a classic Redneck from rural Georgia, and as someone who was falling in love during the final year of his life. During the filming, I began to hear one recurring idea: the importance of accepting oneself. From that comes the strength to live a more honest life, and from that comes the chance to open up the hearts and minds of others.
And so the six main people in Southern Comfort, most of whom had survived rejection from their families, friends, employers, and the medical world, decided it was time to speak out and let others know how that feels. That they are human too. Many times at the end of a shoot, I would fly back from Atlanta feeling inspired by their strength - wouldn't it be great if we all could simply accept ourselves? - but also I felt outraged that such prejudice still exists and continues to kill.
Southern Comfort has, since then, reached millions of people around the world. There was even a town in rural Japan which celebrated "Robert Eads Day." Those in the film now know they did a lot to help break down stereotypes about those society condemns for being different. In a quieter way, the film reflects the spirit which was needed to ignite the Stonewall riots. Enough hiding. Time to be on an equal footing with everyone else. In the end, this isn't a story of GLBT rights or transgendered rights, but of human rights.
- Kate Davis, Director, Southern ComfortStills from Southern Comfort (Click for larger image)