They had landed a job shooting a video to be shown May 2007 at a fundraiser and dinner for Equal Rights Washington in Olympia. The guest speaker was Charlene Strong, whose life partner of nine years, Kate Fleming, had died in December 2006 after being trapped under water in the flooded basement of their Seattle home.
While Fleming was in the hospital, Strong was denied visitation until she could verify by phone she was Fleming’s partner. Later, Strong attempted to make funeral arrangements, only to be ignored by a funeral director who consulted with Fleming’s mother instead.
These indignities and Strong’s unexpected, painful loss compelled her to fight for legal recognition for domestic partners in Washington. She testified in January 2007 during a state Senate public hearing and appeared on talk shows as an advocate for equality. In May that year, Washington’s domestic partnership law was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Rothmiller and Thompson, who filmed the signing ceremony, felt an immediate connection with Strong.
Rothmiller recalls standing next to Strong at the gala when he realized the powerful impact her story could have for a broader audience. As Equal Rights Washington’s outgoing director was giving a speech, Rothmiller turned to Strong and whispered that he and Thompson wanted to tell her story on film.
“It has the power of ‘Erin Brockovich,’ one woman who helped change a law,” he explained.
During the next year, Rothmiller and Thompson followed Strong with a camera to record her journey since Fleming’s death.
“For My Wife,” the documentary the couple made with the footage, won three awards at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and was greeted with a standing ovation at a screening in Florence, Italy.
The audience reception was unlike any the filmmakers had experienced with other projects for their company, Trick Dog Films (www.trickdogfilms.com). It exemplified the type of work they want to do.
“Whatever we make will have some element of consciousness-raising because that’s what our life is about,” Rothmiller says.
The couple, now Palm Springs residents, recently announced the start of a campaign to establish The Sanctuary, a home for LGBT teens in foster care. The youth are underserved, with few foster homes in Riverside County willing to accept them. The Sanctuary would provide a staff of mentors and access to a clinical psychologist, among other benefits (www.indiegogo.com/projects/176379).
Another passion project for Thompson and Rothmiller is to produce a film about their visit to Afghanistan, where they interviewed residents and government employees about the lives of women in Islam. They met in Kabul a “loving, kind” people amidst a dusty city dotted with burning trash heaps and other challenges.
When choosing film projects one of the first things they consider is what would be the most interesting, critical and newsworthy topic.
“First and foremost, we are artists,” Thompson says. “It has to appeal on a level of artistry and zeitgeist, and then it has to go up against ‘Will this contribute in a positive way?’”
Both Thompson and Rothmiller came to filmmaking from television. They left the industry, determined to use their talents and the skills they had learned to make films they hoped would raise public consciousness on a variety of topics.
Thompson had produced and hosted a new-age talk show called “Beyond the Line.” The first season was broadcast by CBC-TV in Canada, as well as in 26 markets in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Rothmiller, who helped Thompson write all of the episodes, says the show was an encyclopedia of using media to make a difference. Scientists and healers were regularly featured on the program.
When the series ended after the first season, the couple went through training in film editing, bought film gear and began pitching ideas in L.A. Other jobs included writing segments for actress Jane Seymour’s “Healthy Living” show, and writing and producing public service announcements for singer Jewel’s nonprofit organization.
They were close to doing a show for CBS with Yolanda King, daughter of civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but that failed to happen after a network shakeup replaced several key executives, Rothmiller says.
Despite challenges and setbacks, the preferred vehicle for their activism remains film and video, which are “how much of society takes in information,” Thompson says.
That appeal was evident earlier this year at screenings McGugan hosted at Camelot Theatres as a part of his Earth Matters series. The series was well-attended and offered free to the public, as a collaboration of McGugan, the Palm Springs Cultural Center and city Office of Sustainability. On at least two occasions attendees were turned away from the venue as every seat was filled.
Other benefits of raising consciousness through film are its reach and expediency. “It only takes as much time as is required to explain the problem and to deliver the solution,” McGugan says.
The author and former television journalist showed films that addressed the source of happiness, growing healthy food and conservation in a constantly changing world. The lineup included titles from around the world, such as “The Economics of Happiness” and “Thrive.”
“The films are really about the shift we’re all feeling,” McGugan says. “We’re feeling it but we’re not talking about it.”
McGugan attributes the shift to what he believes is the “ongoing collapse” of quality health care, education and trust in big business and government. He offers lessons in consciousness to overcome these challenges, through films, his book titled “Occupy Consciousness,” and his web- and membership-based organization, www.Consciousworldsummit.com.
“We look around the world to see where the best solutions are and adopt them,” he says.
One of McGugan’s most important lessons is what he learned growing up in Ontario, Canada.
“The driving force is quality of life,” he says. “The Canadian approach is ‘I’m not OK unless my community and nature are OK.’ We’re raised with that.”
McGugan’s efforts to “build a community of consciousness” extend to presenting a Conscious Film Festival in various cities. The Palm Springs festival is planned for next spring. McGugan says the desert community’s energy, consciousness and village lifestyle, which prompted his move from Austin, Texas in 1992, are attractive to the authors, filmmakers and others he expects will attend the festival.
THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE
The Hollywood issue of Desert Outlook will be distributed in Palm Springs and across the Coachella Valley on Sept. 6.
- Explore the desert’s long relationship with Hollywood — as a getaway for its biggest stars and a destination for film and TV productions through the creativity and hard work of many of its residents.
- The Heads Up political column looks at what it means today to be a gay Republican.
- Our monthly calendar features a number of entertainment, social and fundraising events across Southern California, including Our Pick – the annual Cinema Diverse LGBT film festival right here in Palm Springs!
- New feature: our first fashion page featuring local models
- New feature: “What’s your APPtitude?” spotlights a cool LGBT app for tablets and smartphones.
- Other features: Health & Fitness, Dining Out, Travel