As feature-length debuts go, Cole Doman (pictured above) says that Henry Gamble's Birthday Partywas a dream come true. Directed by Stephen Cone (The Wise Kids) and starring Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills, The Innkeepers), the film explores the tension between sexuality and spirituality within a suburban community during the birthday of 17-year-old Henry Gamble. Making its way around the festival circuit, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party has been raking in rave reviews, and it is now one of the most anticipated showings at NewFest, which opened yesterday in New York City.
From the opening scene, which features Henry (Doman) and friend Gabe side-by-side in bed talking about sex and masturbating, it's clear that the preacher's son's sexuality is not in line with conservative Christian teachings. The Gambles live in a small, tight-knit community, and as friends gather to celebrate Henry's birthday, the stiflingly repressive atmosphere begins to take shape, one at odds with the half-naked bodies diving into the pool.
Doman, who was raised Catholic, tells Out that he's able to identify closely with Henry's struggle, as he himself had to wade through the conflicting messages of his religious upbringing and sexuality. He also understands what is perhaps the most striking message of the film, that homophobes are not necessarily bad people. "I have a lot of people in my life who I love who are really devout," Doman says, "and so does Stephen [Cone, the director]. I had to work to get into the mindset of people who aren't hateful— because I think Henry Gamble does' a really good job of that. It's not making fun of anyone, it's opening eyes to a different word of ignorance. While ignorance can, of course, be hateful, in Henry Gamble, you see that this is still a loving community, it just takes some people longer to open their eyes to choosing love."
While intolerant attitudes toward homosexuality take center stage in the provocative yet delicate film, the strains of religion are visible in each family member and in each friend. At a time when society is becoming increasingly polarized, when religion and LGBT equality are often pitted against each other, Henry Gamble's Birthday Party offers audiences the opportunity to delve beneath the surface, to understand the simply vilifying the other side will do nothing to improve things.
"I hope that that people take away the message that we need to all choose love," Doman says, "because that's the only thing that really matters. It sounds simple, but sometimes it's so hard to do."
Henry Gamble's Birthday Party will be playing at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema Saturday October 24 at 3:45 pm. For tickets, visit NewFest's website.