Liberty native brings film ‘I Do’ to CIFF

Like any director, Glenn Gaylord wants his movie, “I Do,” to be widely seen and commercially successful.

But the Liberty High School graduate said that wasn’t the primary motivation behind making it.

“Our goal is to change hearts and minds on issues of immigration and gay marriage,” Gaylord said during a telephone interview from southern California. “If we can be any bit helpful in people seeing the effects of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) and Prop 8, then we’ve really done our job.”

The movie will be released in select theaters and available nationwide through video on demand starting May 31, right before the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue rulings on the constitutionality of DOMA and Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

But before that, “I Do” will get three screenings at the 37th Cleveland International Film Festival, and Gaylord and David W. Ross, who wrote and stars in the movie, will be in attendance for each showing.

Gaylord said Ross originally conceived the movie as a romantic comedy. He had a partner who was forced to leave the country because of a visa issue, which inspired the initial idea. But the more research he did, the less funny the idea became.

“He said no way can I make this a comedy,” Gaylord said. “This is a very serious issue that is affecting people’s lives, separating relationships, separating families.”

In “I Do,” Ross plays Jack, an English citizen who has lived in the U.S. since he was a teenager. His brother (Grant Bowler) is killed in car accident, and for the last several years he has been gay uncle / surrogate father to his niece, who is being raised by her mother (Alicia Witt).

But with his visa about to expire, Jack either must go back to England and reapply for a new visa or marry an American citizen. He enters into a sham marriage with a lesbian friend (Jamie Lynn Sigler) around the same time he starts a serious relationship with an architect (Maurice Compte). That relationship jeopardizes his fake marriage, but since the U.S. doesn’t recognize gay marriage because of DOMA, a union with the man he loves won’t prevent his deportation.

Gaylord said when he was asked to read the script, “I was blown away by it. I didn’t expect it to have the sensitivity and the nuance that it had. It reminded me of the films I wanted to make.”

The plot also rang true personally. Gaylord said his stepsister is married to a woman who is an Israeli citizen, and they were forced to move to Israel when her visa expired.

“If any change comes of this so people have the choice to live where they want to, then we’ve done our job,” he said. “This is deeply affecting, not just for gay people.”

Much of the budget was raised through Kickstarter and Indiegogo Internet financing campaigns. Gaylord said he didn’t want to reveal the film’s budget, but $53,305 was raised on Kickstarter and $25,755 was raised through Indiegogo, according to their websites.

“My experience in documentaries and other low-budget filmmaking enabled us to make it very cheap but not look cheap,” Gaylord said. “It’s a testament to everyone involved.”

Much of Gaylord’s work has been in reality television, directing and / or producing for such shows as “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl,” “What Perez Sez” and “Tori & Dean: Inn Love.”

“I absolutely wouldn’t be able to direct as fast without that reality, documentary background,” he said. “You have to be intensely aware of what’s happening, know how to cover it and how to cover it fast.”

Sigler, best known for her years playing Tony Soprano’s daughter on the HBO series “The Sopranos,” was the first name actor to commit. Gaylord said they were scheduled for a 15-minute Skype meeting that turned into a 90-minute conversation where she agreed to do the film without waiting to confer with her management.

Her signing was followed by other familiar actors, including Witt (who played Cybill Shepherd’s daughter on “Cybill” and has had recurring roles on such shows as “Friday Night Lights” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”), Bowler (who played Richard Burton in the movie “Liz & Dick”) and Compte (“Breaking Bad,” “End of Watch”).

While the issues addressed in “I Do” are important to Gaylord, he said his goal was to let them surface naturally by focusing on the characters in the story.

“I was raised loving quirky dramedies like ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Broadcast News’ and ‘Almost Famous’,” he said. “Movies that make you laugh, make you cry and make you think because of the specialness of the characters. You’re not going to care about the issue if you don’t care about the people.”

“I Do” has been well-received at other film festivals – it was named favorite feature film at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and finished second for the audience award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival – and Gaylord said it particularly is satisfying to bring the film to northeast Ohio, and not just because it means he can make a trip back to the Mahoning Valley for some Uptown pizza and Handel’s ice cream.

“I came out west to make films that I could bring back home,” he said. “I wanted to tell my stories outside of California, tell stories that have broad appeal. To come back to Ohio with a film I’m immensely proud of is one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of the entire experience.”