“He is among the most visible and accomplished advocates for safety and equality of GLBT people in Michigan history... a hero and living legend.” Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm
For many Americans, it may seem as though the recent waves of change in Gay Rights happened overnight, but this is not so. A brutal road against vicious intolerance and opposition was slowly paved for decades, by generations of activists across the nation who fought hard for every step.
This is a feature-length documentary film about the life and impact of one such leader.
In 1985, a young man was killed outside of a bar in Detroit. After the funeral, his boyfriend was horrified to learn that police were not even going to investigate the murder.
To them, it was 'just another gay killing', and not worth the resources.
Jeffrey Montgomery became a man with a mission.
In 1991 he co-founded the Triangle Foundation to fight back against anti-gay violence and support victims of hate crime attacks and abuse. Undeterred by death threats, vandalism, sabotage, or even being placed on the hit-list of the Aryan Nation, he wielded his own fierce intellect and razor wit to confront politicians, testify at court hearings, and push local/national media to better report on gay issues. Through advocacy and legal support, Triangle grew to encompass other needs of the community such as job discrimination, housing discrimination, social representation, and more.
By 2003, far from the coasts, it would become the
4th largest statewide LGBT organization in the country.
In 2007 Montgomery retired in controversy, with his health in decline but his radical voice intact. This film illuminates the path, and sacrifices, between a time when local law enforcement ignored gay lives as disposable, to one when Detroit police liaisons to the gay community dance in Pride marches.
Despite recent progress, the gay community prepares to face renewed opposition, and new attacks. This story examines the fate of progressive leaders who devote their lives to tireless work on behalf of others, and how individuals can impact the lives of those around them. That by organizing strategically, with focus, the flame of that influence can be made to grow ever larger.
AMERICA YOU KILL ME is a feature-length documentary about gay rights warrior Jeffrey Montgomery.
It has been filmed primarily in digital 4k, and when finished, will be approximately 90 minutes long.
In 2013 Jeff was persuaded by his brother, John, to share stories of his activist work, observations about the gay community's rise as a social and political force, and the goals still left to accomplish.
The project was initially imagined as a memoir told entirely in his own words, and a long interview (conducted by prominent Detroit radio host Craig Fahle), became the foundation of the picture. While an illustrated version of this conversation could well have sustained an entire film, it quickly became clear this was a much larger tale. Thus, we reached out to other voices, including fellow activists and politicians, as well as those he impacted, enraged, or inspired. For the rest of his life we continued to capture his thoughts on current events, including the landmark Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, the Orlando nightclub massacre, as well as what's needed to sustain and propel progress.
The original tangible goal had been to launch a speaking tour, kicking off a new phase in Montgomery's long career as an advocate, but with his passing that ending is sadly no longer possible. What we can do is honor his work, and create a permanent document
of what he fought so hard for.
This is not a hagiography. He made mistakes, and he made enemies, and from the start of the project he was adamant about never being involved in the post-production editorial process.
While this film centers on an individual, it intends to raise awareness of other leaders who, like Montgomery, made sacrifices and fought hard to create a better world than the one they found. Activism is not without cost, and those who dedicate their lives to it do not often reap rewards of treasure or comfort. Current and future generations deserve to see, and viscerally understand, what those leaders did in order to create the social climate we have inherited.
The title, which has taken on additional meaning, comes from an acclaimed speech he gave at Brown University for the inaugural Matthew Shepard memorial, following the trial in 2000, articulating many of his core values and ideals. That full address can be found here.
Jeffrey Montgomery died on July 18, 2016 at the age of 63, but through this project his legacy lives on.
Weeks of final production and months of dedicated post-production lie before us. Some additionally scheduled interviews remain, with time-lapse and aerial photography of key locations also still to come. Dramatized recreations of key moments are conceptualized, but yet un-filmed. The logging, transcription, and editing of several sequences is well underway, and an approximately 20-minute selection of excerpts is available. Data sets must still be translated into motion graphics, and illustrative animated sequences
have yet to be created.
On the archival front, we have amassed a trove of footage from the Triangle Archives and from Montgomery's many televised appearances as an advocate. We have a team at Wayne State University logging and identifying these sources, and the family supports the effort by organizing his personal collection and physical archives (newspaper clippings, photographs, writings, correspondence, etc).
We continue to hunt for more specific archival video we know to exist, and need to license the television and stills
material we have already found.
Audio engineering will be a significant endeavor, given the varying quality of archival sources, and the score (which has already begun to take shape) needs to be fully developed, recorded, and mixed.
Final color correction and digital output deliverables will follow, along with festival submissions and plans to premiere the film
locally and beyond.
The waves of change in LGBT rights did not happen in a vacuum, and are owed in large part to activists like this, across the nation, fighting for equality and crafting tactical opposition. This history deserves to be known to the current – and future - generations of leaders and activists, and all who have benefitted from their struggles. To those who are new to this topic, we hope the film can serve as an entry point to deeper empathy and understanding through the dramatic personal narrative of Jeffrey Montgomery.
We feel strongly that telling his story now is even more important than it was when we began. Renewed challenges and emboldened opposition now stand in the way of equality. Montgomery was one of a kind, but his story parallels many of his contemporaries that fought, and still fight, for LGBT rights and protections.
We hope that the release of AMERICA YOU KILL ME will inspire the next generation of advocates to advance these causes and fight for what they believe in.