One might logically conclude that the documentary Bridegroom is titled to describe half of a married couple. The irony is that had the couple in question, Shane Bitney Crone and the film's namesake, Tom Bridegroom, actually been wed, there would be no documentary.
Marriage was not a legal option for Crone and Bridegroom, who were together for almost six years before Bridegroom's 2011 fatal fall from a rooftop where he was photographing a friend. Had they been married, Crone would not have been denied access in the hospital. Had they been married, Bridegroom's mother would not have been able to swoop into Los Angeles, seize her son's body and possessions, and never communicate with Crone again. Had they been married, Crone would not have had to quietly creep into Indiana to visit his deceased partner's grave.
Chances are good, this story sounds familiar to you. It should. It's the subject of a 10-minute YouTube short that went viral, "It Could Happen to You," which Crone posted on the one-year anniversary of Bridegroom's death. To date, it has been watched over four million times, including by writer/producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, best known as the creator of Designing Women and as a close friend (and later documentarian) of the Clinton family. Bloodworth-Thomason contacted Crone to express the need for this story had to be told as a feature-length film, and she was the one to tell it.
"When her mother died of AIDS," says Crone, "she witnessed how all the gays in the hospital were treated. She overheard a nurse saying, 'If there's one thing going for this disease, it's that it's killing all the right people.'" That phrase became the title of a landmark first-season Designing Women episode, in which Tony Goldwyn played a man dying of AIDS. Crone knew, on hearing that, he believed in her--he could trust her to tell this story.
Of course, in handing over the reigns (and reams of footage), Crone switched roles from chronicler to a subject. "It was hard opening up so much and allowing people to see a side I never thought I would expose," he admits. "But it was so therapeutic." Watching this film play the festival circuit (it won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival) has meant that Crone has had to virtually relive the tragedy on a regular basis. "Having people see it is such a positive experience," he says, "but there are times I just have to get up and walk out of the theater."
Crone was in Washington, D.C., on June 26 outside the Supreme Court so he could be there when the decision was given about the California marriage ban. "It was a bittersweet moment for me, " he says, sighing. But mostly, Crone sees his story as one with the power to inspire and to illustrate the human side of the gay marriage battle. "After all," he says, "changing laws doesn't change people. But stories do."
If there is one thing he's learned throughout this process, it's how shockingly common his story is, especially among older LGBT people, who have shared their own stories with him. "I didn't realize how much this has happened before," he says. "My story isn't unique, it's just the one we are telling in this film. "
Bridegroom screens as part of Outfest Los Angeles on July 13.