Chronicle Cinema presented the celebrated and controversial documentary film Conversion in its Chicago premiere on Jan. 12.
The nearly sold-out premiere, which took place at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, also featured a red-carpet experience and an afterparty at Roscoe's featuring Alexis Michelle and Dusty Ray Bottoms of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Bottoms (who is known as Dustin Rayburn), director and executive producer Zach Meiners and Elena Joy Thurston (of the Pride and Joy Foundation), who are all featured in the film, were joined by producer Eric Singer, executive producer and local entrepreneur Shimmy Braun, and a host of other crew members and producers who worked on the film.
The film centers survivors of conversion therapy, a long-discredited practice wherein mental health professionals, clergy and others claim that intensive therapy can turn LGBTQ+ individuals straight. A number of states, among them Illinois, have banned the practice thanks to detrimental mental health side effects reported by survivors.
According to the Williams Institute, nearly 698,000 people have gone through the conversion therapy. More than 40% of conversion survivors have considered or attempted suicide in the past year. That number rises to nearly 60% for trans and non-binary survivors. According to the same report, 80,000 LGBTQ youth are projected to go through conversion therapy in the next five years. Meiners has publicly spoken at length about the detrimental effects conversion therapy has had on his life and his hopes for stopping other people from having to endure the practice.
The film charts the experiences of five survivors of the therapy; some began it as adults, while others began it as children. The film, which started as a five-minute PSA and morphed into a two hour fully realized documentary, finds its foundation through intimate interviews with those survivors. Rather than focusing on statistics and policies, the film has a much more humanistic and individualized approach that has generated strong word of mouth at the east and west coast premieres and national film festivals.
Conversion walks a thin line of objectivity, making its subject much more complex than it appears on the surface. Not only do we have the obvious victims, but their families who tried to be true to their faith, and the deluded religious figures, ministry heads, and conversion leaders who wrongly believed they were acting for the greater good.
The survivors featured in the film alongside Meiners, Thurston and Bottoms include Canadian Matt Ashcroft and 50 Bill 50 State Campaign Founder Sam Brinton. While the heart of the film is the interviews, there is also a portion of the film which details the opposition and decline of ex-gay organizations such as Exodus International. Notable individuals formerly of the ex-gay movement, such as McKrae Game, John Paulk, Gary Cooper and Alan Chambers, but are featured, but they don't become the focus of the film.
See www.conversionmovie.com .