Why would two young West Philly lesbians road trip all the way to Ames, Iowa (of all places), to get married? And what's all this about spandex and a Midwestern rap diva?
Newlyweds Rachel Turanski and Amanda Kole have been attempting to explain their long, strange nuptial trip for a little more than a year now. Fortunately from now on they can just hand the curious a copy of Married in Spandex, the documentary about their experience which will première next weekend at the 17th annual Philadelphia QFest.
"It's hard to explain to somebody who does not have any inkling of who Leslie Hall is or why a woman of my size would get married in a gold lamé spandex jumpsuit," says Turanski. "Now I can say, 'Just watch this. It'll explain everything.'"
The doc, directed by Devin Gallagher and Allison Kole, was originally intended simply as a wedding video for the couple, who had planned on making their nuptials a traveling party for a few close friends. But both the ceremony and, subsequently, the film began to grow organically beyond what anyone had intended.
"The family started inviting themselves," says Allison Kole, who, as maid of honor and sister to one of the brides, was in a privileged position to capture the proceedings. "I realized that this was actually a unique experience we were having. My sister and Rachel were discovering their stance on exercising their right to get married, and it created an amazing opportunity to follow them through that as well as chronicling a really interesting event that other people might like to join in on."
Gallagher and Kole live in Washington, D.C., where he works at a public access station and media center and she campaigns for Greenpeace. The couple has collaborated in the past on satirical videos for the environmental organization, but Married in Spandex is their first full-fledged production.
"Since I'm a first-time filmmaker and am not used to invading people's personal privacy," Kole says, "I feel really honored that everyone entrusted me with their stories. Being family, though, the bonus was access and an openness that perhaps even a skilled documentarian who was a stranger might not get."
Of course, no film centered on gay marriage can avoid making a political statement — even a film that is essentially a travelogue centered on a wacky performance-art wedding presided over by a flamboyant Iowa viral video rapper. And while the film doesn't dwell on delivering a message, many of the couple's friends do wrestle with the issue onscreen, and the mere fact of their having to travel from Philly to Iowa speaks volumes.
"It's a good angle to come at the story from," says Gallagher. "You're seeing Rachel and Amanda just doing what they want. It's definitely a personal story with all these political and social issues swirling around them. But they just kinda want to get married in spandex."
Turanski admits that she and her wife have never been particularly political; the evolution of their thinking is captured on camera, from something of a lark — a proposal via Gchat message — to the dawning realization of the emotions involved both in getting married and in not being recognized as such when they returned home.
"The film really allowed us to solidify our viewpoints for ourselves about why we were doing this," she says. "It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing that became larger than we realized, and through the interview portion we were able to articulate how much we loved and cared for each other and to realize that we'd made the right decision. It was an eye-opening experience for both of us and I think we grew to understand our love even better because we were being asked questions that challenged it."
Having recently celebrated their first anniversary, Rachel and Amanda were reminded that while they're legally wed back in Iowa, their home state still doesn't grant them the rights of legal matrimony. "It blows my mind to come back to Philadelphia, in a community where there's openly gay people everywhere, and we can't be married here for real," Turanski says. "But people still view us as wives and we're legitimized in our families' and friends' eyes, and that's what counts more than anything. We know that we made that commitment to each other and we honor that commitment as a marriage regardless of whether the government does."
Married in Spandex plays Sat., July 16, 5:15 p.m., $10, Ritz at the Bourse, 400 Ranstead St., 267-765-9800, ext. 4, qfest.com.