Some people remember this film because its PS features an interview with Matthew Shepard and his African American boyfriend, not long before Shepard’s murder. Many other viewers just liked seeing Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) exposed for his subtle racism and gleeful homophobia. However, Dear Jesse actually balances the focus on Helms with an exploration of director Tim Kirkman’s homecoming.
Kirkman—returning from New York City to his hometown of Monroe, North Carolina—explores his parallels to Helms, and his state’s fascination with the former senator. The resulting film is surprisingly touching and funny. Kirkman explains their connections succinctly: “Jesse Helms and I have a lot in common—for example, our obsession with gay men.”
The film’s scope never limits itself to gays, or to homophobia. Whether interviewing novelists Lee Smith and Allan Gurganus, or talking to staunch supporters of Helms, or stopping passersby, Kirkman shows genuine interest in learning why Helms means so much to North Carolina, as well as what being a part of North Carolina means to himself. This constant introspection keeps the film from becoming spiteful…something we can’t say about the title character.
The film quality isn’t always great, but that only adds to the “home movie” feel of the feature. Some viewers also complain about the attention Kirkman pays to himself; anyone expecting a nonstop exposé of Helms will probably share in that complaint. However, viewers who want an honest exploration of growing up gay in an anti-gay environment should enjoy this engaging project.
Initially completed in 1998, Dear Jesse appeared on TV and on VHS, but Sovereign Distribution has just recently released it on DVD, adding bonus scenes and other special features. Visit http://www.sovereigndistribution.com/ to read more about Dear Jesse.
Kirkman also directed The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me and Loggerheads. The Night is simply a filming of David Drake’s acclaimed one-man play, while Loggerheads uses experimental story-telling to look at interconnected lives in North Carolina. Sound familiar? Doubtlessly, Kirkman’s experiences in small towns and the big city will lead to other interesting stories.