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You gotta fight for your right to family

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This year's festival has a series called "Family Snapshot," a group of features and documentaries that highlight issues of marriage and parenting in the LGBTQ community. These are two of the series' standout documentaries.

Paternal Instinct is an emotional and skilled examination of two Manhattan men and their quest to become parents. Two incredibly earnest and loving men, Mark and Eric, choose not to adopt but to find a surrogate mother have not one, but two children (one by each man). Their amazing journey with Wen, the spiritualist surrogate from Maine, tests their resolve and their strength but never their love for each other.

We follow them for almost three years through the ups and downs, and their lives are fully documented. The camera is always there, recording the many conception attempts and the phone calls from Wen with the latest updates.

It unfolds like a mystery. Will this work? What will be the emotional impact on all the participants? Mark, Eric, Wen, her husband, and her very understanding son all are interviewed thoroughly. You get to know these people as if they stepped off the screen.

This documentary does not shy away from the hard questions about reproductive rights and the nature of parenting. The interviews with Mark and Eric's friend, who chose to adopt a child, explore the very personal decisions that couples make. Also very touching are the comments made by Wen's son. He wonders how his mother will love a surrogate child. Will it be different then the way she loves him?

Hopefully Paternal Instinct will find a large audience. I did see a Cinemax title card at the beginning of the film, which should ensure a national broadcast. Just a quick warning to those who plan to go: the write-up in the ImageOut program guide gives away the ending of this amazing documentary.

Paternal Instinct screens Sunday, October 10, at the Little Theatre, 12 p.m. Meet the fathers, Mark Eisenhardt and Erik Kulleseid, at the screening. Info: 271-2640, www.imageout.org

Tying the Knot is the real deal. Not content on just preaching to the choir, it arms its viewers with factual arguments in favor of same-sex marriage. Particularly strong is the interview with author and historian E.J. Graff, who traces the evolution of marriage from the time of Christ to the postindustrial age. Her book, What Is Marriage For?, is a late addition to my summer reading list.

In one brilliant sequence the film shows clips of conservative Republican congressmen saying that marriage has been a sacred unwavering institution for thousands of years. This is contrasted with Graff pointing out that marriage was a business-like union in feudal times and wasn't even acknowledged as sacred union by the Catholic Church until the fifth century. Popular consensus didn't consider marriage a union to express romantic love until the industrial age. A historical argument to counter a repetitive talking point: this is good filmmaking.

But the bigger dilemma of same-sex marriage is the civil rights issue. The subject is covered at length with a variety of interviews and touching real-life stories. It tells the stories of people who lost pensions and even homes after the deaths of their partners because they weren't entitled to surviving-spouse benefits. The film shifts effortlessly from theory and argument to putting a face on the suffering caused by the denial of marriage and the legal rights and benefits it provides.

Particularly poignant is the story of an Oklahoma farmer who loses the homestead he built with his partner. The interviews with him and with his sons will stay with you beyond all the rhetoric. This is must-see viewing for anyone taking up the cause. Bring your neo-conservative friend (if you have any).

Tying the Knot screens Saturday, October 16, at the Dryden Theatre, 5 p.m. Info: 271-2640, www.imageout.org.

--- Matt Ehlers

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