CECIL & CARL – Elvis Leon/Gastón Yvorra

captureIn this tender, comical and overall beautiful short documentary, Leon and Yvorra bring us a gentle look into the story of Cecil and Carl, who have been together for 43 years. Once Carl developed dementia and was admitted to a nursing home, it has been up to Cecil to care for himself and find a way to keep alive a love that has faded in the mists of Carl’s illness. He petitions to the court be Carl’s co-guardian and co-conservator, and seeks to have Carl stay with him over the weekends so that they can spend more time together.
We watch Cecil’s commitment and faith in the love of his life go far beyond the terms of guardian and conservator, howver, demonstrating instead the kindness, the loneliness, the work and the memories that comprise true love in the face of old age.


It was an honour to get a mailterview with the directors on this poignant and magical film.

How did you discover Carl and Cecil? 
A few years ago we were working on a comedic web series project written by Elvis called Charlie’s. The story was about a straight bar owner that attempts to open a gay bar. The production took place in a gay bar in Denver, Colorado. On one of our production visits, we encountered a group of around 50 elderly gay men, gathered around tables having lunch. We soon found out that the group of men werein fact a club called The Primetimers. They meet every Wednesday.


Our first impression was that there were a lot stories in that place. We also imagined what it was like for these men to be gay 30 or 40 years ago, in a society less open [compared] to the one that exists today. We felt the need to learn these stories. One day we asked the Primetimers group  if there was anyone who would be interested in participating in a film project that would take their story and turn it into a visual portrait.


We had a lot of people approach us that day but long story short, Cecil Bethea was the first one to step up and open up to us. We eventually learned his story and that of the relationship he had with Carl Shepard — we were immediately hooked. On a side note: after completing the Cecil & Carl documentary, Cecil volunteered to do a cameo appearance in Charlie’s. He has a memorable five seconds in the film! 🙂


For a film that’s part confessional, part fly-on-the-wall, what is the purpose of the text-based narration?
It must have been the third day of shooting at Cecil’s house that he told us about a letter he had written to a judge, one of his many efforts to become Carl’s legal guardian.  Although it is not mentioned in the documentary, Cecil does have a passion for writing. At 84 years old, he began taking creative writing workshops so his letter was very well written. After playing around with various cuts of the film and the crazy amount of material we had, we decided that among other narrative tools (the house itself carries a strong layer of meaning and we consider it the third character) we had a powerful backbone in the letter to the judge. We knew also that we were fascinated by Cecil’s southern accent — it has that sort of magic you find when your grandfather tells you a story, so we were compelled to use it to our advantage.


Why do you think this story is important?
I think we’ve have not seen too many love stories like that of Cecil and Carl, there are other documentaries that delve into the lives of elderly members of the LGBT community such as Les Invisibles by Sebastien Lifshitz, but not so many love stories that I can recall of elderly homosexual men. Although our original intention was that of contemplating a story, to be spectators for what Cecil Bethea had to say and thus the film carries itself in that raw cinema verite style, we do believe as well that the film ends up delivering a lot of important themes; legal aspects that are attached to being a gay couple, or the fragility of becoming old in America, among others. Most importantly this story is Cecil and Carl’s story, and that’s why it is important. Throughout our projects in Denver we have stressed that: everyone has something to tell, everyone has a story. That is worthy to be shown to the world.




Where has the film screened so far? What’s the reception been like?
We have been fortunate enough to have screened our film so far in some of the most recognized LGBT film festivals, such as Inside Out in Toronto, Gaze International in Ireland, Vancouver Queer Film Festival. We have been nominated for the prestigious Iris Prize that takes place in Wales and we will also be screening our film at the New Orleans Film Festival in the Documentary Shorts Competition which is an Academy Award qualifying competition. (There is a complete list of the film festivals at the bottom of the link to our teaser/trailer). We are thankful to each festival for their kindness and for giving us the opportunity to screen the film far and beyond.


What inspired you to make documentary films? 
We are inspired to make films — fiction or documentary. We choose film to express things we feel passionate about, stories that we believe should be out there for others to enjoy as well. The film medium is the best way we’ve found so far to communicate with others. We are inspired by stories such as Cecil’s.


What’re your creative plans for the future? 
We have a couple of projects in the pre-production stage to include a  follow-up documentary that continues the Cecil & Carl story. Cecil is busier than ever at 88 years old. He has started taking stand-up comedy classes and is officially on Facebook now. He never stops learning and is an inspiration. It’s never too late to learn.


If you want to get involved with any of our future projects, please feel free to reach out. You can also support or share our Go Fund Me campaign that is helping us with film festival submission fees and some travel costs.


Upcoming Screenings
Out On Film: Atlanta, GA – (October 3rd)
Reel Affirmations: Washington DC’s International – (October 14-16)
New Orleans Film Festival – (October 12-20)
Iris Prize: Cardiff, Wales – (October 13)
InShort Film Festival: London, UK – (October TBA)
Vinokino LGBT Film Festival: Turku, Finland – Oct. 26-30

My deepest thanks to Elvis and Gastón for this gorgeous film, reminding us to take care of the people we love, who so deeply — so ultimately — define our inspiration for living.