Any viewers who grew up in a conservative town in the rural South will see a lot in Deep Run that is familiar. Though I am not transgender, the struggle to make ends meet, the desire for acceptance, the lack of anywhere to go to live authentically, and the pressure to go to church, repent, and live as a Christian are all familiar.
For those queer adults who will see pieces our own pasts reflected in Cole’s life, the film might not be good for more than dredging up past trauma which might be better left undisturbed. For me, too many of the individuals portrayed in the film only served to remind me of a community from which I worked hard to distance myself. While not all LGBTQ youth are fortunate enough to be able to escape such communities – and many do not desire to do so – those who have may not desire a reminder of what has been left behind.
Those unfamiliar with the rural South, however, might find the film an illuminating portrait of the trials and tribulations of growing up in such a community. The film shows Cole’s journey to be true to himself, even at the risk of losing his biological family. Cole and his girlfriend Ashley struggle to find an accepting church, but Cole ultimately chooses to explore his faith in God on his own terms.
Cole’s difficulties in life are compounded by being undocumented, which leads to recurring bouts of unemployment. Cole was moved to North Carolina from Canada by his mother, who did not deal correctly with his documentation to be able to live legally in the states. In this way Cole shatters the stereotypical narrative of what undocumented citizens look like, highlighting the racism which normally surrounds debates about immigration.
Again, for those who are unfamiliar, the film portrays the toxicity of conservative Christian communities towards LGBTQ individuals in the South. Through interviews with the pastor of the local Baptist church, the film highlights the homophobia which is often rampant in these communities, as well as the ignorance upon which it is founded. The pastor admits that when he was in the Marine Corps, he and some of his buddies perpetrated attacks upon gay men. It becomes clear that the pastor’s dislike of homosexuality is based upon his own discomfort, as well as a common misinterpretation of Biblical passages like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Like any teenager, Cole doesn’t always make the best of decisions, and neither does her girlfriend Ashley. But the viewer does not have to identify with either of them to appreciate the struggles which still exist for LGBTQ individuals across the United States. Deep Run explores the lives of two individuals making the best of a bad situation, which in itself is admirable. The film might appeal first and foremost to a young adult audience.
Deep Run doesn’t have the professional feel of some other documentary films. At times it is hard to grasp a narrative through line, or to see any particular trajectory the film is attempting to take. The film feels long, and a stronger editing process could turn it into something much more powerful. As it stands, the film shows the journey of two young people coming into themselves, and learning to be true to themselves first. As Ashley states in the film, “If it makes you happy, it makes you happy. Don’t make yourself miserable for everyone else’s sake.”
Deep Run screens Saturday, September 12 at 10:10AM at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. If you do not have an AGLIFF badge, individual tickets can be purchased here.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 09/11/2015.