Film Review: “This Is What Love In Action Looks Like”

Finally an ex-gay documentary that's not simply a collection of interviews about the past, but one that's centered around a compelling event and story as it's unfolding.

Daniel Gonzales

August 29th, 2011

In 2005, 16 year old Zach Stark was sent by his parents, against his will, to the residential ex-gay program Love In Action. Protests and nationwide attention ensued.  It was probably the biggest ex-gay news story since Exodus board member/spokesman John Paulk was caught in a Washington DC gay bar.

Local filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox was there from the start of the protests, capturing it all and has spent the last six years creating his finished product of This Is What Love In Action Looks Like, a new independent film currently on the festival circuit.

I’ve spent years writing for various websites that track and monitor ex-gay issues, and in that time I’ve reviewed a number of films about the ex-gay experience. Too often documentaries consist mainly of head-and-shoulder interviewees talking about their time in ex-gay programs years, if not decades, in the past.  This Is What Love In Action Looks Like is different, filmmaker Fox was there shooting events as they unfolded and shooting interviews with key players while memories and feelings are still fresh.  The finished product is stitched together to tell the story with a logical flow and progression which will allow the general public, unknowledgeable of ex-gay issues, to follow the story.

Head-and-shoulders interviews, a necessary evil, are used sparingly and effectively.  Those scenes are well composed and often set in locations more far dynamic than a subject’s living room sofa.  Keystone interviews are even shot with multiple cameras allowing Fox to cut to tight zooms at appropriately intense moments.

Fox scored some rather crucial interviews, Zach Stark (the 16 year old sent to the program) as well as John Smid (ran Love In Action while Zach was there and has since stepped down).  Since the controversy in 2005 Smid’s views have changed (I won’t reveal how) and shows incredible courage for making himself as open, honest and vulnerable as he does during his interviews.  However I must criticize Fox for not asking Smid challenging questions.  In fact the only person Fox challenges is an anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund lawyer during a sidewalk press conference.  There are a lot of difficult questions interviewers can ask of the ex-gay movement, and Fox fails in this respect.

Zach’s father (who sent him to the program) and Alan Chambers (president of Exodus, a national gay group) declined interviews and so their stories are told with extensive incorporation of broadcast TV footage. The other footage that most contributes to the uniqueness of the film are some very raw feeling shots of the actual street protests outside Love In Action’s facility in 2005.

The film opens with a satisfyingly long interview of Zach talking about coming out to his parents and preparing to be sent off to the program.  As the story and protests unfolded Zach’s life inside the program remained a total mystery to the gay community outside protesting. Fox smartly replicates this feeling by focusing on other details and choosing only to show Zach with long-lens and grainy footage, as if we the film viewer are with protesters on the sidewalk seeing Zach from afar, wondering what is happening to the young man in the program.

My biggest gripe is that when the film is concluding Zach’s “after” interview is frustratingly short.  Zach comes across as having grown into a beautiful, vibrant young man.  After becoming invested in the activists who held a daily vigil outside Love In Action protesting for Zach I don’t feel enough emotional payoff in Fox’s interview with Zach.  I would strongly encourage Fox to revisit his source footage and include more meaningful and satisfying moments in that final interview. (Author’s note: Fox was kind enough to respond to this issue after my review was first posted, see his quote at the bottom of the post)

My remaining criticisms of the film are somewhat minor so I’ll list them here at the end:

  • While I adore the MySpace inspired title graphics, graphic styles throughout the body of the film are wildly inconsistent.  Some TV footage is shown in a “streaming internet video” style border, while other footage is shown full screen, sometimes that footage is full color, other times it has a tone/filter applied.  Also printed material (copies of ex-gay program rules and such) shown on screen has no stylistic consistency.
  • Insufficient disclosure of people appearing on screen who are involved in the film’s production.  When filmmaker Fox appears on screen his title is simply “filmmaker” which I’m not sure all viewers will take to mean his is the filmmaker for this very film.  Also Peterson Toscano has a producer credit for the film but this is not disclosed at all with on screen titling.
  • A couple soundtrack selections are hit or miss during the first half.  The worst tracks sounded like a wind up music box composition from royalty free music websites.  As the movie progresses however the music selection greatly improves and begins to compliment the emotion of the film.
  • There are a few instances at the beginning of the film where former clients of Love In Action are dropping bombs about the program.  Insufficient time is left after these things are said for the emotional impact to settle properly.

But the above listed criticism have no effect on my recommendation to see the film, they are more for Fox’s benefit should the movie hopefully be picked up by a distributor and is re-cut for distribution as independent films regularly are.  The novelness of this film sets it apart from every ex-gay documentary done before it.  When this screens in your city I strongly suggest you go and support it.

Filmmaker Fox addressed my criticism of Zach’s seemingly brief interview segment via email the afternoon my review was posted:

When we approached Zach about the interview he made it clear that he was willing to tell his story about what happened during the months that he was in Refuge and during the media firestorm, mostly to lend his account of that, and leave it to rest.

[Fox continued…] So when he requested that his current life not be pried into or pondered over or talked about, I completely understood. He wants his privacy now. Zach is a private person who quite accidentally fell into a huge spotlight and I mostly wanted to document the events of 2005 and how friends of his felt it necessary to stand up and try and make a difference, attempt to help one of their peers. I never felt it was my job to pry to pull things from Zach story and I think it took a lot of courage for him to speak out at all and I’m very grateful he lent his version of the events of that Summer of 2005.


August 29th, 2011

I only pray that Zack is doing well.

Regan DuCasse

August 30th, 2011

A wonderful young friend of mine told me this summer that he endured a reparative program for FIVE MONTHS, that his family required for him, on condition they wouldn’t speak to him if he didn’t enter the program.

I’ve known this person since he was eighteen. He has a fun job, is so sweet and dedicated, I can’t imagine his family trading dogma for him.
But there is it.

And he broke my heart. His refuge, and that of his longtime bf, is that they both have highly successful gay uncles.
Who themselves went through a lot of considerable emotional hardships as teens and younger men.
But they are the godfathers to this sweet couple and they are in fact, wonderful men who are pillars in their community and are taking care of their own blood, in the end.

Zack, is a prime example of the difference between a parent KNOWING their own flesh, from knowing what they have been TOLD about their children from third parties, invested in another agenda.
It’s like when a child is a genius among ordinary parents. Or the musical one among his tone deaf family.

He’s still one among their OTHER children, from the same parents, home and upbringing.
Why don’t these parents f**king THINK?!
Does the ONE attribute have to throw them all so off the rails they literally are willing to sacrifice their gay child on an altar?

I wonder, how many parents are interviewed who REGRET what they did?
And are willing to reject the dogma they favored over the child who loved THEM?

Timothy Kincaid

August 31st, 2011

To those that hold absolute certainty in their moral superiority due to their adherence to Christian doctrine, I like to offer the following thought:

You believe that you are a Christian because the Holy Spirit drew you. And further, were you to have been born in a time and place without Christian influence, you believe that your spiritual discernment would lead you away from paganism and direct you into some form of relationship with God.

But… what makes you so sure that you would not be first in line at the local Church of the Nile praying for a good flood. What makes you think that you wouldn’t be on the banks of the river in a drought throwing your children to the Crocodile God.

Does the ONE attribute have to throw them all so off the rails they literally are willing to sacrifice their gay child on an altar?

Exactly, Regan.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts


Another Temporary Hiatus

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1971: Minnesota Couple Stake Claim To First American Same-Sex Marriage

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1954: "Perverts Vanish" From Miami

Born On This Day, 1907: Evelyn Hooker

Born On This Day, 1925: Fr. John J. McNeill

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.